TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will resurrect “Fitzmagic” for at least one week, with coach Dirk Koetter naming Ryan Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
For those who have experienced Fitzmagic on a personal level — long before beards were flying off the shelves of costume stores and tracksuits and gold chains became Tampa’s most desirable accessories — they think it’s real and it should continue.
Here are some of their tales:
‘What the hell do we have here?’
Harvard football coach Tim Murphy got his first glimpse of Fitzmagic during Fitzpatrick’s freshman year in 2001. In a blowout game at the beginning of the season, Murphy put in Fitzpatrick — who had risen from the No. 5 to No. 2 quarterback spot quickly — so he could gain some experience.
“We were up by a couple scores. We wanted to get our first-string quarterback out of there; we wanted to get Fitzy in,” Murphy said. “A conservative four-minute drill — run the football, run the clock, get out of there; keep our first-string quarterback in one piece.”
The first play Murphy called was “41-48 Nevada.” Fitzpatrick was supposed to fake a handoff to the running back out of a pistol formation and then run a naked bootleg the other way. The idea was for the defense to bite hard on the run fake to clear an easy path for the quarterback.
“I just said, ‘Hey, here’s the deal. Don’t go out of bounds. Don’t take a hit. Ball security. Just make sure you slide and keep the clock going,” said Murphy, who said the play went off without a hitch until the safety picked it up at the last second. Fitzpatrick lowered his shoulder and went barreling forward.
“He hits the safety so hard that they had to stop the game for 10 minutes,” Murphy said. “I turned to one of my assistants and said, ‘What the hell do we have here?’ And the rest is history.”
‘He’s one of the best teammates I ever had’
For Dorin Dickerson, who played with Fitzpatrick with the Buffalo Bills in 2012 and through the 2013 preseason, it wasn’t about what the quarterback did on the field as a player, but what he did as a teammate.
“I was a smaller, fast tight end that was before my time, so it was always a struggle [to stick around],” Dickerson said. “Cut day was always a very nerve-wracking day for me.”
So when one of the veteran players told Dickerson, “You know Fitz went up to the GM [Buddy Nix] and [coach] Chan Gailey and really vouched for you and vouched to keep you here,” he was speechless.
“I was like, ‘Really?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, he told them that he wanted you here, he wanted you around, he wanted you as a weapon, he really appreciates the way you play.’ He’s basically the reason I stuck around in Buffalo that year.
“From then on, I had total respect. That’s unbelievable for someone to do that, especially a starting quarterback,” Dickerson said. “He’s one of the best teammates I ever had.”
— Dorin Dickerson (@scorindorin) September 17, 2018
Fitzpatrick would always go to great lengths to ensure his teammates were loose and having fun.
Prior to a road game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, Dickerson was sitting in the hot tub, and without saying a word, Fitzpatrick hopped in.
“He just jumps in and I’m looking at him like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m getting in the hot tub with you.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you know, these are single hot tubs.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I know, we’re cool, we’re friends.'”
“And everyone was looking around like, ‘What is he doing?'” Dickerson said, laughing. “But that just describes Ryan Fitzpatrick. … I carried that mentality throughout the league, after I played in Buffalo. You can’t take everything so seriously.”
‘Fitz is so ahead of the curve’
For wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who played with Fitzpatrick with the New York Jets from 2015 to ’16, there’s more to Fitzpatrick than one magical play — although they shared many together. Marshall remembered the pair’s preparation together during the week and how much he learned from the quarterback.
“Fitz taught me the saying that the game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical,” Marshall said. “Fitz is so ahead of the curve. He knows what the defensive coordinator is going to do before he does it. He studies every tendency, every statistic. We all know he’s smart and his pedigree, where he comes from, but he truly uses all of it … and then he’s a playmaker.”
Marshall and Fitzpatrick connected on 148 passes for 2,089 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons. Marshall is not the least bit surprised Fitzpatrick has had similar success in Tampa.
“That’s exactly who Fitz is,” Marshall said. “You give him an opportunity, you give him some guys around him, and he’s going to make something happen.”
In 2015 against the New York Giants, Fitzpatrick fired a 9-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Marshall, tying the score with 15 seconds left. Fitzpatrick engineered three scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime to win 23-20, keeping the Jets’ playoff hopes alive.
“Every day was a great memory playing with Fitz,” Marshall said. “He made it fun, interesting — he challenged us. Every day was amazing with Fitz.”
— ESPN’s Brady Henderson contributed to this report.