TAMPA ― The temptation is to look ahead, but the task is to stay focused on the Packers. Keep your eyes locked on the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. No need to peek too soon.
But as the Bucs learned Wednesday, it’s very hard to avert your gaze from Super Bowl 55 when large banners featuring the Lombardi Trophy hang from Raymond James Stadium, which nearly casts a shadow over their practice field.
“There was one day I was driving on the way to the airport the first week when we went to (the wild-card game in) Washington,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “I went to the airport and I saw (the signs). I was like, ‘Dang, they’re putting the Super Bowl stuff (up) already. It was kind of surreal.
“It’s not being talked about much (by the team) because, obviously, you’ve got to take them one game at a time. You can’t worry about that right now. But it’s definitely something to be happy about. It’s definitely something that’s within our grasp. Now we’ve just got to go out there and take care of business against a great football team. It’s definitely something that’s very humbling and great to see.”
No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium, so there’s another piece of NFL history Tom Brady can stamp his name on.
The Los Angeles Rams made it to Super Bowl 14 in the Rose Bowl after spending the season at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. They lost to the Steelers, 31-19.
The closest was the San Francisco 49ers, when they beat the Miami Dolphins 38-16 in Super Bowl 19 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.
The route Bucs receiver Mike Evans takes to work doesn’t lead him past the Super Bowl site. If anything, he said, the signage could provide extra motivation to win Sunday’s game.
“On the way home today, I’ll drive by and see what it looks like,” Evans said. “It’s in our city, I’m not blocking it out. I’m going to look. I’m a fan of the game. I’m going to look and see. I’m not trying to block it out.”
Of course, the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field will bear little resemblance to the manicured new turf rolled out at Raymond James, which would make the “Sod God,” former NFL groundskeeper George Toma, very happy.
The Packers look little like the team that lost to the Bucs 38-10 in Tampa on Oct. 18.
The Bucs have improved, too. It will be the 14th conference championship game for Brady, but you can’t help but believe that after 20 seasons in New England, this one is special.
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“I think the team has worked really hard to put ourselves in this position,” Brady said. “Our coaches have done a great job preparing us for this moment. We’ve really come on strong here the last six weeks — played our best football of the year when we needed it the most.
“The bye week was really good for us. (We) got a chance to get a little mental refresh (and) a physical refresh. Then, the team has done a great job coming together and performing and executing under pressure (with) two road playoff wins. It gives us a great opportunity to go on the road again to beat one of the great football teams in the league.
“That’s how it should be — the two best teams in the conference should be getting together and seeing how it all goes down.”
This is the fourth appearance by the Bucs in an NFC Championship Game. Only one ― a 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams following the 1979 season — was played in Tampa Bay. The Bucs are 1-2 in those games, with a loss to the Rams in St. Louis to cap the 1999 season and a win at Philadelphia following the 2002 season. The victory over the Eagles propelled the Bucs to a win over the Raiders in Super Bowl 37.
A win Sunday at Green Bay would give the Bucs a chance to make more history. But Arians is working hard to keep his team in the present.
“Yeah, we don’t play that game this week,” Arians said. “That’s the message to everybody. We play the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. You start thinking about the Super Bowl, you’ll get your ass beat and be packing your bags on Monday.”