GREEN BAY, Wis. — History will call it the artist’s final masterpiece, and there will be some truth to that.
A quarterback of Tom Brady’s age (43) and distinction coming to a franchise of heartbreak and ridicule is a story too rich not to be told again and again.
But, of course, you will know better.
You will know about the fierceness of the pass rush and the heart of the secondary. You will know about the fearlessness of the head coach and the tenacity of a young linebacker. You will know it was less a masterpiece and more a grand collage.
And when that portrait was finally completed on Sunday evening? It looked a lot like the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium.
Believe it, Tampa Bay. Enjoy it, appreciate it and remember it forever. By beating the Packers 31-26 on Sunday the Bucs are the first wild-card team in 10 years to reach the Super Bowl, and the first team in the history of the NFL to play the game in their home stadium.
“It’s crazy that we’re the first team to do it, making history,” said linebacker Shaquil Barrett. “That’s not where history has to end because we can be the first team to win it, as well.”
Grab your kids and call your neighbor because few communities have ever seen a view such as this from atop the world of sports.
The Lightning in the Stanley Cup, the Rays in the World Series and the Bucs in the Super Bowl. It’s not just the number of championship games, but the shortened calendar brought on by the pandemic. Three shots at glory in barely five months.
Our perfect storm during these imperfect times.
And the Bucs may be the most unlikely group in the bunch. It was just two years ago that the Glazer family fired another head coach, and less than a year ago that management made the choice to part ways with quarterback Jameis Winston. And it was barely four months ago that Brady made his Bucs debut looking every bit the aging quarterback in an unfamiliar uniform in a season-opening loss to New Orleans.
Just look at the Bucs now.
Brady is in his record-setting 10th Super Bowl, and the Bucs have reached the NFL’s title game for just the second time in 45 seasons of football. It had been 13 years since the Bucs were in the postseason and 18 years since they last won a playoff game. Now, in the span of 16 days, they have knocked off division winners on the road in Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay.
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“We were at 7-5 seven games ago and not feeling great,” Brady said. “Felt like we needed to find our rhythm and we played four great games down the stretch. After that, it was all bonus and we just had to go play well.”
By no means were the Bucs perfect Sunday at Lambeau Field. Brady threw three interceptions, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers torched the Tampa Bay defense for 346 yards, and the Bucs nearly choked up an 18-point second-half lead.
But those are just details and not the memories that will define this team.
Instead, you should remember safety Jordan Whitehead dropping his shoulder and knocking the ball loose from Green Bay running back Aaron Jones for a huge third-quarter turnover. You should remember cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting getting an interception in his third playoff game in a row. You should remember Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul knocking Rodgers around as if he were a tackling dummy. You should remember linebacker Devin White getting a game-high 15 tackles and his second fumble recovery of the postseason.
Mostly, you should remember the devil-may-care strut of a 68-year-old head coach.
Bruce Arians brought coaches, players and game plans with him to Tampa Bay in 2019, but he also brought an attitude. A sense of swagger wrapped in humor that was equal parts scary and liberating in the locker room.
The team with a near-unparalleled history of losing was not going to be afraid anymore. And the whole world saw that when Arians sent his punt team on the field near the end of the first half, then decided instead to let Brady go for broke on fourth down.
“I sent the punt team out (and then) went through a couple of scenarios in my mind,” Arians said. “The clock was stopped and I said, ‘No, we’re gong back out, we’ve got a good play. We’re going back out and trying to get some points.’”
The result was a 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller that completely changed the game’s tenor.
That’s who the 2020 Buccaneers are. They are the team unafraid to chase Brady in free agency and trade for Rob Gronkowski. The team not worried about signing Leonard Fournette or Antonio Brown.
The team that got whipped by New Orleans in November and came back to beat the Saints in the playoffs. The team that had, before Sunday, lost 15 of its past 16 games on the road against Green Bay.
They are the team that had 200 or so fans standing in the bleachers above the locker room tunnel to greet them as they left the field, and the team that practiced Lambeau Field leaps into the stands when no one was watching. They are the team that was a little tougher, a little smarter, a little more resilient than a lot of us suspected.
And that’s how they will always be remembered.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.