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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Fond Farewell

As much as the Bucs appreciate the tradition of Lambeau Field, it’s their own recent history of narrow losses that motivates the team as it heads north


Brett Favre and the Packers have barely eluded Steve White and the Bucs in Lambeau, adding motivation to this week's trip

Would Napoleon Bonaparte relish a return to Waterloo?

Think the Houston Astros wish fondly for a return to Atlanta? Were the Brooklyn Dodgers of the '40s and '50s pleased to be headed to Yankee Stadium every year for the World Series?

Of course not.

Well, maybe.

Athletes (and driven military men) may not enjoy defeat, but they always want another shot at that victory that has eluded them. Perhaps that explains why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a weekend visit to Green Bay on the itinerary, are speaking so fondly of Lambeau Field.

Isn't this quaint piece of Americana a personal house of horrors for the Buccaneers? Why would you want to go back to a place in which nobody on the current roster has ever won a game?

Perhaps we've just answered our own question.

"I know in my four years, we haven't won up there yet," said defensive tackle James Cannida. "To be as close as we were last year and then lose in overtime, it left a bad taste in everyone's mouths. I'm not saying that's the only reason we want to go up there and win, but I think it might have something to do with it for a lot of guys on the team."

The Bucs haven't won in Lambeau – or anywhere in Wisconsin, as some of the intervening games were played in Milwaukee – since 1989. In the late 1980s, both the Bucs and Packers were experiencing hard times, and not much was made of a 'Battle of the Bays.'

In the mid-90s, the Packers developed into one of the NFL's elite teams, and the Bucs joined them in the latter part of the decade. The Bucs have proven they can beat the Packers, having done so four consecutive times in Tampa, but not that they can overcome both the Packers and the Lambeau mystique.

And there isa mystique, though the players will insist that it has no bearing on an actual competition in the stadium. The place has 'history.'

"I'll tell you what, I love walking down the tunnel and onto Lambeau Field," said Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "That's what football's about. The Ice Bowl, Vince Lombardi…I get goose bumps every time I go up there. We get out of the buses and they're tailgating out there with beer and brats. I coached in Green Bay one year, so I know a little bit about it."

Kiffin's stay in Wisconsin was short, as he joined Packer legend Bart Starr's staff just in time to see Starr get the ax at the end of the season. Before discovering how short his stay would be, Kiffin had bought into the little-town American dream of Green Bay, buying a yellow house with a white picket fence.

Lambeau Field is surrounded by such an appealing neighborhood, through which opposing team buses must drive on the way to the game Sunday morning. Teams know they will encounter a packed stadium, some of it inhabited by people who can easily walk to the site from home.

"I think it makes it special for the fans," said quarterback Brad Johnson. "You could drive by the neighborhood and not even see the stadium, actually. It's just kind of hidden back in there, and obviously there's a lot of tradition and history there."

Before we commission Norman Rockwell to paint the story of this weekend's game, however, we should get back to the reality of the Buc players' feelings about visiting Lambeau. In the end, it has little to do with Bart Starr and a lot to do with Brett Favre. Green Bay has won a Super Bowl since both teams returned to prominence; Tampa Bay has not. On weekend's such as the one ahead, there is still the feeling that the Bucs must vanquish Favre and the Packers in their own home before moving on to greater heights.

"To win our division, we probably have to win this game," said defensive end Steve White. "That's how we look at it, the approach we have to take. And I think we will. I think we'll go out here and prepare well this week and get ready for a good game up in Green Bay."

Added Johnson: "The reason there's tradition is because they have great players. That's what they have now. They've had bad players and they've lost there. Right now, they have good players there and they're back on the winning track. From that standpoint, it's a great place because it's a small town with a lot of tradition. But from our standpoint, the tradition and history has nothing to do with us."

The history the Buccaneers are counting on is the increasing closeness of their games in Lambeau. Tampa Bay has lost all five of its regular season games in Green Bay under Head Coach Tony Dungy, but none by more than eight points, only one by more than a touchdown and the last two by a single field goal. In fact, the difference has grown so narrow that last season's three-point loss needed overtime to be decided.

That's the good and bad news for these Bucs. They know they can stay close, but they have yet to prove they can overcome their self-created obstacles to actually get a 'W.'

"I think we've gone up there and hurt ourselves," said fullback Mike Alstott, who has been onboard for each of those five losses, as well as a tight playoff game after the 1997 season. "The last two years, we've lost by three points in each game. In 1996, in a year we were rebuilding, we lost by five points. We haven't gone up there and been demolished; we've pretty much hurt ourselves every time we've gone up there.

"If we can play like we did last week, stay fundamentally sound and go out there and execute, be aggressive and play…we know it's going to be a dogfight. It's going to go 60 minutes and go down to the last play, just like it did here. If we keep ourselves in the game, we'll have a chance to win."

That thought echoed Dungy's sentiments about trying once again to end the drought in Lambeau.

"The big thing we have to do is go up there and play a full game," he said. "We seem to have a five or eight-minute lapse in every game that kind of hurts us. We've just got to play full go. We know they're going to be tough. They've had a week off to rest up for us, so it should be a great game."

Finally, it has to be mentioned that this will be the last of the Bucs' annual trips to Green Bay as part of the NFC Central. The farewell tour may be particularly sentimental in Lambeau. Again, however, the issues of history and tradition take a back seat when it comes to the motives of Buccaneer players. Alstott runs the gamut when assessing the team's last annual go-around in Wisconsin, but ends it on the most salient point.

"People enjoy going to Lambeau Field," he said. "It's a traditional place. It's exciting to go there. We should be honored to go play at Lambeau Field every year. I hope we come out with a victory."

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