As we gear up for the 2013 NFC Championship game, and we watch Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers face off against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, let’s take a moment as Buccaneers fans and think back to one of the greatest days in team history. The Eagles and the Buccaneers had become rivals in a very short time, mostly due to playing for the 6th time in only 3 and a half years. Buccaneers fans had become very familiar with Donovan McNabb, Duce Staley, and Brian Dawkins, and also were very aware of the Buccaneers struggles in cold weather games. The Buccaneers had to travel to Veterans Stadium for the Championship game, which would prove to be the final NFL game played in the… well let’s just say “less than perfect conditions” of the Philadelphia sports stadium.
The Buccaneers were fresh off of a dominant win over the 49ers, absolutely dominating the 49ers offense with the Tampa 2 defense. Jeff Garcia was throwing picks, getting sacked, and unable to put together any kind of consistent offense. The Buccaneers were ready for anything, but there was still plenty of doubt in Tampa fans’ minds about playing in Philly, in the cold, against the Eagles. The game time temperature was 26 degrees, and the Buccaneers had never won on the road in the playoffs. Tony Dungy‘s Bucs had also lost two straight NFC Playoff games against the Eagles. But these weren’t the Tony Dungy Buccaneers.
“These were the Jon Gruden Tampa Bay Buccaneers, man. I really liked these Buccaneers players on this Buccaneers team. They played some defense, man, they got in your face.” (Read this line in your best Jon Gruden voice). The team would shake off team history and set aside things that held them back since the inception of the franchise, and head into Philly looking for a spot in the Super Bowl. But the wind would come out of the sails very, very quickly.
One of the best to ever return kickoffs, Brian Mitchell, would start the game off with a 70 yard kick return. The Eagles would take advantage of the short field and Duce Staley would put them up 7-0 very early on. It looked like the Bucs were frozen in place in the cold Philly weather. Less than five minutes later, the Buccaneers would settle for just a field goal, and it seemed like the Buccaneers were on their way to falling short against the Eagles once again. The defense would stand strong and get the ball back late in the first quarter, and that’s when one of the most memorable plays in Buccaneers history went down.
Brad Johnson found Joe Jurevicius on a short route across the middle of the field, and Joe had a step on his defender. The lanky wideout turned up the field and took off, gaining yard after yard and running in open field. Tight end Ken Dilger had a fantastic block downfield to give Joe even more room to run, and the play would wind up gaining 71 yards. Relive the moment by clicking here for a great video clip of the play. The Buccaneers would score on that drive, and they would never trail the Eagles again.
David Akers would tie the game at 10 in the second quarter, and Philly would not break down the vaunted Buccaneers’ defense again. Keep watching the clip above to see Ronde Barber‘s 92 yard interception return that sealed the deal for the Buccaneers, and was really a microcosm of the season. The Buccaneers of 2002-2003 could always rely on the defense for a big play, and there had not been a play bigger than Ronde’s interception return to shut down Veterans Stadium. Over 60,000 Eagles’ fans got to witness the first Buccaneers road victory in playoff history, and got to see the Buccaneers win a cold weather game against all odds.
So as we sit back and watch our division rival play in the NFC Championship Game today, let’s take a moment to remember just how amazing it was to win in mid-January, and just how lucky we were to get to witness that Buccaneers team.
So what was your favorite moment of the 2002 playoff run? Leave a comment below, and let us know!
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