TAMPA, Fla. — This Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go back to the NFC Championship Game for the primary time in 18 years after they play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), and no one is extra occupied with it than the 2002 Buccaneers who got here prior to them and have been the last Tampa Bay team to get there.
Those Buccaneers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 to win the franchise’s first and only NFC championship en path to a 48-21 Super Bowl XXXVII victory in San Diego. They watched from afar as this season’s team first reached the playoffs for the primary time in 13 years after which last week defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 within the NFC divisional-spherical recreation.
Hall 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, “One extra! One extra!” Quarles were given the similar textual content from former defensive take on Anthony “Booger” McFarland.
“The recollections began to glide,” stated Brooks, who is serving because the co-chairman of the Super Bowl LV Tampa host committee. “Just excited that they’ve earned the fitting to be on this place. I truly, truly can’t wait to look them play and sit up for them making historical past.”
While former quarterback Brad Johnson is ecstatic over the best way Tom Brady is taking part in, 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 laborious, they supplement each and every different … . And then that huge receiver corps is loaded. … It’s simply a great time for the Bucs presently.”
Brooks added, “We’ve all waited a very long time to look this.”
‘They have been screaming at us, speaking about our mothers’
Similar to this season’s Bucs, who will face wintry prerequisites at Lambeau Field — which these days name for a top of 28 levels, a low of 12 and a 40% probability of snow — the 2002 Bucs needed to combat frigid temperatures within the 20s in Philadelphia. They turned into the primary and simplest Buccaneers team to win a recreation in temperatures at or beneath freezing, and the primary Buccaneers team to win a playoff recreation at the street.
Even extra daunting, although, was once the duty of knocking off a No. 1-seeded, Andy Reid-coached team that featured 10 Pro Bowlers, together with quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Eagles had crushed Tampa Bay 4 consecutive occasions previously 3 years, together with within the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.
“For us, it was once type of a nemesis with Philadelphia,” stated Johnson, who have been sacked 5 occasions within the groups’ earlier assembly and suffered cracked ribs. “You virtually felt that was once our Super Bowl.”
Former working again Michael Pittman recollects being in a adversarial surroundings from the time the team’s buses arrived. The Bucs have been pressured to stick in the similar lodge as an Eagles pep rally.
“Everyone was once flipping us off. Little youngsters on their oldsters’ shoulder flipping us off,” Pittman stated. “They have been screaming at us, speaking about our mothers, our better halves … however we had one time table. We sought after to win that recreation.”
They watched because the Eagles ready a different Super Bowl ship-off celebration throughout their Saturday stroll-thru.
“They had a large banner on the very most sensible. I’ll by no means disregard,” Quarles stated. “It [read], ‘The view of San Diego appears to be like nice from right here.’ And I’m like, ‘They suppose they’ve already received this recreation.'”
‘Triple Left, 83 Double Smash, X Option’
With just below 2 mins closing within the first quarter, the Bucs trailed 7-3, with simplest 69 overall yards of offense. Johnson had already thrown an interception. But on 3rd down, he discovered huge receiver Joe Jurevicius on a 71-yard catch-and-run that totally modified the sport’s momentum.
“Triple Left, 83 Double Smash, X Option,” stated Johnson, describing a play with two nook routes and two flat routes, with Jurevicius lining up within. The thought was once to depart Jurevicius one-on-one in opposition to linebacker Barry Gardner.
Johnson virtually audibled out of it.
Five days previous, on Jan. 14, Jurevicius’ spouse, Meagan, had given delivery to their first kid, Michael William. Born one month untimely, he was once recognized with sialidosis, an extraordinary metabolic dysfunction that affects mobile serve as. Doctors had given him only a 2% probability to live on even two days.
Jurevicius had ignored all of the week of apply and the stroll-thru as he stood vigil along with his spouse and new child. Yet he joined the team past due in Philadelphia, surprising teammates when he stated, “Hey, my circle of relatives needs me to play.”
Brooks advised him, “Hey guy, we’ve were given your again.”
Jurevicius iced up out Gardner with a stutter step. He then outran him and Carlos Emmons prior to Brian Dawkins introduced him down on the Philadelphia 5-backyard line.
