Jimmie Giles: Baseball to football to HoF

FL: 1986 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Headshots
A familiar sight in Tampa: Another touchdown catch by Jimmie Giles. (Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Bucs)

(This is the second of a series about the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. Today: Jimmie Giles.)

Little known fact: Jimmie Giles, one of the greatest tight ends in pro football history, didn’t play college football at Alcorn State until he was a senior. His first love was baseball.

There’s a good reason for that. Giles grew up in Greenville’s North End neighborhood where he was introduced to Hall of Famer George “Boomer” Scott at a young age. Scott was a Boston Red Sox star, famous for hitting home runs that he called “taters.” Giles wanted to follow a similar path.

Indeed, he signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and played a season of minor league ball. But one day he was playing a game of touch football with some Alcorn football players. An Alcorn assistant coach O.C. Brown happened to be watching.

Brown couldn’t believe his eyes. Here was this 6 foot, 3-inch, 250-pounder out-running Alcorn’s fastest cornerbacks. Nobody could cover Jimmie Giles. Afterward, O.C. Brown sought out Giles.

“Son,” he told him, “you have the skills to make a lot of money in pro football.”

So Giles joined Hall of Famer Marino Casem’s Alcorn football team and the rest is history. At Alcorn, Giles was a wingback, or what we would call an H-back today.

The Houston Oilers and Bum Phillips drafted Giles out of Alcorn and he became a starter at tight end as a rookie. Phillips badly wanted to draft Earl Campbell out of nearby Texas following Giles’ rookie season. Tampa Bay, the worst team in pro football, held the first pick of the draft. When the Oilers talked to Tampa Bay about trading for the No. 1 pick, the Bucs demanded Jimmie Giles be part of the deal. So the teams swapped No 1 picks and the Bucs got Giles.

Bum got Earl Campbell and the Bucs not only got Giles, but they used their No. 1 pick to get quarterback Doug Williams out of Grambling. The worst team in pro football was about to get a lot better fast.

With the Bucs, Giles excelled not only as a pass receiver but as a blocker. He was that rare tight end who could not only knock down linebackers with his blocking but also beat safeties and catch long balls.

Giles was a four-time Pro Bowler in the 1980s and was selected the tight end on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the ‘80s.

For his career, he caught 350 passes for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. In a game against Miami in 1985, he set a Tampa Bay record with four touchdown catches. Don Shula, the Hall of Fame Dolphins coach said, “I can’t ever remember a tight end dominating us that way.”

On Dec. 4, 2011, Tampa Bay honored Giles by inducting him into its Ring of Honor. Giles became the third Buccaneer to have his name and number emblazoned on the stadium, following Coach John McKay and LeRoy Selmon.

Giles still wonders what would have happened had he pursued a career in baseball.

“I think I could have played,” he says. “I think I could have made the Big Leagues.”

That may be. In football, he knows.

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The BancorpSouth Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Induction Weekend begins with the induction banquet Friday night at the Jackson Hilton. There will be a Meet and Greet with Hall of Famers Saturday morning at the museum and a Drawdown of Champions and auction Saturday night at the museum. For more information, call 601 982-8264 or click here for ticket information

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