DT Anthony McFarland and the Bucs haven't been to Lambeau since 2001, and they're looking forward to their return
The signs are simple and unadorned. A bit scratchy, printed in big block letters on copy paper, they're posted here and there in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room.
On the main door leading out; on the Gatorade cooler; on the grease board with the daily schedule. Each sign bears a single number.
Though some rookies might have been momentarily confused when the signs went up on Wednesday, by now everyone on the team is clear as to the signs' origin, and their meaning. Head Coach Jon Gruden ordered the notes put up to remind players of one small but unpleasant fact:
The Buccaneers haven't won in Lambeau Field since 1989.
This is not a streak kept alive by infrequent meetings, either. The Bucs visited the Green Bay Packers every year from 1990 through 2001, plus once in 1997 in the playoffs, though two of those meetings were held in Milwaukee. All of them were losses, some by hefty margins, some on last-minute turns of fate.
Gruden was not personally along for any of those trips, but he inherited the streak when he took over in 2002, just as he inherited the now-defunct "cold-weather jinx," the Philadelphia stumbling block and that whole never-won-the-Super Bowl thing. He didn't witness this streak being formed, but he seems to be taking it to heart, and he would like to be around when it ends. This weekend, for instance.
The "1989" signs, Gruden says, are reminders of a long passage of time. Too long.
"That's a reminder that Boy George was at the top of the charts," he said. "Jiminy Christmas, 1989 is a long time, and that's what we're up against. We haven't won there in forever. I don't even know where I was in 1989. I'm tired of breaking these negative trends around here, but that's what we're up against. Green Bay's going to have no mercy. They are 0-2, they've got a lot of pride and good players, they're well-coached. It's going to be a heck of a game."
Gruden was the wide receivers coach at Pacific University in 1989, and three years later he would become an assistant with the Packers, getting a first-hand introduction to Lambeau Field. None of his current Buccaneers were in the NFL in '89 either, and most of them have never been to Lambeau Field as Buccaneers. Cadillac Williams was only seven years old at the time. And Boy George was two years removed from his last hit song.
But anyone who has been a fan of the NFL for long knows that Lambeau is a special place, even if he's never been there. Williams is looking forward to his first visit to the "Frozen Tundra," and he's become well-versed in the Bucs' struggles there.
"I'm very excited," said the rookie back. "They've got great tradition and great fans, and the most important thing is that we haven't won there since 1989. Therefore, we're definitely looking to change that."
The Bucs take a 2-0 record into their meeting with the Packers, who are a surprising 0-2. While no one on the team considers the Pack to be as toothless as that record suggests, neither do the Bucs consider their own record a mirage. The Bucs have respect for the Packers and for Lambeau Field, but they also have a youthful swagger that should help them guard against being overwhelmed by the place.
"From what I have heard, there is a lot of history in that stadium," said Clayton. "We're excited to go play a good Green Bay team, in their home stadium. We've basically established a mental mindset of domination, so once you get on the field it doesn't matter where you are, or what the crowd is like, our main focus is to dominate the game, and that's what were looking to do."
Still, some of the team's more seasoned veterans may not be able to avoid taking it a little personally. Derrick Brooks, on the team since 1995 and through its rise to prominence, beginning in 1997, remembers many a disappointing afternoon in that football haven. He knows that the Bucs had to leapfrog Green Bay before completing their rise to the top in 2002, and they did so with a series of rousing wins over the Packers in Raymond James Stadium. But even as the Bucs climbed all the way to the top, even as they won at Philadelphia, their other house of horrors, they never got that Lambeau Field victory.
Brooks doesn't want to still be saying that when his career is finally over, so he needs all of his young teammates to understand what they're up against.
"I'm 0-8 there," he said. "More importantly to me personally is also going 3-0 and continuing the fast start that we have. Again, a lot of these players on this team haven't even played at Lambeau Field, so Coach just wanted to give them a small indication of what we're going into and have them know that we have to be totally focused as a team. One individual can't be off his game if we want to win."
Brooks said the team has been discussing its trip to Green Bay since training camp, pinpointing the game as another hurdle for the franchise to clear. Will the Bucs vanquish their Lambeau Field ghosts? Well, there's no reason they can't. They won under 40 degrees in Chicago in 2002, then again in Philadelphia on the way to the Super Bowl. They blew up the Vet in Philly. They won their first Super Bowl. Now it's time to break that streak in Green Bay. It's been a long time coming.
"For whatever reason, we as a team haven't been able to get it done," said Brooks. "Whether it's been a blowout or a three-point game, a missed field goal, we haven't won. It's one of the things that we talked about in training camp, doing things that this franchise has never done before."