The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to kickoff against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the game is more than just the chance for the Bucs to improve their record. It’s the reunion of perhaps the greatest team (or second greatest if you’re a defender of the 1999 squad) in Buccaneers history: the 2002 Super Bowl team.
Tampa had to go through the Eagles to get to that Super Bowl, ending a drought against Philly and in NFC Championship games that had plagued the Bucs. It seems like it was yesterday but tens long years have passed since that glorious day, and we take some time to reflect on not only the Buccaneers team of the past, but the one we have right now that we all hope will one day return the Bucs to Super Bowl glory.
It’s Super Bowl weekend in Tampa, and the 2002 team has reunited for a special weekend for Bucs fans everywhere. It’s incredible to think that it has been an entire decade since the Bucs won the Super Bowl, but besides actually winning the trophy, what was your greatest memory from that amazing season?
Josh Hill: Oh man, there’s too many to pick out just one. I’d have to say that the week one loss to New Orleans was the greatest memory because from then until the NFC Championship game I had full faith the Buccaneers would blow through everybody. There were losses to be had after week one, but for some reason when I recall that season I see Ronde Barber returning that interception and Tom Tupa’s punt at the end of the Saints game. From then on out it was all positive and that was the start of the ball rolling.
Lee Howell: There are a ton of amazing memories of the season, but the spectacle of Martin Gramática definitely stands out. He was such a talented player with the right kind of attitude. He was the only player on either team to score in the final win of the season, and it was fitting for him to lead the team to its 12th victory.
Keyshawn Johnson thinks he’s going to be booed on Sunday. Are you still anti-Meshawn or have all sins been forgiven?
JH: I never had a big problem with Keyshawn, but then again I was 11 years old so I didn’t know any better. In retrospect I have to side with Bucs fans in that he was a bit on the douchey side, but I can’t take away that he did contribute to that 2002 Super Bowl team. Of all the things the Bucs gave up to get that Super Bowl though, Keyshawn could have not been there and the result would have been the same.
LH: I am not Keyshawn’s biggest fan. I appreciate what he was able to contribute while in Tampa Bay, but the Bucs gave up too much to get him, and his attitude is very polarizing. Not to mention, I still have to see him constantly doing NFL coverage for ESPN, so it’s hard to simply forget about him.
The Philadelphia Eagles played a crucial role in that memorable season. The 2002 NFC Championship game is in the minds of some Bucs fans almost as sweet as winning the Super Bowl itself. What’s you’re greatest memory of that 2002 NFC Championship Game?
JH: Joe Jurevicius’ catch and Ronde Barber’s interception. Barber’s pick is the obvious choice and it’s an iconic image in my life I’ll remember to my dying days. But Joe’s catch early in that game was the sigh of relief Bucs fans wanted. I remember feeling like we were up against a brick wall and while the catch wasn’t a touchdown, it was symbolizing punching through that wall and it was an okay, we might be able to do this moment.
LH: Joe Jurevicius’ 71 yard catch. He was one of my favorite players on the team, and to see him make such a big play and win momentum back early in the game was a great moment as a fan. I would have said Barber picking off McNabb, but I think I tend to take for granted just how great Ronde was, and is.
Speaking of the Eagles, they’re in town this Sunday and are pretty awful this year, but as bad as they are this could be a trap game. Will the Bucs capitalize on an awful Philly team, or will this secondary make Nick Foles look better than he may be?
JH: Wanting this secondary to defend is like teaching cats to walk in a parade. I have some confidence because Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are bad quarterbacks that didn’t look better than they are against this team, but Foles looked pretty sharp at times against the Cowboys and he could exploit. That being said, the guys in the secondary are playing for jobs next year and that’s not being taken lightly by anyone.
LH: This is definitely a concern. The defense is depleted, missing several opening day starters, and the Eagles offense has players like Foles and Brown who have a point to prove and can put some good plays on tape for the new coaching staff (once Reid is gone) to evaluate. However, I think the team is looking to match the success they had against the lower tier QB’s they faced earlier this season, and should be able to contain the Eagles enough to give the Bucs O a chance to win the game
The Buccaneers are mildly in a playoff hunt this year. Do you think they deserve to make the playoffs or would you rather wait until Tampa has a more complete team?
JH: I’ve said it again and again, NO. This team is not ready for the playoffs, even if the offense is. I bought in to the 2011 Chicago Bulls team much like fans are into this team and I was blind to how incomplete the team was. Bucs fans are walking a thin line this year if they are hoping for a playoff run, and it’s not a sturdy line. There is an intense difference between making the playoffs because you did and making the playoffs because you are good enough.
LH: I believe that the NFL is not like the NBA or MLB, and that waiting for talent to develop is not always the best strategy. At this point, the Buccaneers won’t have an incredible draft pick, so they might as well grab as much success as they can. That being said, there is definitely a lot of talent yet to be developed on the roster, and while it’s always risky to wait, there are certainly better days ahead if the coaches and players stay with the current plan.
People are starting to harsh Doug Martin’s buzz after a few so-so games. Are casual observers of the Bucs overlooking Martin’s true worth and looking into yardage totals too much, or is he hitting a rookie slump?
JH: He doesn’t think he’s hitting a slump and I tend to agree with him. People look at the fantasy football stats and when they don’t see 400 yards and 8 TDs they see a back struggling. No, he’s not shifting fantasy football games but he’s not sitting on the bench twirling his thumbs either. He moves the ball, he catches the ball and he gets work done. Just because he’s not lighting up ESPN’s bogus highlight reels doesn’t mean he’s not doing anything.
LH: I think Doug does everything he can. He works behind a patchwork offensive line, and sometimes has to work his hardest to turn a 3 yard loss into a 1 yard gain. I don’t think he’s slowed down at all, but the opportunities to break a big play haven’t been there for a few weeks. I feel like Doug will be a big part of the offense this week against the Eagles, and people will sing his praises once again.
We all read the ‘Five Keys to Victory’ piece, but if there is one single key to winning this game, what is it and can the Bucs accomplish it?
JH: Put pressure on Nick Foles. This front line is insane and when they put pressure on quarterbacks, they make mistakes. This isn’t exclusive to this defense, that’s a formula and for once in a long while the Bucs can properly utilize that strategy. Foles is going to be alright as a quarterback but young guys get flustered under pressure and Foles has demonstrated that. If Tampa can get pressure on him, he’ll make mistakes the offense can capitalize on.
LH: Force turnovers. The best way to keep a bad team out of a game is to keep the ball out of their offenses hands. If the Bucs D goes to a “bend but don’t break” philosophy, they give the Eagles a chance. But 3-and-outs and turnovers keep the Eagles biggest strength off the field, which is their big play potential.
Alright, what’s your final prediction for the game? Can the Bucs make the 2002 Super Reunion a happy occasion, or do the Eagles extract a little revenge and spoil everyone’s mood.
JH: In my years on the Bucs beat I’ve rarely picked against the Bucs and thats not happening this week. I mean it’s Super Bowl week, that stuff is more infectious than you think. Besides the softball questions players will get about how much do you want to have a reunion like this someday the guys really think about this. Buccaneers legends will be on hand and the new crew will want to show the old elites that the franchise is moving in the right direction. Bucs win.
LH: While I can see the Eagles winning, or making it closer than it should be if the defense lays an egg, I feel like the Bucs will rebound from a couple of frustrating losses and put this one to bed early. 35-14 Buccaneers, and Doug Martin with 150 yards from scrimmage, making even the 2002 Bucs wish they had a player like him around.
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