Many players helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl. Many moments led to that magical day, when the Bucs beat the Raiders 48-21. Many things had to go right to make that day possible. But here are the 10 moments we selected as the most critical in the Bucs' drive to their first and (so far) only championship.
The 1995 draft
The 2002 Bucs were made up of a slew of great players. You can't win a title with just a couple of stars. But there is no question the strength of that team was defense. And while we remember those such as Ronde Barber and John Lynch, the heart of the defense was tackle Warren Sapp and the soul was linebacker Derrick Brooks. The 1995 draft landed both in Tampa Bay. Sapp was expected to be a top-five pick, but false drug rumors the night before the draft led to several teams passing on the Miami star. He fell into the Bucs' lap at No. 12. That was the first of two first-round picks the Bucs had. With the second, No. 28, the Bucs took Brooks, a star at Florida State. They came into the league together, and someday, their busts will share a room at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Acquisition of Keyshawn Johnson
Did you know the Bucs ended up with the players who were the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks of the 1996 draft? The No. 3 pick was Simeon Rice (by the Cardinals), who went on to join the Bucs via free agency in 2001. The No. 1 overall pick was Keyshawn Johnson. Disgruntled with the Jets, the receiver was traded to the Bucs on April 12, 2000, for two first-round picks. Then the Bucs signed Johnson to a $56 million contract extension to make him the highest-paid receiver in football. He gave the Bucs a badly needed offensive weapon. Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,088 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season. He added 14 catches for 194 yards in three playoff games, including a touchdown in the NFC title game.
The Glazers buy the Bucs
Funny how a lot of these things work out. Many Bucs fans don't like the Glazers, but there's no question they were essential to the Super Bowl title. After the death of former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, the Glazers bought the team in 1995 for $192 million. Almost immediately, the Glazers began developing a plan to build a new stadium. In addition, they were behind the decision to hire Tony Dungy as well as Jon Gruden. And they brought in expensive players, including Simeon Rice and Keyshawn Johnson, who were key components of the Super Bowl team.
The acquisition of QB Brad Johnson
The Bucs had a Super Bowl defense for several seasons leading up to 2002, but the offense wasn't good enough to get them to the championship. A prime example was 1999. The Bucs held the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" to a mere nine points in the NFC title game (two others came on a safety) but lost because the offense could muster only six. Tampa Bay signed quarterback Brad Johnson on March 6, 2001, as a free agent, and he immediately set a team record for completions and passing yards. A year later, he became the first Bucs quarterback to lead the NFC in passer rating — while setting franchise records for touchdown passes and completion percentage — and thanks partially to throwing only six interceptions led the Bucs to a title.
Naming Monte Kiffin defensive coordinator
Sure, the Bucs had some of the greatest defensive players of their era — Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Simeon Rice — but they needed a mastermind to move all those parts around. That turned out to be Monte Kiffin, a longtime college and NFL assistant who came aboard as Tony Dungy's defensive coordinator in 1996. Even after Dungy was fired, Kiffin stayed on board at the request of new coach Jon Gruden. And he piloted one of the best defenses in NFL history to a championship. The scheme he designed was titled, appropriately enough, the Tampa 2.
Ronde Barber's interception return for a TD
This is our pick for the greatest play in Bucs history and, possibly, the greatest play in Tampa Bay sports history. The Bucs led the Eagles 20-10 in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game, and the Eagles were driving to cut that lead to three with still nearly four minutes left. That's when Ronde Barber stepped in front of a Donovan McNabb pass for an interception that turned into a 92-yard touchdown. "The greatest moment I have in my life,'' former Bucs coach Jon Gruden once said, "was seeing No. 20 hustling down their sidelines to send us to the Super Bowl.'' Even after the Super Bowl, this play stands out as the best single moment in Bucs history.
The building of Raymond James Stadium
Let's face it. If Raymond James didn't get built, the Bucs wouldn't be here now, and they might not have been in Tampa Bay or Central Florida or Florida, period, for Super Bowl XXXVII. On Sept, 3, 1996, Hillsborough County voters approved a 30-year, half-cent sales tax dedicated to schools, public safety, infrastructure and a football stadium that would cost about $162 million. Ground broke on Oct. 15, 1996, and the stadium officially opened on Sept. 20, 1998, as the Bucs beat the Bears 27-15. Maybe former Browns owner Art Modell is owed a tip of the cap, too. He moved his team to Baltimore after the 1995 season, essentially removing the possibility the Glazers would take the Bucs there.
Hiring Tony Dungy
The great sports debate in Tampa Bay: Which coach should get credit for the Bucs' Super Bowl victory: Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden? The answer, of course, is both. The franchise was a complete mess when Dungy was hired as a first-time coach at the age of 40 on Jan. 22, 1996. The Bucs were coming off 13 consecutive losing seasons under forgettable coaches such as Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche. After going 6-10 (but winning five of their final seven games) in Dungy's first season, the Bucs put together five consecutive nonlosing seasons, including four trips to the playoffs. No coach has taken the Bucs to the playoffs more often than Dungy.
Firing Tony Dungy
Despite turning the Bucs from a perennial loser into a solid playoff team, Tony Dungy could not get the Bucs over the hump and into a Super Bowl. The Bucs reached the NFC title game in 1999 but were blown out in wild-card games by the Eagles in 2000 and 2001. Despite posting a 54-42 regular-season record with the Bucs, Dungy was fired on Jan. 14, 2002. While to this day Dungy has his local supporters (and deservedly so), you cannot say firing him was a poor choice. After all, the Bucs won the Super Bowl the following season.
Hiring Jon Gruden
After firing Tony Dungy, the Bucs spent a month searching for a coach. It appeared the Bucs would land a big fish. Well, actually, the "Big Tuna" — Bill Parcells. But Parcells backed out, and the Bucs scrambled. To save face, the Bucs had to get a name. That name turned out to be Jon Gruden, who had gone 38-26 (2-2 in the playoffs) over four seasons with the Raiders. But getting Gruden cost a lot: two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. It turned out to be worth it. After retooling the offense, Gruden led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title in his first season.