How'd they do in 2017?
Much like the Buccaneers, the Bears' 2017 season left something to be desired. Chicago also finished 5-11 and last in the NFC North. They had zero wins against division teams but squeaked out a couple overtime victories against both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the first half of the season. They ended up winning two of their last four, seemingly turning a corner in the latter part of the year.
The thing is – the Bears are young. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was in his rookie year after starting just 14 games his entire collegiate career at the University of North Carolina. Offensive bright spot Jordan Howard was in just his second season as Chicago's feature-back and has posted back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons for the Bears in 2016 and 2017. Chicago added some more key components to its offense like Allen Robinson from the Jaguars and Taylor Gabriel from the Falcons in free agency and drafted James Daniels out of Iowa for the center position along with receiver Anthony Miller from Memphis in the second round. They also shored up the defense in an effort to return to 'Monsters of the Midway' status with additions like first-round draft pick Roquan Smith from Georgia and Aaron Lynch from the 49ers in free agency to help out the linebackers. The Bucs will face a more complete team when they make the trip up to Chicago at the end of September.
Anything interesting between the two teams?
-The two teams have a pretty lengthy history thanks to sharing a division for the better part of Tampa Bay's existence as a franchise. They were both part of the NFC Central until 2001, which was made up of the current NFC North clubs plus Tampa Bay. The Bears and Bucs still play frequently and have faced each other the past four consecutive seasons despite no longer being division rivals. The last three meetings have come in Tampa Bay and the Bucs have emerged victorious in the last two. However, the Bucs are 6-21 when going to their place all time.
-The first game held inside Raymond James Stadium on September 20, 1998 was against the Chicago Bears and it was one the Bucs ended up winning pretty handedly – but not without some drama first. The Bucs were shutout in the first half, falling behind 15-0 before Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer would revive Tampa Bay's offense. The Bucs scored 27 unanswered points that included a couple big plays like a 44-yard bomb to Dave Moore for a touchdown in the third quarter and a 43-yard touchdown run by Warrick Dunn in the fourth. Tampa Bay won the game, 27-15.
What about off the field?
Tampa has been called the 'Midwest of the South' and studies would show that isn't far off base. According to the Chicago Tribune, Tampa (more specifically, Hillsborough County) was the top Florida destination for 'ex-Illinoisans' according to a 2013 study. Tampa has adopted some Chicago flavor as well. Portillo's, the popular Chicago hot dog chain, now has two locations in the Tampa Bay area and restaurants serving Chicago-style deep dish pizza, like Grimaldi's or Cappy's keep popping up.
So… what if I want to go?
The Buccaneers will make the 1,174 mile trip to Soldier Field in Chicago's South Loop on September 30. With two major airports to fly into, flights are easy to come by and Chicago's notorious winter weather will have yet to set in. Just make sure you don't confuse Soldier Field with an alien space ship when you arrive.