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End of year review: Division titles are rare gifts in Tampa Bay

The Bucs end a 13-year drought in the NFC South, a prep team wins a state championship and two state college teams win national titles in December.
Will Gholston and Anthony Nelson celebrate one of Tampa Bay's seven sacks during a division-clinching victory against Carolina.
Will Gholston and Anthony Nelson celebrate one of Tampa Bay's seven sacks during a division-clinching victory against Carolina. [ BRIAN WESTERHOLT | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 31, 2021
Updated Dec. 31, 2021

TAMPA — Need a little perspective on how rare it is for the Bucs to win the NFC South?

Well, Tampa Bay won one division title in the 1970s. And then one in the 1980s, and one in the 1990s.

The glory days were in the early 2000s when Tampa Bay won the NFC South three different seasons, then somehow made it through the 2010s without ever finishing in first place in a four-team division.

So, yeah, even for the defending Super Bowl champions, it was a big deal when the Bucs clinched the division earlier this month with a 32-6 victory at Carolina.

“Winning the division is hard to do. We’ve earned it,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We’re 11-4. It’s not the greatest record in the world but it’s certainly not the worst either so we’ll take it.”

The accomplishment is real, but the cost has been high.

Related: End of year review: The ever-changing odds of sports gambling in Florida

While the Bucs made it through 2020 relatively unscathed other than Vita Vea’s broken leg, they’ve had no such luck this season.

Chris Godwin is out for the season. Leonard Fournette, Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett are all sidelined indefinitely. Jason Pierre-Paul has been battling a shoulder injury. Antoine Winfield Jr. has been in and out of the lineup. The Bucs are two weeks away from the postseason, and there’s no telling who will be running out of the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium.

Because of the injuries, their chances of running the table as a division champion seem even less plausible than they did last season as a wild card.

But, no matter what happens in January, what this team accomplished in 2021 while often fielding a makeshift lineup will be one of the more remarkable stories in the franchise’s history.

Miami still looking for a savior

New Miami head coach Mario Cristobal gives the U sign at an introductory news conference on Dec. 7.
New Miami head coach Mario Cristobal gives the U sign at an introductory news conference on Dec. 7. [ SUSAN STOCKER | Sun Sentinel ]

Mario Cristobal … come on down! You’re the next contestant on the University of Miami’s coaching carousel. Following the disappointing tenures of Randy Shannon, Al Golden, Mark Richt and Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes paid dearly (10-year contract averaging $8 million annually) to pry Cristobal away from Oregon to try to return Miami to its former glory.

Karma is on FSU’s side this time

Florida State goalkeeper Cristina Roque makes a penalty kick save against BYU during the NCAA College Cup women's soccer final.
Florida State goalkeeper Cristina Roque makes a penalty kick save against BYU during the NCAA College Cup women's soccer final. [ TONY AVELAR | Associated Press ]

Seven months after losing the national championship on penalty kicks against Santa Clara, the Florida State women’s soccer team beat BYU on PKs for its third national title.

“It feels quite nice to be sitting on this side of it,” Florida State coach Mark Krikorian said. “Last year, I thought that we were quite good and had some unfinished business that we needed to address.”

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Anyone taking bets on 500?

He entered the league with no pedigree as a player or assistant coach, but Jon Cooper is leaving his mark on the NHL. When the Lightning beat Toronto earlier this month, Cooper became the quickest coach to reach 400 victories in NHL history.

“I haven’t had a ton of time to digest that other than the fact that I think I’m obviously really proud to have done it with one team,” Cooper said after the game.

Clear the shelf for another trophy at UT

The University of Tampa volleyball team is all smiles after defeating Washburn for the NCAA Division II national title.
The University of Tampa volleyball team is all smiles after defeating Washburn for the NCAA Division II national title. [ TIM BRITT | University of Tampa ]

This is getting to be routine around here. The University of Tampa won its fourth Division II national championship in women’s volleyball with a 25-21, 26-24, 25-21 victory against Washburn. The Spartans went 34-2 and ended the season on a 21-game winning streak.

“As a coach, you dream about your team playing its best match as many times as they can, but it happened in the national championship,” coach Chris Catanach said. “I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better than that.”

Can we get these guys a boat parade?

Jesuit celebrates with the Class 6A state title tropohy moments after defeating Pensacola Pine Forest in a wild 35-29 game.
Jesuit celebrates with the Class 6A state title tropohy moments after defeating Pensacola Pine Forest in a wild 35-29 game. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Trailing by 15 points in the third quarter, Jesuit came storming back with a touchdown in the final minute to beat Pensacola Pine Forest 35-29 in the Class 6A state championship. The victory was clinched with an AJ Cottrill interception with 27 seconds remaining, and the Tigers won for the first time since 1968.

Words to remember

“It sucks. You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve been able to accomplish that, and then you grow up (dreaming of) representing your country at the Olympics and winning a gold medal, and that’s something that I probably won’t have a chance to do now.” Steven Stamkos after the NHL decided to pull out of the Olympics due to COVID concerns.

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“A lot of drama that people (are) creating who want stuff from me, but that’s just a part of life. That’s a part of being in the position. I can’t control what people want from me, I can’t control what people write about me, I can’t control what people say about me.” Antonio Brown’s perspective after being suspended for supplying the Bucs with a fake vaccination card.

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“That’s enough of that s--t.” Bucs coach Bruce Arians after 44-year-old Tom Brady had one scramble too many.

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“When he’s right, he’s really, really special. He can command the baseball as well as any guy that I’ve been around.” Manager Kevin Cash after the Rays signed free-agent pitcher Corey Kluber.

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Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was named Sports Illustrated's 2021 Sportsperson of the Year.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was named Sports Illustrated's 2021 Sportsperson of the Year. [ Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated ]

“I think I recognize that person.” Tom Brady upon looking at himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2005 when he was named Sportsperson of the Year for the first time. Brady won it again in December 16 years later.

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