They were so close to it all So much had been expected of the Bucs in 1998 after their play-off appearance in 1997, that failure to make the post-season was a real disappointment. The 1999 season would see the Buccaneers go as far into the post-season as they have ever gone but would leave fans with a similar if deeper feeling of disappointment again. But whereas in 1979 where Tampa Bay were never that close to the Rams in terms of ability, this year's version of the match-up would be different. The off-season was not so much a case of re-building as so many previous years had been, but re-stocking and re-tooling. Long-time kicker Michael Husted was released and a third round pick, the highest ever used by the Bucs on a kicker, was utilised on Martin Gramatica, easily considered the top college kicker available. The Bucs were also able to select players based on the best available, rather than on where they needed help the most in the 1999 draft. Anthony McFarland was taken with the 15th overall selection and a second round pick on home-town hero Shaun King who was the sixth quarterback taken in the draft after the five-man first round class that year that featured the likes of Tim Couch and Daunte Culpepper. The same monster defense that had spent the previous two seasons terrorising NFL quarterbacks returned almost intact, but unfortunately so did the offense. Trent Dilfer was entering the final year of his contract, still the No.1, but definitely now regarded as the weakest link on the team. Former Baltimore swingman Eric Zeier was signed to back him up, with the rookie King taking the No.3 spot in one of the deepest quarterback depth charts the Bucs have ever had. It was just as well too. Trent was benched after a series of terrible games including the season opener where he gave the Giants all 17 of their points and cost the Bucs victory. Zeier started the Monday night game in Detroit and promptly got hurt, bringing Dilfer back in as starter once again. And for a couple of games, the offense almost looked average until Cortez Kennedy of the Seahawks landed heavily on him fracturing his collarbone. Trent was out for the season and would never throw another pass for the Bucs. He would of course return to Tampa and win a Super Bowl but that was another story and two years away. Hence by the time the Bucs were making their traditional late-season run (the 3-4 start happened again), the rookie Shaun King was pulling the strings on the Tampa Bay offense. Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn were still running the ball, but without a real blocking back on the roster, Lorenzo Neal having been released in the off-season, teams knew exactly what was coming from Mike Shula's offense. The receiving corps was down to a dimunitive Jacquez Green, a fading Reidel Anthony, an always- injured Bert Emanuel and then Dunn out of the backfield. More and more the Bucs began to rely on their awesome defense and Martin Gramatica's foot. Big wins over Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay left the Bucs in control of their own destiny by the time the season finale in Soldier Field came around, a win meaning a first division title since 1981. It was never in doubt. The celebrations began well before the final gun and the Bucs had not only their playoff berth, but all importantly, a bye in the first round and a much-needed week off. "When I came here, this was a third- world country" said the always-good-for-a-quote Warren Sapp who would wind up as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. "Now we're first class citizens." 5,000 fans welcomed the team back to Tampa Airport and two weeks later, the Redskins came to town for the divisional playoff game at Raymond James Stadium. It was Bucball at its best and worst. The defense was always dominant, but a kick return touchdown and Mike Shula's offense combined to leave the Bucs down in the third quarter and looking out. But John Lynch's interception of future Buc Brad Johnson began the turn-around and two TD drives later, the Bucs were hanging on to a one-point lead when the Redskins lined up for a potential 50-yard fieldgoal as time expired. Ex-Buc Dan Turk sent down a bad snap and the 1999 Buccaneers were on their way to the Championship Game for the second time, once again with the Rams waiting for them. These Rams were running "The Greatest Show on Turf", the most feared offense in NFL history. It was the unstoppable force against the immovable object. And for 56 minutes, the Bucs had you believing they were really going to do it. An 11-5 lead lasted well into the fourth quarter until Shaun King threw his second interception of the game, and Kurt Warner finally connected with one of his receivers for Ricky Proehl's winning TD. The Bucs didn't go quietly and only a terrible instant replay decision against Bert Emanuel cost them a realistic shot at the winning score inside the final minute. In terms of wins and numbers, this was the best Buccaneer team in franchise history. But for the second time in that history, they had come so close to the Super Bowl and found the Rams to be just a little bit better on the day.
PLAYERS OUT P Tommy Barnhardt S Tony Bouie WR Horace Copeland WR Brice Hunter K Michael Husted DE Jason Maniecki S Charles Mincy DT Bryant Mix FB Lorenzo Neal CB Anthony Parker WR Robb Thomas QB Steve Walsh
PLAYERS IN T George Hegamin FB Fred McAfee FB Kevin McLeod WR Yo Murphy P Mark Royals LS Morris Unutoa QB Eric Zeier
TRADES 17 Apr 99 Traded a 1999 6th round pick to Baltimore for QB Eric Zeier.  With the pick, Baltimore traded the pick to Minnesota who selected DT Talance Sawyer. 18 Apr 99 Traded a 6th round pick to Jacksonville for 1999 6th and 7th round picks.  With the pick, Jacksonville selected DT Ermalos Leroy.  With their picks, Tampa Bay selected FB Lamarr Glenn and FB Robert Hunt. 19 Oct 99 Traded DE Regan Upshaw to Jacksonville for an undisclosed draft pick.  This pick was never utilised.