2021 was certainly an eventful year for Florida sports, especially in Tampa Bay. Columnist John Romano is looking back at the year that was, one month at a time.
They were together as a team in New Orleans for the first game — and the first loss — of the Brady era. They were together for all the doubts, heartaches and growing pains that followed.
They were there when the offense finally came together, and when the secondary grew up. They were there on the road for playoff victories in Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay.
They were there as a team through it all, and never once did Tom Brady feel the need to address his teammates with a pre-game motivational speech in the locker room. Until Super Bowl 55.
Before they faced the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 Brady talked to the Buccaneers about honor. About legacy. About seizing the moment.
Then the Bucs went out and crushed the Chiefs 31-9.
“We came out and proved the world wrong,” linebacker Lavonte David said.
The Bucs were three-point underdogs in each of their final three postseason games, and they beat former Super Bowl MVPs Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in succession.
“Hands down, one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history,” Rob Gronkowski said.
This ain’t how they do it in New England
The temperature was 83 degrees, and the blood alcohol content was off the charts. The Bucs’ Super Bowl parade down the Hillsborough River was the stuff of legend, capped off by Brady tossing the Lombardi Trophy across the water to Cameron Brate in another boat. A child’s voice can be heard shouting “No!” in video of Brady throwing the trophy.
“That’s my little 8-year-old daughter (Vivian),” Brady said. “Who could imagine that little 8-year-old girl would have the most sense of anybody in that whole area at that time? She’s the voice of reason. I mean, go figure.”
No hangover on the ice
Not that they needed it, but the Lightning made a statement early in the season. They cruised through February with a 10-3 record with the third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow opening up most games to let opponents know how uncomfortable their night was about to become.
“I think (coach Jon Cooper) started that line most games to set the tone,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “And I think that that was a little bit of a cultural shift there.”
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From the couch to the record books
The USF women’s basketball team lost a month’s worth of games due to pandemic issues but it didn’t keep them from obliterating school records. When they beat Temple 56-47 on Feb. 24, it was the Bulls’ 13th consecutive victory.
Congrats, John. Now what about Ronde?
The legend of the 2002 Bucs defense grew a little bit larger in February. John Lynch joined Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp as Hall of Famers on Feb. 6.
“To me, he’s the perfect Hall of Fame guy, because it doesn’t always have to be about the guy who has the best numbers or the most sacks,” said Hall of Fame finalist Ronde Barber. “He was damn near a perfect football player and a guy who went above and beyond to get there.”
One more for Champa Bay
One year after losing to Miami High 63-38 in the state final, the Plant girls basketball team won 52-40 in a rematch of the Class 7A state championship game. It was the culmination of four years of starting every game for Kendal Cheesman and Nyla Jean.
Words to remember
“I don’t even know who that is. Is this the tackle you’re talking about? I don’t too much care about that.” Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul when asked about facing Chiefs backup tackle Mike Remmers.
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“I was always taught when I was younger to go to the dirty areas, so I just got in front (of the net) and tried to bang one home.” Ross Colton after scoring a goal in his NHL debut.
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“Is anyone working today?” Tom Brady to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, upon seeing thousands lining the Hillsborough River for the Super Bowl parade.
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“If it isn’t for her, I may not have had a second chance in life. You just can’t take life for granted.” Florida junior basketball player Keyontae Johnson, in his first interview since collapsing on the court during a game in Tallahassee, talking about the cardiologist who came out of the stands to give him aid.
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“I would have been smoking something illegal to really imagine this.” Bucs coach Bruce Arians on the Super Bowl victory.
On second thought
For the Rays, spending $6.5 million in free agency on Chris Archer constituted a splurge.
“I think the opportunity to come back, get that second crack, really cement his legacy, for lack of a better term, with this community, with this fan base, is something that excites him,” GM Erik Neander said. “And the perspective that comes with it. Certainly we’re looking for that as well.”
Archer threw 19.1 innings with a 4.66 ERA and was not on the postseason roster.
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