Each week, we’re going to take a stroll down Buccaneers memory lane in a “Throwback Thursday” feature. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the memories.
January 19, 2003 – Veterans Stadium – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It was the stuff out of a Disney movie. The feud where the bad guy had finished with the upper hand time and time again. See, the Eagles had won four straight against this Buccaneers team, as recently as this very season. The Bucs had come to Philly the two previous postseasons and hadn’t even scored a touchdown. Following the Eagles’ victory earlier in the year, Derrick Brooks told the opposing offense “We’ll be back…we’ll be back”. First year Bucs head coach Jon Gruden looked at a disheveled Warren Sapp on the team bus following that loss and said, “Hey. I got ’em. They won’t beat us again. I got ’em.”
So here is was, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and the final game at a historical stadium. And things seemed ugly early on.
Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70-yards, leading to a quick 20-yard touchdown run by Deuce Staley. Remember that feeling? That immediate “oh no, here we go again” after the Eagles went up so quickly, so effortlessly against this team? It wouldn’t last long.
On their next two drives, the Bucs scored on a 48-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica and orchestrated a 96-yard drive, capped off by a Mike Alstott touchdown run to take a 10-7 lead. Many of you remember a pivotal play on that drive. Yes, the infamous 71-yard “You Go Joe!” reception by Joe Jurevicius.
As was well documented, Jurevicius and his wife had just welcomed a baby boy who was fighting for his life, giving Joe a little extra motivation to go out there and play a big role in the game that afternoon.
After Philly tied the game at ten, the Bucs went on another long scoring drive, this time an 80-yard trip finalized by a nine yard Brad Johnson to Keyshawn Johnson touchdown. The Eagles and quarterback Donovan McNabb tried to answer back before halftime, but (should be Hall of Famer) Simeon Rice had other plans. Rice’s strip sack and fumble recovery took every ounce of momentum out of the Eagles’, and McNabb’s, sails.
As if losing the ball on the last possession before halftime wasn’t bad enough, McNabb got stripped again to open the third quarter, this time by cornerback Ronde Barber, who came on a corner blitz. A Tampa Bay field goal in the third gave the Bucs a little breathing room, but McNabb had a legendary comeback on the brain.
McNabb became surgical, moving the Eagles down the field with ease, giving Bucs fans flashbacks of playoffs past. Seventy-three yards he marched, but it was then that the course of Bucs history would change forever. You know you remember it. You remember where you were, what you were thinking, what Bucs gear you were wearing. And you know, that thirteen years later, watching it again, hearing Gene Deckerhoff call it, you get goosebumps.
Ronde Barber showed blitz and McNabb never stood a chance. Barber dropped back into coverage and intercepted the ball, returning it nearly 95-yards to close down Veteran’s Stadium and send the Buccaneers on a week long trip to San Diego.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 – Philadelphia Eagles 10
On a list of all-time greatest Buccaneers games, this one would likely rank second, only behind Super Bowl XXXVII. On the flip side, Sports Illustrated once did a feature on the worst losses in the city of Philadelphia since the last time any team in Philly won a title (which was 1983, by the way). This NFC Championship, to close down the beloved Veteran’s Stadium, ranked number one.
I hope you enjoyed a trip into the better days in Bucs’ past. What moments would you like to relive? Comment below.