The Saints, who split their two games with the Buccaneers in 2009, will go for their first Super Bowl title on Sunday
On Sunday, December 27, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints, 20-17, in overtime.
It was perhaps the biggest upset of the 2009 NFL season, as it was the first time in league history that a team with at least 10 losses at the time had beaten a team with at least 10 wins at the time. In many ways, it was the high-water mark of the season for the Buccaneers, who otherwise mostly struggled in '09.
It was only the second loss of the year for the Saints, on the other hand, and it was part of a season-ending three-game "swoon" that made some question the playoff credentials of the NFC's #1 seed. However, the story had a happy ending (so far) for the Saints, who used that home field advantage well, defeating Arizona and Minnesota in the playoffs to advance to their first-ever Super Bowl.
Clearly, that Week 16 game meant more to the Bucs than the Saints, who won't be thinking of one little regular-season loss if they're holding up the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday evening. But here's the ominous thing about that late-December game, if you're a Saints rooter or just hoping the NFC South takes home another title:
No team has ever lost to the Buccaneers in the regular season and gone on to win the Super Bowl that season.
Okay, yes, that's just a statistical anomaly and, no, it's probably not meaningful in any way. As a matter of fact, the sample size is pretty small, as only four teams have ever lost to Tampa Bay in the regular season and made it to the Super Bowl. New Orleans is the fourth. And the Bucs aren't the only team for which this claim can be made; for instance, the same is also true of the Carolina Panthers, though they entered the league 19 years after the Buccaneers so have had fewer opportunities to knock off Super Bowl-bound foes.
But it is at least an interesting angle on the game for Buccaneers fans. Can the Saints break that trend and be the first to follow a loss to the Bucs with a win in the big game?
Here's how the Bucs' history against teams that eventually made the Super Bowl that season breaks down:
- The '79 Rams came to Tampa Stadium in Week Four and were throttled 21-6. However, the NFC Championship Game later that season was a rematch in Tampa, and this time the Rams' defense carried the day in a 9-0 win. No such luck in the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, which beat the Rams, 31-19.
- In the strike-shortened 1982 campaign, the Dolphins lost in Tampa, 23-17, in what was technically the fourth week of play even though it was in late November. Miami lost only twice in that nine-game season and won the number-two seed in the AFC's eight-team "Super Bowl Tourney" field. Washington beat the Dolphins, 27-17, in the Super Bowl.
- And in 2001, the Buccaneers won another in a series of thrilling games against Kurt Warner's St. Louis Rams and the "Greatest Show on Turf." That 24-17 victory in St. Louis continued the Bucs' vengeance for an 11-6 loss in the same location in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. It did not slow the Rams down overall, however; they destroyed the Green Bay Packers and dispatched of Philadelphia in the NFC title game to advance to the Super Bowl. There, however, they were upset by the New England Patriots, 20-17, in a thrilling contest that kicked off the Patriots' sustained era of excellence. Before this year, the Rams were the only team to lose a home game to the Buccaneers and still make the Super Bowl.
- On the other hand, 13 teams have beaten Tampa Bay during the regular season and made the Super Bowl. Those teams have an 8-5 record in the big game. However, it has been quite some time since a team that even played the Buccaneers in the regular season has won the Super Bowl.
- The last team to play Tampa Bay in the regular season and still win the Super Bowl was the Green Bay Packers in 1996 (Green Bay beat their division foes twice that year). Since, the 1997 Packers, the 2003 Carolina Panthers and the 2006 Chicago Bears have beaten Tampa Bay and made the Super Bowl only to lose.
- However, the Bucs did play, and lose to, the eventual Super Bowl champions in each of their first two seasons in the league. The '76 Buccaneers dropped a 49-16 decision to Oakland in November but later won the Super Bowl, 32-14, over Minnesota. The '77 Dallas Cowboys won at home against Tampa Bay early in that season, 23-7, and later took down Denver, 27-10, in the big game.
- Only twice have the Buccaneers played both teams that made the Super Bowl during that year's regular season, and that hasn't occurred in over two decades.
- In that aforementioned 1982 season, Tampa Bay beat Miami but lost to the Washington Redskins, 21-13, in the last weekend before the players' strike. The Bucs also made the playoffs that last but lost to Dallas but the Cowboys would then fall to Washington in the NFC Championship Game. As mentioned above, the Redskins beat the Dolphins in the Super Bowl.
- Just three years later, the Bucs were two of the victims the '85 Bears juggernaut flattened as they shuffled to Super Bowl glory. Then part of the NFC Central with Chicago, Tampa Bay held its own against the Bears, who won 38-28 in Soldier Field in the season opener and 27-19 four weeks later in Tampa. Three weeks after that second game, the Bucs welcomed the Patriots to Tampa but lost, 32-14. Chicago later rolled the Pats, 46-10, in the Super Bowl.
- In 19 their 34 seasons so far, the Buccaneers have played neither of the eventual Super Bowl participants during the regular season (we're counting the 2002 campaign, in which the Bucs were the Super Bowl champs, because they didn't play Oakland during the regular season that year). It would make more sense that those occurrences would be more common in recent years, with the league expanded to 32 teams, than in the franchise's early seasons, when there were only 28 squads. And, indeed, that is the case. The Bucs have missed both Super Bowl teams on their schedule in eight of the last 12 years, including four of the last six.
Will any of that matter on Sunday night? You can bet the New Orleans Saints have never given it a single thought. As a Buccaneer fans, however, as we wait for our team's return to the game's biggest stage, it is at least entertaining to consider how our club's history intersects, at least tangentially, with that of the Super Bowl.