TAMPA, Fla. — This Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to the NFC Championship Activity for the very first time in eighteen many years when they participate in the Environmentally friendly Bay Packers at Lambeau Industry (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), and no one is a lot more thrilled about it than the 2002 Buccaneers who arrived in advance of them and were the past Tampa Bay team to get there.
Individuals Buccaneers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 to earn the franchise’s very first and only NFC championship en route to a forty eight-21 Tremendous Bowl XXXVII victory in San Diego. They watched from afar as this season’s team very first reached the playoffs for the very first time in 13 many years and then past week defeated the New Orleans Saints thirty-twenty in the NFC divisional-spherical sport.
Corridor of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks beamed with pleasure as Devin White notched an interception and a fumble restoration. He then texted former teammate Shelton Quarles, who is now the Bucs’ director of football functions, with, “One a lot more! One a lot more!” Quarles got the same textual content from former defensive deal with Anthony “Booger” McFarland.
“The reminiscences begun to stream,” mentioned Brooks, who’s serving as the co-chairman of the Tremendous Bowl LV Tampa host committee. “Just thrilled that they’ve earned the suitable to be in this position. I actually, actually just can’t wait around to see them participate in and glimpse ahead to them producing record.”
While former quarterback Brad Johnson is ecstatic in excess of the way Tom Brady is enjoying, former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott is gushing in excess of the jogging sport.
“I’m loving it. I’m digging [it],” Alstott mentioned. “That a single-two punch with [Leonard] Fournette and [Ronald] Jones — they’re jogging tricky, they enhance every other … . And then that wide receiver corps is loaded. … It is just a good time for the Bucs suitable now.”
Brooks extra, “We’ve all waited a lengthy time to see this.”
‘They were screaming at us, conversing about our moms’
Related to this season’s Bucs, who will experience wintry conditions at Lambeau Industry — which at this time phone for a large of 28 levels, a minimal of 12 and a forty% likelihood of snow — the 2002 Bucs experienced to struggle frigid temperatures in the 20s in Philadelphia. They turned the very first and only Buccaneers team to earn a sport in temperatures at or under freezing, and the very first Buccaneers team to earn a playoff sport on the highway.
Even a lot more overwhelming, while, was the undertaking of knocking off a No. 1-seeded, Andy Reid-coached team that showcased 10 Pro Bowlers, which includes quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Eagles experienced beaten Tampa Bay four consecutive times in the past a few many years, which includes in the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.
“For us, it was sort of a nemesis with Philadelphia,” mentioned Johnson, who experienced been sacked five times in the teams’ prior meeting and experienced cracked ribs. “You virtually felt that was our Tremendous Bowl.”
Former jogging back again Michael Pittman remembers being in a hostile natural environment from the time the team’s buses arrived. The Bucs were forced to keep in the same hotel as an Eagles pep rally.
“Everyone was flipping us off. Very little young children on their parents’ shoulder flipping us off,” Pittman mentioned. “They were screaming at us, conversing about our moms, our wives … but we experienced a single agenda. We required to earn that sport.”
They watched as the Eagles well prepared a distinctive Tremendous Bowl deliver-off occasion all through their Saturday walk-by way of.
“They experienced a significant banner at the pretty top rated. I’ll never forget about,” Quarles mentioned. “It [go through], ‘The look at of San Diego appears to be like terrific from right here.’ And I’m like, ‘They assume they’ve presently received this sport.'”
‘Triple Remaining, eighty three Double Smash, X Option’
With just beneath two minutes remaining in the very first quarter, the Bucs trailed 7-3, with only 69 full yards of offense. Johnson experienced presently thrown an interception. But on third down, he found wide receiver Joe Jurevicius on a 71-lawn capture-and-operate that wholly adjusted the game’s momentum.
“Triple Remaining, eighty three Double Smash, X Choice,” mentioned Johnson, describing a participate in with two corner routes and two flat routes, with Jurevicius lining up within. The notion was to leave Jurevicius a single-on-a single against linebacker Barry Gardner.
Johnson virtually audibled out of it.
Five days previously, on Jan. 14, Jurevicius’ spouse, Meagan, experienced presented delivery to their very first child, Michael William. Born a single month untimely, he was diagnosed with sialidosis, a rare metabolic condition that impacts mobile perform. Medical practitioners experienced presented him just a two% likelihood to survive even two days.
Jurevicius experienced skipped the complete week of apply and the walk-by way of as he stood vigil with his spouse and new child. But he joined the team late in Philadelphia, amazing teammates when he mentioned, “Hey, my spouse and children wants me to participate in.”
