Jimmie Giles was a generational-type tight end.
His one problem? He played in the wrong generation.
Giles arrived in the NFL in 1977 when his position demanded a blocker first, a receiver second. Little did he know that his position would spin off in another direction. The game was evolving, and the position became more important in the 1980s and going forward because of what tight ends could do down the field as receivers rather than along the line of scrimmage as blockers.
So the impact Giles had on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and on his position have been forgotten. He has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 24 years but his career has never come up for discussion. He’s never been a semifinalist, much less a finalist. He is now in his final year of modern-era eligibility for Canton and his career certainly deserves some discussion.
Giles played 13 seasons and went to four Pro Bowls, catching 350 passes for 5,084 yards and 41 touchdowns. Those numbers pale in comparisons to the Rob Gronkowskis and Travis Kelces of today’s NFL. But that’s not what he was asked to do at his position in 1977. He spent his rookie year with the Houston Oilers, where he started four games and caught only 17 passes.
“I was so fortunate to start with the Houston Oilers,” Giles said, “because I had three great coaches who cared about me not only as a football player, but as an individual. Those guys were Bum Phillips, King Hill and, most of all, Joe Bugel because he taught me how to block, which I took tremendous pride in. I knew I could run. I knew I could catch the football. But I wanted to know how to block and those men took the time and effort with me and gave me the opportunity to do that.”
His new-found prowess as a blocker caught the attention of Tampa Bay coach John McKay, the godfather of the “student body-right” offense at Sothern Cal. He wanted to run the ball with the expansion Buccaneers and brought his former Southern Cal tailback Ricky Bell with him to Tampa in 1977. Bell had a disappointing rookie season, rushing for only 436 yards, but McKay knew better blocking would make Bell a better runner.
So McKay traded for Giles in 1978. Inside of two seasons, Bell was a Top 10 rusher with 1,263 yards and the run-first Bucs were playing in the 1979 NFC title game. Giles, by the way, led those 1979 Bucs in receiving with 40 catches. Five seasons later, again behind the blocking of Giles, James Wilder became the first running back in history to carry the ball 400 times in a single season on the way to the Pro Bowl with his 1,544 yards.
“When I started in professional football,” Giles said, “I had no idea about the Hall of Fame. All I knew is I wanted to be the best tight end that ever played the game.”
But Giles thought he’d be judged against the game’s great blocking tight ends – the John Mackeys, Mike Ditkas and Ron Kramers of the 1960s. Instead, his skills were being overshadowed by the spectacular receiving seasons being put up by the Kellen Winslows, Ozzie Newsomes and Todd Christiansens in the 1980s.
Giles may have lacked their quantity. But he could match their quality.
In his first three Pro Bowl seasons, Giles averaged 18.2 yards per catch in 1980, 17.5 yards in 1981 and 17.8 yards in 1982. He could run the seam route and then outrun the defenders after the catch. He caught an 89-yard touchdown pass against Chicago in 1981, an 80-yarder against Dallas in 1982 and a 75-yarder against the Cowboys in the 1981 playoffs. He also caught TD passes of 66 yards against both Detroit in 1979 and Denver in his final season in 1989.
Giles caught seven passes for 116 yards in a 1985 game against Miami – and a franchise-record four of his receptions went for touchdowns. He also had a 100-yard receiving game against the 1985 Bears, who fielded one of the great defenses in NFL history that season. His 34 career receiving touchdowns for the Bucs remain a franchise record to this day. But nothing yet from Canton.
“When you have teams that game-plan to stop one individual,” Giles said, “you’ve got to think he should have a shot (at the Hall of Fame) and should be looked at. I’ve been talking to Dan Hampton and Richard Dent (Hall of Famers from the Chicago Bears), and those guys told me their whole game plan was: If you stop Jimmie Giles, you stop the Bucs.”
Giles and his career should be “looked at.” But his candidacy is running out of time.