The second time around is harder

by Gary Shelton on June 11, 2021

in general

Cooper's Lightning are making another run./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

Great stories are hard. Sequels are harder.

It's a rare thing to win big one time. It's quite another challenge to do it again.

Around here, we should know that. As a sporting community, we have still seen a lot more bad seasons than good ones. Still, every generation or so, we find gold, and confetti falls from the sky, and we take on the best attributes of a team -- strength, will, resiliency, talent --- as somehow representing us.

Then comes the following year, and, well, splat.

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As rare as trophies are around here, doing it the second time has been an unclimbable mountain. Through history, we pretty much stink at repeats.

That's why this year's Lightning team has been so amazing. Following a Stanley Cup-winning season, the Bolts are eight wins from doing it again. If they can get past the Islanders, and then whoever is left standing from the West, they'd be something not seen in Tampa Bay: A back-to-back champion.

You remember what happened the previous time the Lightning won a Stanley Cup, don't you? The league was so shocked it shut down for a year. No, seriously, a labor strike cost the team any prayer of repeating. The league was shut down during 2004-2005.

Worse than that, some knucklehead in the league office decided that contracts would be accelerated during the lost year. That meant that both Vinny Lecavalier and Nikolai Khabibulin's contacts came due, which meant the franchise lost Khabibulin.

When the league decided to play again, the Bolts went 43-33 and lost four out of five games to Ottawa. All the potential -- Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards were all kids -- faded away.

Yeah, this is better. The Bolts may yet stump their toe, but so far, they've shown a lot of what won them the cup last year.

Maybe repeating is getting easier.

Remember the Bucs' first Super Bowl? That team had Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp and John Lynch and Ronde Barber in their primes, and they had just enough offense to win the whole shebang.

But the next year, the Bucs fizzled and finished 7-9, including a particularly painful loss to the Colts (and former coach Tony Dungy). The season got ugly with the divide between Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay. The team was so bad that when Super Bowl champions are ranked, the Bucs are shrugged off as a one-hit wonder.

It's too hard to say what will happen this year, but the Bucs seem to have the ammunition to make a strong run. They brought back their entire starting team, and the two division players they feared the most -- Drew Brees and Julio Jones -- are out of their way. It's hard to repeat, but this team won't go 7-9. Will it?

You can even argue that the Tampa Bay Rays are in position to repeat their success (an American League pennant) this year. Despite a spotty offense, despite losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, hey have the best record in the major leagues. With their bullpen, they could be tough to beat in a series.

In 2009, the Rays lost 13 more games than the previous season. They couldn't win one-run games. The pitching wasn't quite as good. The hitting wasn't as clutch. The Rays certainly aren't the only champions to slip to the level of pretty good, but it happened

So what's to separate this run at repetition from the older ones?

The rosters are deeper, for one thing. The front offices are better.

If you could go back in time, you have to believe Jeff Vinik's Lightning would pay both Khabibulin and Lecavalier. It's hard to foresee Bruce Arians and Jason Licht having the same ego problems that Gruden and McKay had.

Bottom line: The current teams have kept their hunger. They aren't satisfied.

They won. Now, they want to win again.

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