TAMPA, Fla. — This Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to the NFC Championship Recreation for the primary time in 18 years after they play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Discipline (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), and no person is extra enthusiastic about it than the 2002 Buccaneers who got here earlier than them and had been the final Tampa Bay staff to get there.
These Buccaneers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 to win the franchise’s first and only NFC championship en path to a 48-21 Tremendous Bowl XXXVII victory in San Diego. They watched from afar as this season’s staff first reached the playoffs for the primary time in 13 years after which final week defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 within the NFC divisional-round recreation.
Corridor of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks beamed with pleasure as Devin White notched an interception and a fumble restoration. He then texted former teammate Shelton Quarles, who’s now the Bucs’ director of soccer operations, with, “Yet one more! Yet one more!” Quarles bought the identical textual content from former defensive sort out Anthony “Booger” McFarland.
“The recollections began to circulation,” stated Brooks, who’s serving because the co-chairman of the Tremendous Bowl LV Tampa host committee. “Simply excited that they’ve earned the proper to be on this place. I actually, actually can’t wait to see them play and look ahead to them making historical past.”
Whereas former quarterback Brad Johnson is ecstatic over the best way Tom Brady is enjoying, former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott is gushing over the working recreation.
“I’m loving it. I’m digging [it],” Alstott stated. “That one-two punch with [Leonard] Fournette and [Ronald] Jones — they’re working onerous, they complement one another … . After which that vast receiver corps is loaded. … It’s only a good time for the Bucs proper now.”
Brooks added, “We’ve all waited a very long time to see this.”
‘They had been screaming at us, speaking about our mothers’
Just like this season’s Bucs, who will face wintry situations at Lambeau Discipline — which presently name for a excessive of 28 levels, a low of 12 and a 40% probability of snow — the 2002 Bucs needed to battle frigid temperatures within the 20s in Philadelphia. They turned the primary and solely Buccaneers staff to win a recreation in temperatures at or beneath freezing, and the primary Buccaneers staff to win a playoff recreation on the highway.
Much more daunting, although, was the duty of knocking off a No. 1-seeded, Andy Reid-coached staff that featured 10 Professional Bowlers, together with quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Eagles had crushed Tampa Bay 4 consecutive occasions prior to now three years, together with within the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.
“For us, it was sort of a nemesis with Philadelphia,” stated Johnson, who had been sacked 5 occasions within the groups’ earlier assembly and suffered cracked ribs. “You nearly felt that was our Tremendous Bowl.”
Former working again Michael Pittman remembers being in a hostile setting from the time the staff’s buses arrived. The Bucs had been compelled to remain in the identical resort as an Eagles pep rally.
“Everybody was flipping us off. Little youngsters on their mother and father’ shoulder flipping us off,” Pittman stated. “They had been screaming at us, speaking about our mothers, our wives … however we had one agenda. We wished to win that recreation.”
They watched because the Eagles ready a particular Tremendous Bowl send-off occasion throughout their Saturday walk-through.
“They’d a giant banner on the very prime. I’ll always remember,” Quarles stated. “It [read], ‘The view of San Diego seems nice from right here.’ And I’m like, ‘They assume they’ve already received this recreation.'”
‘Triple Left, 83 Double Smash, X Choice’
With just below 2 minutes remaining within the first quarter, the Bucs trailed 7-3, with solely 69 complete yards of offense. Johnson had already thrown an interception. However on third down, he discovered vast receiver Joe Jurevicius on a 71-yard catch-and-run that fully modified the sport’s momentum.
“Triple Left, 83 Double Smash, X Choice,” stated Johnson, describing a play with two nook routes and two flat routes, with Jurevicius lining up inside. The concept was to go away Jurevicius one-on-one in opposition to linebacker Barry Gardner.
Johnson nearly audibled out of it.
5 days earlier, on Jan. 14, Jurevicius’ spouse, Meagan, had given beginning to their first youngster, Michael William. Born one month untimely, he was identified with sialidosis, a uncommon metabolic dysfunction that impacts cell perform. Medical doctors had given him only a 2% probability to outlive even two days.
Jurevicius had missed the complete week of follow and the walk-through as he stood vigil together with his spouse and new child. But he joined the staff late in Philadelphia, beautiful teammates when he stated, “Hey, my household desires me to play.”
Brooks informed him, “Hey man, we’ve bought your again.”
