Technically, no Tampa Bay Buccaneers or any other NFL players competed in the Pro Bowl this year because the actual on-field game was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. Even had the 2021 Pro Bowl proceeded as planned on its original date, January 31, there would have been no Tampa Bay players on the field, as the Bucs were busy getting ready for Super Bowl LV at the time.
In a world without a pandemic, the Pro Bowl at the end of the 2020 season would have been played at the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. And if the Buccaneers hadn't advanced all the way to the Super Bowl, they still would have had only one player booking a flight to Vegas. Despite ranking third in the NFL in scoring and eighth in total defense, the Buccaneers had only one player selected for this year's Pro Bowl: outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul.
This fact was not lost on Pierre-Paul's teammate, outside linebacker Devin White, who was a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection and the only player in the NFL in 2020 to have 100-plus tackles and more than seven sacks. White is still waiting for his first Pro Bowl invitation.
"Think about this: We had one Pro Bowler and we were able to win the Super Bowl," said White shortly after the Bucs finished off the Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV. "How does that sound? It doesn't sound good. How do we have only one Pro Bowler but a team with [almost] no Pro Bowlers is able to go on and win the Super Bowl. Something's not right, but that's not what we played for. We played for the bigger picture. One team, one goal, and that's to put rings on our fingers."
Indeed, there's no doubt that both Pierre-Paul and White would rather be playing in the Bowl that took place at Raymond James Stadium on February 7 than the one scheduled for Las Vegas a week earlier. But White does raise an interesting point: How uncommon was it for the Buccaneers to win a Super Bowl at the end of a season in which they only had one of their players voted into the all-star game.
As it turns out, it's quite uncommon. There have now been 55 teams crowned Super Bowl champions but only the 2020 Buccaneers and the 2007 New York Giants boasted as few as one Pro Bowler. Those '07 Giants – who started their playoff run in a Wild Card game in Tampa and finished it with a win over Tom Brady's New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII – are one of only four teams every to win three straight postseason road games before securing victory in the Super Bowl. The 2020 Buccaneers are on that list, as well. It appears both teams took the league by surprise just a bit.
Only two other Super Bowl winners have been limited to two Pro Bowl selections, and Pierre-Paul was on one of those teams, as well. The 2011 Giants, who once again beat Brady's Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, featured Pierre-Paul and quarterback Eli Manning as their lone Pro Bowlers. The other team was more recent and involved Brady more directly, as he joined cornerback Stephon Gilmore as the only Pro Bowl selections on the 2018 Patriots team that beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Even being limited to three Pro Bowl selections is unusual for a Super Bowl champion. The four teams who won the title game with just three Pro Bowlers were the 2008 Steelers, the 2003 Patriots, Washington in 1987 and the 1970 Colts. Those '03 Patriots were the second team led by Brady to win it all, but he was not one of the team's three Pro Bowlers that year. Brady made the Pro Bowl the following year, however, when the Patriots won yet another Super Bowl and their all-star contingent doubled to six.
It's worth noting that advancing all the way to the Super Bowl actually helps to limit a team's Pro Bowl representation because no extra players on that team can be named as eventual replacements. Whatever their representation is upon the initial announcement of Pro Bowl rosters stays the same. Still, 42 of the 55 Super Bowl winners so far have had at least five players selected for the all-star game.
But here is where the good news potentially kicks in for some Buccaneers who may have been Pro Bowl worthy in 2020 without being widely recognized for it. That recognition may end up being delayed rather than completely missing. There does seem to be something of a "Super Bowl bounce" for the teams that won the Super Bowl with little Pro Bowl representation.
Of the seven teams before the Buccaneers who won Super Bowls with three or fewer Pro Bowlers on the roster, six saw their Pro Bowl representation go up at the end of the next season. The only exception was Washington in 1987 and 1988, as their Pro Bowl total dropped from three to two players.
That 2007 Giants team is one of the best examples of this delayed Pro Bowl response. The only player selected from that team for the Pro Bowl was defensive end Osi Umenyiora. The 2008 Giants went 12-4 but lost in the Divisional round to Philadelphia, meaning their six Pro Bowl selections – Manning, kicker John Carney, linebacker Zak DeOssie, punter Jeff Feagles, center Shaun O'Hara and defensive end Justin Tuck – could all play in the all-star contest. Those were, in fact, the first Pro Bowl selections for Manning, DeOssie, O'Hara and Tuck, while Carney hadn't been chosen in 14 years and Feagles in 15 years.
To put it another way, there were a lot of people watching Devin White make plays all over the field in Super Bowl LV, including White's peers in the player and coach ranks. They saw Ali Marpet making a key block on the run on Leonard Fournette's 27-yard touchdown run. Some of them might have been seeing the team's two rookie phenom's, tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., for the first time. Lavonte David had the Super Bowl spotlight, as did Vita Vea and Shaq Barrett and the rest of the Buccaneers, some looking for their first Pro Bowl invite, some simply deserving of going back. There's even this little-known quarterback named Tom Brady who had 50 touchdown passes, postseason included, while leading the Bucs to the top of the NFL heap. Maybe he'll get some recognition next year.
The 2021 Buccaneers would prefer not to have any of their players participating in the 2022 Pro Bowl, simply because they are too busy preparing for a return trip to the Super Bowl that weekend. But they wouldn't mind having a lot more than one player selected for that all-star game, and maybe the final contest of the 2020 campaign will give some of those under-appreciated Buc stars the boost they need.