Swashbuckling With Ghosts
By Dave Ford
It began 20 years ago. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, historically one of the NFL's worst organizations, made a crucial draft choice in 1993. There was no way for the franchise to be aware of how John Lynch, a strong safety from Stanford, would impact the future perception of the team as a whole.
More names like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Ronde Barber – all taken through the draft process – and a head coach by the name of Tony Dungy, formed the foundation of super success. Piece by piece, the puzzle began to take shape, and a sincere feeling of hope began to spread throughout the organization as well as the long-suffering fan base.
Once the puzzle was securely put together, the wins not only began to come against teams the Bucs of the past would have crumpled under – they happened consistently week in and week out. In 1997, four years after Lynch made the cross country trip from California to Florida and one year after Dungy installed what was then still known as the "Cover 2" defensive scheme, the Buccaneers charged out of the gate to a 5-0 record.
Five seasons later, Tampa Bay rewrote its somber history by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy – a moment many loyal fans, including this writer, could have only dreamt of in seasons past. And for the next 10 years, there was always a link to that Super Bowl XXXVII team on the field.
But not anymore.
Barber was the last remaining player from the glory days of the Buccaneers. And when he officially announced his retirement earlier this year, it officially marked the end of an era. The time to build a new foundation has begun once again and while the current crop of Bucs does not immediately force anyone to pause and pay attention, such was the case two decades ago.
The difference this time around, however, is the fact that those who strap on the pewter helmets have a core group of living, breathing players to refer to while striving for the holy grail of professional football. And while those individuals who made the world believe in Bucs football are no longer present on the field, they exist as a spiritual guide on the road back to the top.