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In a season going nowhere, the Bucs can still step in the right direction

Why the Bucs’ last eight games matter: Tampa Bay was in the midst of a 13th consecutive losing season in 1996 and was 2-8 under a first-year coach when its fortunes suddenly took a turn.
Remember this moment during Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego? The journey that started Tampa Bay on that championship run also began in San Diego in 1996 when the team was supposedly playing a meaningless game in another losing season. JIM DAMASKE | Times photo [DAMASKE, JIM | St. Petersburg Times]
Published Nov. 9
Updated Nov. 9

TAMPA — The standings, at this point, mean virtually nothing in Tampa Bay. But that does not mean the games are meaningless, too.

Now, if you’ve been here long enough, you already know what a long, dreary march to futility looks like. The Bucs have had 26 seasons with 10 losses or more, and about 70 percent of the time they were followed up by another losing season. That’s not the most encouraging thought.

But, in the right circumstances, hope can still exist. And the final weeks of a losing season can occasionally be the springboard to something greater.

Back in 1996, the Bucs were coming off 13 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth. They had a brand new coach and a young quarterback chosen high in the draft. And they arrived at midseason in last place with a 1-7 record.

In other words, 2019 has much in common with 1996.

That ’96 team, with Tony Dungy in his first season and Trent Dilfer running the huddle, went to San Diego on Nov. 17 with a 2-8 record. At the time, Tampa Bay had not won a game on the West Coast since 1980. The Bucs fell behind 14-0 but gradually came back and sealed the victory with fourth-quarter interceptions by Donnie Abraham and John Lynch.

“When we were on the plane ride home, you could just sense it. There was something different about us,’’ Dungy would later say. “We’d done something we hadn’t done before. And when you do something once, you know you can do it again.’’

The Bucs went 5-2 down the stretch to finish 6-10. It was their last losing season under Dungy.

Tampa Bay reached the playoffs in five of the next six seasons, culminating in a Super Bowl XXXVII victory.

In San Diego.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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