In the end, all winning took was 109 days, many of them spent beneath dark clouds. Somewhere in there, it seems as if there was a plague or two.
In the end, it took a cast of 100 players or so, a lot of them using a lot of gauze on injured reserve. Also, there is the matter of the quarterback the franchise gave away.
In the end, it took a hundred cuts, and a few dozen scrapes, and a half-season of embarrassment, and two months worth of losing. It took silly penalties and stupid turnovers and uninspired play calls. It took a fourth-quarter comeback when such a thing seemed out of the question. It took a fourth-quarter stand to make it hold up.
Finally, the Bucs won.
Just when you swore you would not live to see them win again, just when you decided they would never figure out what a second half was, the Bucs beat the Dolphins 22-19 Monday night. For a night, at least, they were better than somebody. For a night, at least, the misery stopped.
And so food will taste a little better today, and the air will smell a little cleaner, and the sun will shine a little brighter. Winning does that for a football team. It scrubs off the stink, and for a while, at least, it allows a team to forget that it is going nowhere in a lousy season.
So why now?
And can it happen again?
Why now is obvious. Frankly, the Dolphins aren't very good, either. And let's face it, the recent pillow fight between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito left the Dolphins' offensive line in a mess.
You wonder: Can you blame the Dolphins' defensive line on whatever Randy Starks might have said to Cameron Wake? How about the linebackers? Did Dannell Ellerbe say something mean to Philip Wheeler? Because those guys weren't very good, either.
Regardless, the Bucs spent much of the night looking like a real team for a change. Once again, Mike Glennon looked as if he might grow into the league, after all. The offensive line plowed the field with Dolphins defenders. And you haven't seen anything until you see Donald Penn going deep.
And still, despite a 15-0 lead, it seemed certain that the Bucs were going to let another game slip away. With this team, no lead is ever safe, and the time remaining is always too much. In the time it takes to flip a switch, the Bucs went from a 15-0 lead to a 19-15 deficit, and everyone knows the way home from there.
Miracle upon miracles, this time, the Bucs came from behind. Odds against that happening? Roughly the same as someone named Bobby Rainey scoring the winning points. Can you imagine the skybox where Warren Sapp turned to Derrick Brooks and said, "What's a Bobby Rainey?" And John Lynch leans in and says, "Why, he's Warrick Dunn Lite."
On this night, he was.
Maybe that had something to do with it, too. Maybe with Ronde Barber and Mike Alstott and Jon Gruden and Brad Johnson and the rest looking on, the current Bucs decided that losing would be just too hard for the old guys to take. And maybe it would have been.
I know what you are thinking, of course. If you are a Bucs fan who has labored with them this year, who has suffered for eight straight weeks as they have underachieved, you were thinking this:
Yeah, but what about the draft choice?
For a lot of people, that's what this season had become, an open discussion about whether Teddy Bridgewater was better than Marcus Mariota and, if so, whom did you trust at One Buc Place to decide? In a season that has given little else, it's a good conversation. After all, the Bucs were the last winless team in the NFL.
But here's the thing: If Greg Schiano doesn't win a few, he won't be back next year. So what does he care? If Glennon doesn't catch enough fire to discourage talk of a new quarterback, what does he care? All the players who don't want to break in a new quarterback? What do they care?
The second part of the big question is whether this team can win again. The answer? Maybe. The Bucs finally seemed to understand they're better at running the ball than throwing it. Glennon is a lot better at third and 3 than at third and 11.
Atlanta isn't very good. Buffalo isn't very good. This team is still going to be an underdog fairly regularly the rest of the year, but yeah, it can squeeze two or three out of this season.
Is that enough for Schiano? Is it enough for GM Mark Dominik?
Put it this way: It's better than none.