Brooks explained to him, “Hey male, we’ve got your back again.”
Jurevicius froze out Gardner with a stutter step. He then outran him and Carlos Emmons in advance of Brian Dawkins introduced him down at the Philadelphia five-lawn line.
“It was well documented what they were going by way of that complete week,” Brooks mentioned. “For him to be the a single to step up in that minute and make actually, a sport-changing participate in at that time — it’s a single of all those times in which, ‘Hey, the stars are lining up for us.’”
Two performs afterwards, Alstott barreled into the close zone to seize a 10-7 direct. Jurevicius would have just a single capture that day, but it was, in quite a few strategies, the defining minute of his occupation, and the sport.
“I’m not using something absent from anyone, but I assume it was the most critical participate in of the sport,” Johnson mentioned.
Michael William Jurevicius fought for his life for 70 days. He died March 24.
‘Veterans Stadium never sounded so good to me’
The Bucs led the Eagles twenty-10 with 3:27 still left in the fourth quarter but nevertheless required to close out the sport.
That is when cornerback Ronde Barber faked a blitz and baited McNabb into throwing a slant move intended for receiver Antonio Freeman. Barber jumped the route, returning the decide on 92 yards for a landing.
“I was suitable beside him jogging down the subject and hunting at their sideline, extremely quiet,” mentioned Brooks, who considers it the greatest participate in in team record. “Veterans Stadium never sounded so good to me. For the reason that there was useless silence! It sounded so sweet simply because it was useless silence, of disbelief.”
“Everybody was jumping on the sideline,” Pittman mentioned. “I was just hunting for the male, whoever experienced the NFC championship hats. I was like, ‘It’s in excess of, baby! Let me go get my hat!’”
“You really do not get quite a few times like that, to celebrate like that,” Johnson mentioned. “You virtually felt like that was the Tremendous Bowl than it was the real actual Tremendous Bowl, simply because of how significantly emotion went into it.”
Building their own legacy
The Bucs are a different team right now. The 2002 Bucs experienced a very first-spherical bye and did not have to go on the highway until eventually that sport in Philly. This season’s team is led by Brady, who has received 6 Trem
endous Bowls presently. These Bucs entered the postseason as a wild-card team and a fifth seed, needing to earn at Washington and at New Orleans just to get right here.
Brady emphasised that psychological toughness would be a necessity presented the factors.
“We’re not going up there pondering about how cold it is,” Quarles mentioned. “We’re not enjoying the cold. We’re enjoying the Packers.”
But the ache from just about every harm tends to be magnified in the cold, as the 2002 Bucs were well aware. Johnson was nevertheless recovering from a reduced back again harm. Pittman experienced played just about the complete season with a large ankle sprain.
“It’s actual. But the skill to ‘lock in’ is important,” Johnson mentioned.
Alstott has a treatment for the chilly temperatures: the hen broth at Lambeau Industry, which he designed an affinity for while enjoying in the outdated NFC Central.
“They have the ideal hen broth at any time,” Alstott mentioned. “Before the sport, just after the sport, at halftime — they have the ideal hen broth. I persuade them to drink that.”
His ideal advice? Make just about every participate in count, appreciate it and keep in the minute.
“It really is the biggest sport of your life,” Alstott mentioned. “At the time that they’re in in their occupation[s] — it does not make any difference if you have been to 10 Tremendous Bowls or none — it’s the biggest sport simply because it’s the following sport. And you have an unbelievable opportunity that’s never been finished, to participate in in a Tremendous Bowl sport at your property stadium.”
‘We really don’t participate in that sport this week’
Mentor Bruce Arians cautioned his gamers about hunting forward, even while they can see from their apply subject the transformation of Raymond James Stadium with Tremendous Bowl LV signage in excess of the past two weeks, one thing team captain Lavonte David termed “surreal.”
“We really do not participate in that sport this week,” Arians explained to them. “We participate in the Packers in the NFC Championship Activity. If you begin pondering about the Tremendous Bowl, you get defeat and [will] be packing your baggage on Monday.”
“I adore Bruce and how ahead he is. I adore it. What is improper with it? It is termed the real truth, suitable?” Alstott mentioned.
Arians has gotten his share of well-wishes from former gamers. So has David. But they just can’t get swept up in nostalgia. They will leave that to the kinds who arrived in advance of them, who can now appreciate viewing a new era of gamers next in their footsteps.
“When the Bucs earn, they earn,” Arians mentioned. “[I am] actually, actually very pleased of the heritage they still left. But this is about producing names for ourselves now.
“I’m absolutely sure they’re going to appreciate it.”