Former Buc looking forward to return

Hardy Nickerson will be making his first trip back to Tampa to play football this weekend since he left as a free agent after the 1999 season. Only this time, Nickerson will be playing for the Green Bay Packers, one of the Buccaneers' biggest rivals in recent years.<p>

Green Bay and Tampa Bay enter Sunday's game with the best records in the NFC at 8-2. The winner will have the inside track on homefield advantage in the playoffs.

For Nickerson, it's more than just another game. The 16th year pro played seven seasons for the Bucs beginning in 1993. During his time in Tampa, he was named to the Pro Bowl five times.

"I have some great fans there," Nickerson said. "People have been very supportive of me and my family. It's going to be special. I'm pretty excited about it."

Nickerson played the last two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars before signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Packers this past off-season. While with the Bucs, he was in the middle of some big games against the Packers, so he admits it will be little different entering Raymond James Stadium as a member of the "enemy."

"It's kind of reminiscent of the older days," Nickerson said. "It's going to be exciting out there. It's going to be a big game."

Nickerson's former teammates have great respect for the middle linebacker.

"He meant so much off the field to this football team, as well as on the field," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "He's a proven leader of a young team that was growing."

Added safety John Lynch: "When he came in 1993, he was the one who showed everyone around here how to be a pro. How you show up every day and compete. He certainly showed guys like myself and Derrick how to compete."

Nickerson has started all 10 games at middle linebacker for the Packers this season. He is second on the team in tackles with 72 but he has only made a few big plays. He doesn't have any sacks or interceptions, no fumble recoveries or forced fumbles, and one pass defensed. At 37, he is either at, or very close to the end, of his brilliant career.

"For me it's another opportunity to go out and play better. It's an opportunity for us as a team to go out and win. That's the main focus at this point."

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