17 years later, Bucs’ title is memorable

by Gary Shelton on January 21, 2020

in general

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

On the night the world stood still, we were all in motion.

You were cheering. Your friend was dancing. Warren Sapp was talking. Jon Gruden was grinning. Me? I was running through the tunnels of a football stadium in San Diego and out toward a makeshift tent nearby.

The Tampa Bay Bucs -- of all teams -- had conquered the world, and it felt as if it would last forever.

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It was the team of our lives -- and for a lot of fans, the only team worth keeping in their lives. The Bucs had been dreadful. Soon, they would be dreadful again. They had been not-quite-good-enough.

But for one night, for one season, they owned the sport. They owned this town, too. We all had Sapp's strut and Brooks' quiet fire. We had John Lynch's competitiveness, and Ronde Barber's instincts. We had Mike Alstott's determination and Joe Jurevicius' resilience. We had Monte Kiffin's energy and Brad Johnson's efficiency. We had Simeon Rice's knack for big plays and Dexter Jackson's timing.

And we had a championship.

It was the darndest night ever to be a sports fan in Tampa Bay. No franchise had the dirt kicked in its face like this one. No one had been through the punch lines and the insults and dismissals of this one.

Looking back, that entire era of Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden -- it took both men to win it, frankly -- was something of a fluke. Look at the years before Dungy. Look at the tears after Gruden.

So what was so special about this team?

In hindsight, this was a team that had grown up together. They almost got there in 1999 but for a controversial call. They almost got there in 2000 but for a missed kick.

And then they shut out the lights on the Raiders in a lopsided Super Bowl.

Legacies are hard when a franchise fades away afterward. So it is with the Bucs, who are still trying to get Lynch and Barber into the Hall of Fame. There isn't much requirement to think about the Bucs nationally anymore. They don't have a playoff win since that night almost 17 years ago. They aren't quite as bad as they were in the Leeman Bennett-Ray Perkins years, which is something for the Raheem Morris-Greg Schiano eras to be proud of. But they weren't much better, either.

So how about it? Were the Bucs the flukiest franchise ever to win a Super Bowl?

No, not if you count the 10 years before the Super Bowl. That was a great defense. Take the rushing average, the sacks, the quarterback rating, the defensive ranking, the points allowed ... everything you can use to determine a great team -- and this one acquits itself well. I did the breakdown a few years ago, and only the Steelers had a better decade.

But if you consider the life of a franchise, well, maybe. Remember, Cleveland doesn't have a championship. Or Detroit. Or Arizona.

Through the history of the franchise, the Bucs have a .387 winning percentage. That's worse than one-time winners such as the Jets (.449), the Eagles (.449) and the Saints (.463).

Does that mean the Bucs should give the trophy back? Of course not. They earned their title. Heck, a lot of people were getting frustrated waiting for it to happen.

Look, Neil Armstrong only walked on the moon once.

I'd bet he remembers it fondly.

Still, isn't it time it happened again?

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