Their legacy is in order. There is nothing left to prove except to historians.
And so, as the stretch drive begins, the familiar question arises.
With this much on the line, should the Bucs consider resting their starters?
It is an important question, as important to Tampa Bay as it is for the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. Those guys are chasing the Lombardi Trophy.
These guys are chasing the Mighty Kong.
At this point, what would you rather see? The Bucs with one more victory or the Bucs in position to draft Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?
For the Bucs, it has been a long time since this sort of question has been asked. Would you rather see one more win, maybe two, to take a tiny bit of the sting out of a lousy season? Or are you willing to endure the embarrassment if it garners a higher draft choice?
While formulating an answer, consider this: One might last eight months. The other might last 10 years.
By now, you know all about Suh, the dominating Cornhusker. You know Mel Kiper has called him the finest prospect at the position in the past 30 years. You know he has been compared to Richard Seymour and Warren Sapp. You know his first name translates as "House of Spears" and that if you combine the first names of the Bucs' front four, it translates to "Britney Spears."
Yeah, as a consolation prize for a season in the outhouse, Suh would do just fine.
The problem is, of course, that the Bucs have picked a horrible year to be lousy. There is just so much of it going on. St. Louis is lousy, and Cleveland is horrible, and Detroit stinks on ice, and Kansas City is abysmal, and Washington is miserable. In describing the NFL, you will run out of adjectives before you run out of awful.
In other words, the Bucs are in a real dogfight, emphasis on "dog." As it stands now, not even a 1-15 record would guarantee the Bucs the first overall pick. The Rams could finish 1-15, and because they might do it against a weaker schedule, they could get the pick.
Excuse me? When did the NFL adopt the BCS? I say that, at this point, the Bucs and Rams play for the top pick, loser takes all. You could call it the Prayoffs. You could call it the Weakest Link Bowl.
Think of it like this: When, exactly, is the point where a Bucs fan starts pulling against the team? When does a team start hoping the measurement is short of a first down, or that Josh Freeman doesn't see a receiver, or that the Bucs start faking punts with four-point leads? When does a fan high-five another to celebrate a defeat? When does 1-15 look like a better record than 3-13?
And even though you might not want to say it out loud, is that point called "today?"
Right about now, some of you are outraged, aren't you? You are thinking that a fan should never pull against the team. On the other hand, if you had pulled for defeat all season long, wouldn't you feel better about 1-12 and the chaos of a season?
Of course, players aren't going to go along with this. Players never do, nor should they. Players care a lot more about their own situations. Either they are playing for contracts (Barrett Ruud and Antonio Bryant) or for their jobs (Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims) or for their starting positions (Sabby Piscitelli and Jeremy Trueblood). Even on bad teams, players want to win. Face it, the coaches are fighting for their careers, too.
On the other hand, if there gets to be a point today when Rudy Carpenter is handing off to Kareem Huggins, consider it a giant wink in your direction.
If you are old enough, you know this sort of thing has happened before. Back in 1992, a lousy Bucs team played an equally lousy Cardinals team. The two spent all afternoon sliding around in the sand, and the Bucs won 7-3. Just like that, their draft position fell from third to sixth (instead of potentially drafting Marvin Jones, they drafted Eric Curry. Well, oops.)
"We don't want a high draft pick," coach Sam Wyche said. "We want to win."
Of course, if Wyche had come away with the higher draft pick, he might not have been fired three seasons later. Then again, maybe he would have been.
"Tampa Bay has had a lot of high draft picks, right?" center Tony Mayberry said that day. "But it hasn't had a lot of wins. I would think a true fan would rather have the win."
Probably, that should be true. On the other hand, when is the last time you celebrated that 7-3 win over the Cardinals?
Here's what you're talking about, basically. Would you rather the Bucs finish 3-13 and take Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy? Or would you rather see 1-15 and Suh?
Sure, the Bucs could still end up with Suh. The Rams might fall in love with Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, for instance. Or they might trade down to someone who falls in love with Sam Bradford, assuming Bradford lights it up during his workouts. But when a player such as Suh is at the top of so many draft boards, do you want to risk it?
Think of it like this: The upcoming draft needs to be the best one since 1995, when the team took Sapp and Derrick Brooks. With three of the top 40 or so players, the Bucs have to get better.
Suh would be the perfect place to start.
Provided, of course, the Bucs are bad enough to get the job done.