TAMPA, Fla. — What do getting dumped, face paint and a love for football all have in common? They played a role in the creation of Buccaneers' superfan "Big Nasty."
It's a persona Keith Kunzig, who has loved the Bucs since he was 8 years old, has taken on for decades. Every game day, he reps his team in a big way with head-to-toe gear that's sure to turn any head.
But it appears it was a girl who broke his brother's heart all those years ago we have to thank — or else "Big Nasty" wouldn't be where he is today.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were taking on the Green Bay Packers in what Kunzig describes as the "battle of the pigs," with both teams being a far cry from the ones we know today.
His brother had just been dumped, and they were looking for a way to cheer him up when the idea popped into Kunzig's head.
"Let's paint our face and go to the game," he said, recalling how nearly 300 Packers fans flocked to them to take photos.
Next, Kunzig needed a nickname but you can't give one to yourself, that's in poor taste. "Big Nasty's" came from an unexpected place — an older woman who he had seen in Tampa Stadium game-after-game.
One day, as he climbed 60 rows up, decked out for game day in the sweltering Florida heat he heard a voice call out: “She goes, ‘Son you need a nickname. Something big and something nasty,’ and it’s stuck ever since.”
It was the older woman. Kunzig still to this day wishes he knew her name to thank her for giving him a moniker he cherishes all these years later.
As for what drew Kunzig to the Buccaneers, especially at a time when they weren't known for winning games, let alone Super Bowls? A few things come to the life-long fan's mind.
First, there was Bucco Bruce, the Tampa team's original logo of a pirate with a sword in his mouth that you may have recently seen on throwback gear.
“The colors. The orange, the white, the red. Fell in love with it," Kunzig said.
But it was the relationship he had as a kid with players like Lee Roy Selman, Jimmie Giles, Mark Cotney and Scot Brantley that really drove the Bucs home for "Big Nasty."
“These are the players that actually were, I guess you could say, our foundation. They showed kindness to me and to this day, I’ll be a Buccaneer fan ‘til the day I die," Kunzig said.
The Tampa Bay team isn't just about championships, touchdowns and tailgates for Kunzig. It all comes back to family.
Tampa Stadium is where he proposed to his now-wife, and a Buccaneers' onesie is how he learned he was going to be the dad of a baby girl.
“I mean, those things you just can’t make up. And it’s just – it’s amazing.” Kunzig said. “When you’re bringing your family up to love a team and then you see them love them just as much as you, that’s what it’s about.”
The team has also taught the two-time fan Hall of Famer valuable life lessons, according to Kunzig, which he hopes to pass on to the next generation of Buccaneers' fans.
“One of the things is, being a Buccaneer fan, you have to have loyalty. Things aren’t always gonna go right," Kunzig said. “Not everything’s a world championship year, you know, sometimes you go through the tough times. But, I’ll tell ya, when you stick with that team, no matter how many years of loyalty and you went through the losing seasons and finally win a world championship, you feel like you did it with them."
A tour of "Big Nasty's" Buccaneers' den easily carries countless stories of his more than 30 years as a season ticket holder. The room is decked out with helmets, his Hall of Fame plaques, footballs and even a replica of the team's end zone pirate ship with his figurine at the helm.
But a small trophy of a football that reads "most improved" that he earned from his all-time favorite Buccaneer Mark Cotney during football camp as a kid is priceless to Kunzig.
“I got turned down from every coach from defensive line to linebackers and I ended up being coached by a defensive back coach, which was Mark Cotney, and I learned how to back peddle and got most improved that camp," Kunzig said. "I’ll never forget it. He told me to always keep working and I think my work ethic has what it always has been through that man because he taught me how to work hard.”
Fast forward to 2021 and Kunzig is putting that hard work into action when it comes to helping his community and inspiring kids.
The Buccaneers' superfan spearheads the "Drugs are Nasty" program and talks to students, as young as elementary school, about drug prevention. He also donates an experience to children's charities called "Nasty for a Day" where the winner gets to spend the day with him.
He also hopes to use his platform as "Big Nasty" to inspire kids, which he says is the best part of doing what he does.
"I got to be honest with you it’s the best thing in the world when you have a child come up to you and look at you like they're in awe,” Kunzig said.
He'll have the chance to see Bucs' fans of all ages once again on Thursday as the Buccaneers take on the Dallas Cowboys. It'll be a ceremonial homecoming of sorts for fans who were unable to see the Tampa team become the first to win a Super Bowl home.
“There is nothing, nothing like playoff or meaningful games with the fans. Let’s face it we’re celebrating a Super Bowl championship come Thursday night and we’re all expecting domination over the Dallas Cowboys. And if it happens, which I think it will, these fans of a sold-out Ray Jay are gonna feel the excitement – the energy is second to none. You can’t get that on TV," Kunzig said.
He'll be ready, war paint and all, come game day, but there's a superstition he needs to take care of first and a pretty delicious one at that.
Kunzig says the Buccaneers have been on a nine-game winning streak ever since he started heading to Bassano Cheesecake in Safety Harbor and ordering the dessert named after him.
And don't worry, he already has his cheesecake for Thursday's matchup.
“I’m afraid if I don’t eat that dang cheesecake, we’re gonna lose and break the record. So, unfortunately, the waist line’s growing over it but, hey if it keeps the win streak alive, the price you’ve gotta pay," he said.
That superstition just might help his prediction for the upcoming Buccaneers' season come true. If you're a Miami fan, you might not want to read this.
“1972 Miami Dolphins, put your champagne away cause the 20-0 Bucs are coming. I expect [an] undefeated season and I never give a prediction. But if you can’t feel confident about this team right now and about a year under your belt with Brady knowing the offense inside and out. I think the sky’s the limit," Kunzig said.
He's hoping for back-to-back championship titles for players and fans alike but also knows meeting that hefty undefeated expectation needs to come one game at a time.
He'll be ready to cheer his team on as they strive to keep the Lombardi in Champa Bay, but there might be a voice cheering just a bit louder than his own.
Kunzig shares that over the years, his daughter Destiny "definitely takes the cake" when it comes to being the loudest voice on game day. Sometimes he finds himself getting dizzy from screaming so loud to keep up and has to toss in a lip-sync every now and again.
“Now you have to harness it. Before I was 100 miles an hour, all day long when I was in my 20s and 30s. Now I’m in my 50s, you're right, I’ve got to reel it in and save myself," he said.
And while Kunzig will always be a Buccaneer fan, the time to hang up his run as "Big Nasty" could be just around the corner.
“It is getting tougher, you know, on my health and everything like that, that heat is getting up there but I hope to do it at least this year, hopefully next," he said, adding that he'd continue on for charity events and kids.
As the war paint fades and Kunzig starts enjoying gameday the same way the rest of us do, one thing is for certain: his legacy will live on forever.
Breaking down the look:
🏈: Kunzig says it takes about an hour to paint his face for game day but about “five minutes to get that stuff off and I can’t wait.”
🏈: If you're looking to get in on the face painting game, try a wet wipe and a scrubber. Kunzig says the combination will get the job done.
🏈: Practice makes perfect. The first time Kunzig painted up, he says it ended up looking like he had a bad spray tan for a week.
“The very first time we painted up with my brother I got this orange paint that came out of a cup and what y’all don’t know is it actually stained my face.”
🏈: If you ever wondered why he wears the No. 99 jersey, it's because of Warren Sapp who has a special place in Kunzig's heart.