Jurevicius froze out Gardner with a stutter step. He then outran him and Carlos Emmons earlier than Brian Dawkins introduced him down on the Philadelphia 5-yard line.
“It was properly documented what they had been going by that total week,” Brooks stated. “For him to be the one to step up in that second and make actually, a game-changing play at the moment — it’s a type of moments the place, ‘Hey, the celebrities are lining up for us.’”
Two performs later, Alstott barreled into the top zone to seize a 10-7 lead. Jurevicius would have only one catch that day, but it surely was, in some ways, the defining second of his profession, and the sport.
“I’m not taking something away from anyone, however I feel it was an important play of the sport,” Johnson stated.
Michael William Jurevicius fought for his life for 70 days. He died March 24.
‘Veterans Stadium by no means sounded so good to me’
The Bucs led the Eagles 20-10 with 3:27 left within the fourth quarter however nonetheless wanted to shut out the sport.
That is when cornerback Ronde Barber faked a blitz and baited McNabb into throwing a slant cross meant for receiver Antonio Freeman. Barber jumped the route, returning the choose 92 yards for a landing.
“I used to be proper beside him working down the sphere and their sideline, extraordinarily quiet,” stated Brooks, who considers it the best play in staff historical past. “Veterans Stadium by no means sounded so good to me. As a result of there was useless silence! It sounded so candy as a result of it was useless silence, of disbelief.”
“Everyone was leaping on the sideline,” Pittman stated. “I used to be simply on the lookout for the man, whoever had the NFC championship hats. I used to be like, ‘It’s over, child! Let me go get my hat!’”
“You don’t get many moments like that, to have a good time like that,” Johnson stated. “You nearly felt like that was the Tremendous Bowl than it was the precise actual Tremendous Bowl, due to how a lot emotion went into it.”
Creating their very own legacy
The Bucs are a distinct staff right this moment. The 2002 Bucs had a first-round bye and didn’t must go on the highway till that recreation in Philly. This season’s staff is led by Brady, who has received six Tremendous Bowls already. These Bucs entered the postseason as a wild-card staff and a fifth seed, needing to win at Washington and at New Orleans simply to get right here.
Brady emphasised that psychological toughness can be a necessity given the weather.
“We’re not going up there fascinated about how chilly it’s,” Quarles stated. “We’re not enjoying the chilly. We’re enjoying the Packers.”
However the ache from each harm tends to be magnified within the chilly, because the 2002 Bucs had been properly conscious. Johnson was nonetheless recovering from a decrease again harm. Pittman had performed almost the complete season with a excessive ankle sprain.
“It’s actual. However the capacity to ‘lock in’ is vital,” Johnson stated.
Alstott has a treatment for the chilly temperatures: the rooster broth at Lambeau Discipline, which he developed an affinity for whereas enjoying within the outdated NFC Central.
“They’ve one of the best rooster broth ever,” Alstott stated. “Earlier than the sport, after the sport, at halftime — they’ve one of the best rooster broth. I encourage them to drink that.”
His greatest recommendation? Make each play rely, take pleasure in it and keep within the second.
“It is the largest recreation of your life,” Alstott stated. “On the time that they’re in of their profession[s] — it doesn’t matter if you happen to’ve been to 10 Tremendous Bowls or none — it’s the largest recreation as a result of it’s the subsequent recreation. And you’ve got an unbelievable alternative that’s by no means been executed, to play in a Tremendous Bowl recreation at your private home stadium.”
‘We do not play that recreation this week’
Coach Bruce Arians cautioned his gamers about trying forward, although they’ll see from their follow area the transformation of Raymond James Stadium with Tremendous Bowl LV signage over the previous two weeks, one thing staff captain Lavonte David known as “surreal.”
“We don’t play that recreation this week,” Arians informed them. “We play the Packers within the NFC Championship Recreation. In case you begin fascinated about the Tremendous Bowl, you get beat and [will] be packing your baggage on Monday.”
“I really like Bruce and the way ahead he’s. I like it. What’s fallacious with it? It’s known as the reality, proper?” Alstott stated.
Arians has gotten his share of well-wishes from former gamers. So has David. However they’ll’t get swept up in nostalgia. They’re going to go away that to those who got here earlier than them, who can now take pleasure in watching a brand new era of gamers following of their footsteps.
“When the Bucs win, they win,” Arians stated. “[I am] actually, actually pleased with the heritage they left. However that is about making names for ourselves now.
“I’m certain they’re going to take pleasure in it.”