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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Glazer never wanted limelight, but he was difficult to ignore

— How do you remember someone you never knew?

We’re already at a distance when it comes to sports stars, but at least we can pretend we know them. But their employers live in another galaxy, in owners’ suites far, far away.

We didn’t know Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, who passed away Wednesday.

And that was fine by him.

I still remember that night 12 years ago in Philadelphia. The Bucs were at last NFC champions, and NFL great Willie Davis said, on national television, that he was happy to present the George S. Halas Trophy to … Marcus Glazer.

Mr. Glazer smiled and took it in stride. Good sport. Then he disappeared again in absentee joy. A week later, in San Diego, he stood with his football coach, Jon Gruden. Gruden and Malcolm took turns holding the Lombardi Trophy. Chucky and The Beard, and the Bucs, were the kings of football.

It’s hard to forget that night, though the Bucs have tried their best, winning not one playoff game since that Super Bowl.

Glazer preferred being off stage long before those strokes several years ago. There was mystery even when Malcolm was in the middle. And he hated the middle. He liked being in the background, making piles of money, taking care of his world, his family.

But Malcolm Irving Glazer was the owner when Bucs history was at high port.

That can’t be forgotten.

And he didn’t just look good because he followed pinch-a-penny Hugh Culverhouse into Bucs ownership. The bottom line was very real for Malcolm Glazer, but so was the football. He reached out in the community, which sometimes took the sting out of him being a general pain in our seat licenses. So did winning.

Malcolm Glazer gambled and hired Tony Dungy, the best move in Bucs history. Soon, the Bucs jokes stopped. Malcolm Glazer gambled and fired Tony Dungy. He hired Jon Gruden away from Oakland owner Al Davis. Some initially thought Davis fleeced Malcolm on that deal, getting those first-round draft picks. Yet, it was Malcolm’s Bucs who won the big game over Davis’ Raiders that season.

Yes, Everyone thought Malcolm Glazer was nuts, a regular rube, when he rolled out of the Forbes 400 fog bank in 1995 to buy the laughable Bucs for $192 million, then an NFL record. The Bucs might be worth five times that today.

Malcolm Glazer branded the Bucs, took them global, even if the globe didn’t always want them. He purchased Manchester United, arguably the other game of football’s greatest, wealthiest brand. Malcolm was once burned in effigy by Man U fans. The Red Devils kept winning, and everyone let up on Red Beard.

Malcolm Glazer looked like a cross between a leprechaun, Amish farmer and that high school science teacher you had in dissection lab. At one time, according to one story, Malcolm owned cats named Clarence and Violet, for characters in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Malcolm had one, mostly. He also once sued his sister.

The guy drove a hard bargain. Don’t think he wouldn’t have moved this franchise. He got the last big sweetheart sports deal this town will probably ever hand out. During the long-ago battle over the stadium lease, Malcolm Glazer sat with city and county leaders, who faced a midnight deadline. At 11:01 p.m., Glazer tapped his watch and looked at Tampa mayor Dick Greco.

“You have 59 minutes left,” Malcolm said.

He couldn’t have done it without us. Remember that. We built his stadium.

At least the Glazers spread some of the wealth: the Glazer Family Foundation, Glazer Children’s Museum and other worthy endeavors.

Yes, you can argue that they’ve taken more out of Tampa Bay than they’ve put in. But on Malcolm’s watch in those early years, he held up his end. He hitched his pants up — and up — opened his wallet and let a champion be built.

After a Bucs game last season, someone told me that he saw Malcolm in a car that was leaving Raymond James Stadium. I didn’t believe him. I still don’t.

What I do believe, because it’s fact, is that when the Bucs were at their best, when they were kings, there was no mistaking who the owner was, no matter how hard he tried to hide.

His name wasn’t Marcus. It was Malcolm — Malcolm Glazer. He leaves behind his wife, their six children and 14 grandchildren. Also that Super Bowl trophy, which sits in a case at One Buc Place.

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