by Larry Ness August 01, 2003
When the Tampa Bay Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21, they became the fourth consecutive first-time Super Bowl Champions! The last time a team has repeated was when the Denver Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1997 and 1998 seasons! Following up a Super Bowl win is no easy task, as was proven in 2002, when NONE of the pervious five Super Bowl winners (Denver, St Louis, Baltimore and New England) even qualified for the postseason!
With a salary cap and free agency, it is almost impossible to maintain a team capable of multiple Super Bowl wins. The NFL promotes parity not only with its salary cap, but with its revenue-sharing system and by giving its winning teams, the toughest schedules the following season. The Bucs open the NFL’s Preseason schedule on Saturday August 2nd, playing the New York Jets in the American Bowl in Tokyo, Japan. Are the Bucs the favorite to repeat? How difficult has it been to predict the eventual Super Bowl Champion, the last few years? Let’s take a look.
As mentioned earlier, the last team to repeat as Super Bowl Champs, were the 1998 Denver Broncos. Since then, it’s been four consecutive first-time winners! Entering the 1999 season, the St Louis Rams owned the worst record of any team in the NFL, for the decade of the 90s! They had gone 45-99 from 1990-1998, worse than even the pathetic Cincinnati Bengals, who entered the 1999 season, 48-96. During the preseason that year, the Rams lost their starting QB, Trent Green, to a season-ending injury and were forced to go with a little-known QB named, Kurt Warner. You know the story, the Rams jumped to a 6-0 start and finished the regular season at 13-3, eventually beating the Titans in the Super Bowl. Just for you record-keepers, the Bengals stumbled to a 4-12 season in 1999 and finished the decade of the 90s with a 52-108 record, four games WORSE, than the Rams’ 58-102!
In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens were Super Bowl Champs. The Ravens, formerly the Cleveland Browns, hadn’t had a winning season since 1994, when they were still in Cleveland. The Ravens/Browns had just come off an 8-8 season in 1999, the team’s best record since that 1994 playoff year! No one could have forseen a 12-4 regular season and eventual Super Bowl-rout of the Giants (34-7), entering the 2000 season! That year, the Ravens struggled through a five-game stretch in which they didn’t score an offensive TD and in mid-season, benched Tony Banks in favor of Trent Dilfer, who after losing his first start, promptly led the team to 11 straight wins, and a Super Bowl-win!
In 2001, the New England Patriots, won it all! The Pats were a playoff team from 1996-1998, but had gone 8-8 in 1999 and 5-11 in 2000. No one could have expected much from the Patriots entering the 2001 season and after they opened the year 0-2, losing Drew Bledsoe in the season’s second game, the team was left for dead! Tom Brady “rescued” New England, keeping Drew Bledsoe on the bench for the rest of the season (even when he healthy enough to return) and leading the Pats to an 11-5 regular season. In the playoffs, the Patriots edged the Raiders in the infamous “Snow Bowl”, before upsetting the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game (as 10-point dogs) and the Rams in the Super Bowl (as 14-point dogs)!
Last year, the Bucs entered the season as “contenders”, but not “favorites”! They had a new, dynamic head coach in Jon Gruden, but they were still pretty much the team that had made the playoffs in four of the past five years, but was best-known for having NEVER won a cold-weather game and having gone 0-4 in playoff road games since 1997, getting outscored 84-22!! In 2002, the Bucs won the newly-formed NFC South with a 12-4 record and then SWEPT through their playoff opponents, beating the 49ers 31-6, the Eagles 27-10 (in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game) and the Raiders 48-21 (in Super Bowl 37)!
So as you can see, each of the last four seasons, only last year’s Bucs, were even a considered a “contender”, entering their Super Bowl-winning season! Tampa Bay enters this year, with four consecutive playoff appearances (5 out of 6), the longest current streak of any NFL team. Since the mid-90s, only the Minnesota Vikings (96-00) and the Miami Dolphins (97-01), have made the playoffs in five straight seasons. Neither of those teams even MADE the Super Bowl, no less won it! The Vikings did get to two NFC Championship Games during their five-year playoff run, but lost at home in 1998 to Atlanta (30-27 in OT) and at the New Yoark Giants in 2000 (41-0). The Dolphins’ playoff record from 97-01 was downright EMBARRASSING! Miami never won more than one playoff game in any playoff year, while the combined scores of their five playoff losses, was 164-16!!
Tampa Bay will surely have no EASY ROAD in 2003, if they plan on winning again. They are one of just four teams, forced to play a “fifth” preseason game, meaning they were one of the first teams to have reported to camp. They play in the NFC South with two “dangerous” teams, the Mike Vick-led Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints (the NFC’s highest-scoring team in 2002). Their 2003 schedule includes a season-opening Monday Night Game at Philadelphia, plus non-divsion games vs 2002 playoff teams San Francisco (away), Green Bay (home) and Tennessee (away). Using their opponents 2002 records as a yardstick, the Bucs’ schedule this year, is rated the fourth-toughest!
The Bucs weren’t exactly dominating during last year’s regular season and they are very thin at QB, if oft-injured Brad Johgnson gets hurt. The team’s OL is nothing special and its running game has NEVER been consistent. Mike Alstott is good for a few SportsCenter highlights, but not much else, while Michael Pittman, a star in last year’s Super Bowl, has been just average over his career. His off-field problems, can’t make management too comfortable, no matter what they say! Defense will once again be the backbone of this team. Last year, the Bucs owned the league’s top-rated defense, with its strengths being speed at linebacker and defensive end. Playing in the role of “the hunted”, rather than the role of “the hunter”, will make 2003 quite a “different” year for the Tampa Bay Bucs!
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post my top-three, Over/Under selections for team wins, for the 2003 NFL season. Look for my detailed team reports, coming soon!