The Tampa Bay area has lost a prominent member of the community. Dr. Joe Diaco passed away on December 19 at the age of 83. Dr. Diaco, also called Daytona Joe, was an involved member of many community organizations. A former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force and head doctor for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Joe left an indelible mark on the Tampa Bay community.
Like so many Tampa residents, Joe Diaco was born to immigrant parents, Joe and Elizabeth Diaco, in Pennsylvania in 1939. He went to college and med school in Pennsylvania, eventually becoming Chief Resident of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. He then served as a surgeon in the United States Air Force and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after several years of service.
Afterwards, he moved to Tampa. He was Chief of Surgery and Chief of Staff for many years at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he gained a reputation for being an innovative and talented surgeon. He wasn’t afraid to use new technologies in the operating room in order to invent or improve surgical procedures. Here, he earned the nickname “Daytona Joe” in reference to his speed and proficiency in the operating room. He was also known for taking difficult surgical cases that others would turn down.
During the Christmas season, Dr. Joe Diaco’s office was always filled with gifts from grateful, uninsured patients who could not afford his services. He turned no one away, and he treated everyone with dignity and respect.
Head doctor to the Bucs
This dedication to his profession and reputation as a surgeon soon caught the eye of Hugh Culverhouse. In 1976, Culverhouse was the owner of a fledgling NFL team called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dr. Diaco was soon named the head doctor for the Bucs and held the position for 33 years. This makes him one of the longest-running team doctors in NFL history.
He was also one of the creators of the NFL Combines. Now called the NFL Scouting Combines, this week-long showcase invites college football players to perform physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches, general managers, and scouts. Athletes attend by invitation only and their performance during the Combine can affect their draft status and salary, and ultimately, their career.
Joe was an outstanding physician who served the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization honorably for more than three decades. Over the years, he grew very close to our family and became a trusted and valued friend. During his time as our primary team physician, Joe was an invaluable resource for our players and organization, but he became so much more to those of us who had the privilege of experiencing his friendship. He was compassionate, caring and dedicated to helping others. A devoted family man, Joe also deeply loved this community that he served so passionately for the majority of his life. -- Statement from the Glazer Family
During his time with the Bucs, Dr. Diaco became well known as an innovative sports medicine doctor and surgeon. He had the privilege of operating on many world-class athletes in other sports, including MLB and the NHL.
He retired as team doctor in 2008. However, because he remained close to the player, coaches, and staff, he was awarded a second Superbowl ring in 2021.
Dr. Diaco always found a way to combine his passions in life with his love for the community. His service in the Air Force made him a formidable board member of the Tampa International Airport Authority. His love for golfing led him to become a founding member of the Old Memorial Golf Club.
He was also a devoted family man, leaving behind three sons and six grandchildren. His legacy will survive generations in the Tampa Bay Area, and his family will continue to honor his legacy by serving everyone equally and to the best of their abilities.
Those interested in paying their respects can attend a visitation on Tuesday, January 3rd from 4 pm to 6 pm at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. A prayer service will begin at 6 pm.
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