“It was once neatly documented what they have been going thru that complete week,” Brooks stated. “For him to be the only to step up in that second and make truly, a recreation-converting play at the moment — it’s one of the ones moments the place, ‘Hey, the celebrities are lining up for us.’”
Two performs later, Alstott barreled into the top zone to take hold of a 10-7 lead. Jurevicius would have only one catch that day, however it was once, in some ways, the defining second of his occupation, and the sport.
“I’m no longer taking anything else clear of anyone, however I believe it was once an important play of the sport,” Johnson stated.
Michael William Jurevicius fought for his lifestyles for 70 days. He died March 24.
‘Veterans Stadium by no means sounded so excellent to me’
The Bucs led the Eagles 20-10 with 3:27 left within the fourth quarter however nonetheless had to shut out the sport.
That’s when cornerback Ronde Barber faked a blitz and baited McNabb into throwing a slant cross supposed for receiver Antonio Freeman. Barber jumped the direction, returning the pick out 92 yards for a landing.
“I used to be proper beside him working down the sphere and taking a look at their sideline, extraordinarily quiet,” stated Brooks, who considers it the best play in team historical past. “Veterans Stadium by no means sounded so excellent to me. Because there was once lifeless silence! It sounded so candy as it was once lifeless silence, of disbelief.”
“Everybody was once leaping at the sideline,” Pittman stated. “I used to be simply searching for the man, whoever had the NFC championship hats. I used to be like, ‘It’s over, child! Let me cross get my hat!’”
“You don’t get many moments like that, to rejoice like that,” Johnson stated. “You virtually felt like that was once the Super Bowl than it was once the real actual Super Bowl, as a result of of how a lot emotion went into it.”
Creating their personal legacy
The Bucs are a unique team nowadays. The 2002 Bucs had a primary-spherical bye and didn’t have to move at the street till that recreation in Philly. This season’s team is led by means of Brady, who has received six Super Bowls already. These Bucs entered the postseason as a wild-card team and a 5th seed, wanting to win at Washington and at New Orleans simply to get right here.
Brady emphasised that psychological toughness could be a need given the weather.
“We’re no longer going up there fascinated about how chilly it’s,” Quarles stated. “We’re no longer taking part in the chilly. We’re taking part in the Packers.”
But the ache from each and every damage has a tendency to be magnified within the chilly, because the 2002 Bucs have been neatly mindful. Johnson was once nonetheless recuperating from a decrease again damage. Pittman had performed just about all of the season with a top ankle sprain.
“It’s actual. But the facility to ‘lock in’ is vital,” Johnson stated.
Alstott has a treatment for the cold temperatures: the rooster broth at Lambeau Field, which he evolved an affinity for whilst taking part in within the previous NFC Central.
“They have the most efficient rooster broth ever,” Alstott stated. “Before the sport, after the sport, at halftime — they’ve the most efficient rooster broth. I beg them to drink that.”
His perfect recommendation? Make each and every play rely, experience it and keep within the second.
“It’s the most important recreation of your lifestyles,” Alstott stated. “At the time that they’re in in their occupation[s] — it doesn’t subject in case you’ve been to 10 Super Bowls or none — it’s the most important recreation as it’s the following recreation. And you’ve an out of this world alternative that’s by no means been achieved, to play in a Super Bowl recreation at your house stadium.”
‘We do not play that recreation this week’
Coach Bruce Arians cautioned his avid gamers about taking a look forward, even supposing they are able to see from their apply box the transformation of Raymond James Stadium with Super Bowl LV signage during the last two weeks, one thing team captain Lavonte David referred to as “surreal.”
“We don’t play that recreation this week,” Arians advised them. “We play the Packers within the NFC Championship Game. If you get thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat and [will] be packing your baggage on Monday.”
“I like Bruce and the way ahead he’s. I adore it. What’s unsuitable with it? It’s referred to as the reality, proper?” Alstott stated.
Arians has gotten his proportion of neatly-needs from former avid gamers. So has David. But they are able to’t get swept up in nostalgia. They’ll go away that to those who got here prior to them, who can now experience observing a brand new era of avid gamers following in their footsteps.
“When the Bucs win, they win,” Arians stated. “[I am] truly, truly proud of the heritage they left. But that is about making names for ourselves now.
“I’m positive they’re going to experience it.”