To keep their pursuit of Tom Brady under wraps, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned to a top-secret codename: “Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
The Bucs are coached by York High graduate Bruce Arians.
According to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, a few “Field of Dreams” fans inside Tampa Bay’s front office decided to use the moniker for their unlikely pursuit of the longtime Patriots quarterback. The phrase was coined by John Spytek, the Bucs’ player personnel director and Brady’s former Michigan teammate.
“More than any other franchise in American sports, the Buccaneers needed an unlikely savior to suddenly appear out of a cornfield,” O’Connor wrote. “'If we build it, he will come,” Spytek would tell his general manager, Jason Licht. “Go the distance.'”
Licht and Spytek’s secret plan worked, as their initial conversations with Brady and his agent, Don Yee, made them start to believe a match was possible. Within a week of free agency opening, the Bucs landed their man, signing Brady to a fully guaranteed two-year, $50 million contract.
During a call the day before Brady officially signed his contract, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and Licht got the sense the future Hall of Famer was seriously considering the Bucs. As Brady spoke of his deep knowledge of the Bucs’ roster and expressed his excitement about the potential of joining the team, Arians and Licht begin to realize their mission might end successfully.
“Licht doesn’t recall Brady’s exact words, but at one point in the call the six-time Super Bowl champ said something to the effect of, “I think we’ve got something. We’ve got a chance to be very special,'” O’Connor wrote.
“That’s when Licht looked up from his seat in Arians’ living room and gave his head coach a thumbs-up.”