2002 - The Super Bowl champion Bucs!
And so it came to pass in the 27th season, the first under the new saviour Jon Gruden, that the Buccaneers of Tampa Bay did win the Super Bowl triumphant over the forces of silver and black in the kingdom of San Diego. OK, so perhaps it is a little over the top on the biblical influence, but every Buc fan around the world was raising their eyes to the sky as the final moments of Super Bowl XXXVII ticked away. For after all those years of losing, all those jokes, all that ridicule, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were champions of the world. Jon Gruden lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy into the California night sky and the Bucs were No.1. The franchise had come a long way since that 26-game losing streak that started it all off, indeed they had come a long way in less than 12 months.
For the 2002 season started with the Bucs being considered a joke again. Tony Dungy had gone and everyone expected Bill Parcells to take over as head coach. But the Big
Tuna jiled the franchise at the altar for a second time and the Glazers were left without a coach. GM Rich McKay went out and thought he had Baltimore defensive co-ordinator Marvin Lewis signed and sealed as a replacement, only for the Glazers to decide against appointing a defensively-minded coach again. The Bucs approached Oakland for permission to talk to on Gruden and were rebuffed. Every day, another potential coach denied he was in line for the job and by the time the middle of February rolled around, there was still no-one in charge.
But then the Glazers went back to Oakland and agreed to Al Davis' price to talk to Gruden. Two first-round picks, a second and third rounder and around $8 million later, and Gruden was released from the final year of his contract with the Raiders and signed a five-year deal with the Buccaneers, a franchise his father had once worked for and a team with whom he had grown up in the early 1980s.
Once Gruden had his coaching staff in place (which resulted in Monte Kiffin and the defensive staff being totally responsible for that side of the ball), the replacements began arriving. Warrick Dunn was offered a whoppingly-inflated contract by the Falcons and was replaced by Michael Pittman. Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and Ken Dilger all arrived as experienced receivers and Kerry Jenkins was added to the line. The draft brought no help at all with the first two picks going to the Raiders, but simply the arrival of a real offensive mind began to turn the team around.
Brad Johnson easily beat out Shaun King and new arrival Rob Johnson to keep his starting spot at quarterback and merely posted by far the best season of any Buccaneer passer in franchise history. After a nervy home-opening loss to the Saints, the Bucs posted winning streaks of five and then four games to sit at 9-2 before they lost a nationally-televised game to the Saints at the beginning of December. But New Orleans would self-destruct over the final four games as they had the previous season, and thanks to Green Bay losing their final game of the season to the Jets, a win over the Bears on the final Sunday night gave the Bucs a bye-week in the first round of the post-season.
The 49ers were summarily dispatched at Raymond James Stadium, the 31-6 score not really reflecting how easy the win was, setting up a return visit to Philadelphia where the Bucs had lost their previous three encounters. The cold weather voodoo had been broken against Chicago, and now came the Eagle curse that had affected Tony Dungy. The Bucs were behind 7-0 within a minute, but then totally outplayed Andy Reid's team and Ronde Barber's TD interception sent the Bucs into the SuperBowl for the first time in their history.
And there waiting for them were Gruden's old team, the Raiders. The No.1 offense in football, full of veteran talent and with Al Davis calling the shots as usual. But on that warm January afternoon in San Diego, there was no stopping Tampa Bay. It was 20-3 at half-time, 34-3 in the third quarter, and the Buc defense cemented its own No.1 ranking with five interceptions of NFL MVP Rich Gannon, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
The VInce Lombardi Trophy came home the following day to a packed Raymond James Stadium and parade through downtown Tampa. The orange shirts had gone, Buccaneer Bruce had gone, the losing stigma had gone. The Buccaneers were World Champions.