TAMPA — His arrival on the Tampa Bay sports scene almost 20 years ago was not altogether heralded. In the eyes of some, it was barely even welcomed.
Though he agreed to rescue the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the clutches of the Hugh Culverhouse estate and offered to pay what was then a record $192 million for an NFL franchise, there was concern about Malcolm Glazers' true intentions.
To go along with his new team, Glazer wanted a new stadium — and he wanted the public to pay for most of it while he reaped most of the profits from its operation. Not only that, but there was talk Glazer might move the franchise if the community didn't meet his demands.
It was a shaky public platform that Glazer built and then stood on during his courting of the Bucs. When he died on Wednesday, however, it was hard to view Glazer as anything other than the man who turned around a once-moribund franchise, delivered a Super Bowl champion and became one of Tampa Bay's most important sports figures. Glazer was 85.
“Malcolm Glazer was the guiding force behind the building of a Super Bowl-champion organization,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “His dedication to the community was evident in all he did, including his leadership in bringing Super Bowls to Tampa Bay. Malcolm's commitment to the Bucs, the NFL and the people of the Tampa Bay region are the hallmarks of his legacy.”
With Glazer's sons, Joel, Bryan and Ed, responsible for the daily operation of the franchise, the Bucs produced nine winning seasons - three times as many as in their previous 19 years - went to the playoffs seven times and won a Super Bowl.
According to the team, Glazer's long-established estate succession plan assures the Buccaneers will remain with the Glazer family. His wife, Linda Glazer, along with their five sons and one daughter, will continue to own and operate the team as they have throughout the family's ownership.
Glazer suffered two strokes in April 2006. The family did not provide much information about either stroke, but the first impaired his speech and mobility in his right arm and leg. He was readmitted to the Cleveland Clinic outside Palm Beach following the second two weeks later.
Since then, the only known public sighting of Glazer was on Sept. 16, 2007, when he attended the Bucs' home opener against the New Orleans Saints. Glazer, who was in a wheelchair and watched the game from the owners' private suite, was given a game ball by then-coach Jon Gruden after Tampa Bay's 31-14 victory.
“It made us all feel good to see our owner back in our stadium once again,'' Gruden said in his post-game news conference. “He's a heck of a guy.”
Bucs players shared Gruden's sentiment, with many saying in the wake of Glazer's passing that his pregame visits to the locker room were a highlight of their game-day routine.
“We all looked forward to the handshake from Mr. Glazer before the games and hopefully another one afterward because that meant we had won,'' former Bucs safety John Lynch said.
“He gave us our space as players, but when he came around and shook your hand it was to show you his gratitude and to offer you encouragement,'' former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. “He always showed respect for us.''
Just as he was in Tampa, Glazer was being remembered Wednesday in England, where he also created controversy as a sports owner after buying control of the Manchester United soccer club for $1.5 billion in the summer of 2005.
The takeover triggered a backlash among some loyal supporters of the historic franchise, some of whom even burned a likeness of Glazer in effigy at one demonstration. But most fans changed their minds after Glazer started pouring money into the team, and in 2007 it won the first of five Premier League championship titles under his ownership.
The Bucs, meanwhile, went from being one of the most derided franchises in all of sports to one considered by many in the NFL and other sports leagues to be a model of success.
“He was a very good owner from my perspective,'' said Jerry Angelo, who worked under general manager Rich McKay as the Bucs director of player personnel during their rise to respectability.
“His sons were more the day-to-day owners, the ones who we communicated with. But he let all of us do our jobs and allowed us to grow as a team, both on and off the field. Given the previous owner, he was a star. Without him we could not have accomplished the things we did.''
Those achievements, though, carried a cost, as it also became much more expensive to be a Buccaneer fan. The Glazers initially demanded 10-year seat licenses for all Bucs season-ticket holders and consistently raised ticket prices.
But it was also during Glazer's term as owner that the city of Tampa hosted its third and fourth Super Bowls, with much of the credit for those events coming to Tampa going to Glazer and his sons.
“That's one of the things I most respected Mr. Glazer for, was how he fought to make sure Tampa didn't lose the Super Bowl,'' Brooks said. “That summed it up to me how much he loved the team and wanted the city to have what it was due and he went in there and fought for us.''
Born in Rochester, N.Y., the son of Lithuanian immigrants, Glazer began working in his father's watch-parts business at age 8. At 15, his father died and Glazer took over and expanded the business. He later expanded his own business interests to include food service equipment, food packaging, food supplies, marine protein, broadcasting, health care, real estate, banking, natural gas and oil production, stocks, bonds and government securities.
He eventually became president and chief executive officer of First Allied Corporation, a holding company for his vast array of businesses.
However, it wasn't until he purchased the Bucs on Jan. 16, 1995, that Malcolm Glazer became a household name in the Tampa Bay area.
Content simply with being an owner and not a meddler, Glazer monitored the Bucs operation from his Palm Beach home and left the day-to-day operation of the organization to three of his sons. They, in turn, left the day-to-day operation of the team to the football staff.
Former Bucs general manager Rich McKay often lauded the Glazer family for its hands-off approach, saying they consistently provided him with the resources necessary to build a champion but seldom made decisions regarding the on-field operation of the team.
The one glaring exception to that rule came in the wake of the 2001 season, when the Glazers fired the winningest head coach in team history, Tony Dungy, and later orchestrated the hiring of Jon Gruden as his successor.
But even that move proved to be a successful one as Gruden, in his first year as coach, guided the Bucs through a 12-4 regular season before leading the team to a 48-21 victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
Years later, while speaking of the only owner he ever played for, former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott said the path to that Super Bowl title was blazed by Glazer and his desire to win.
“Outside of the X's and O's, Mr. Glazer is why we're here,'' Alstott said. “He came in and built the franchise up and allowed us to get some players that cared about winning. It has to start from the owner if you're going to get anywhere and be competitive in this league.''
Glazer was considered a shrewd businessman with “an eye for value,'' according to a Forbes Magazine profile. For years, he held a prominent position on the NFL's finance committee, which looked after the league's financial well-being.
But he also tangled regularly with the Tampa Sports Authority over who should pay for certain stadium costs, such as those pertaining to a league directive ordering increased security at the stadium on game days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Glazer also tangled legally with associates inside his own business empire. Not long after he purchased the Bucs, Glazer and his First Allied Corp. were the targets in a lawsuit brought by residents of a mobile home park he owned. The residents' complaint: Glazer was charging extra for pets and each resident beyond the first two living in the household.
However, when, it came to spending on the team itself, Glazer seemed to have no bounds. The Bucs spent millions on free agents, and Glazer agreed to pay the Raiders $8 million as well as four draft picks to land Gruden.
He also was a charitable man. In 1977, Glazer committed to donate as much as $2 million to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, and his Glazer Family Foundation has contributed millions to area charities and educational causes since being founded in 1999, including building the Glazer Children's Museum in downtown Tampa.
And while he often came off looking ruthless as a businessman, there was clearly a soft side. According to former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer, Glazer was the first person to call him after word leaked out that Dilfer's infant son had died of a heart ailment.
Glazer was a private man, and few outside of Glazer's inner circle said they actually knew the man. Former Tampa mayor Sandy Freedman once said of Glazer that neither she nor anyone else in Tampa ever got to know him intimately.
Glazer is survived by his wife, Linda, sons Avram, Kevin, Bryan, Joel and Ed and daughter Darcie.
A private family funeral service will be held. The opportunity for others to remember and celebrate Glazer's life will be announced at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to All Children's Hospital, St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, and Shriners Hospitals for Children – Tampa.