Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cover Stories

With the season just over two months away, the offseason hype over the Buccaneers is beginning to build…how will the team react?

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The Sporting News was on hand Wednesday for a shot of Brad Johnson, one of the offseason additions that has led Athlon Sports to name Tampa Bay its Super Bowl favorites

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been here before. They've just never been there before.

That is, they have been anointed mid-summer Super Bowl favorites by prominent publications, as it appears they will be again this June, but they have yet to turn those predictions into reality.

The football-magazine season has begun with Athlon Sports' Pro Football 2001 Preview Edition recently hitting the newsstands. St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk is on the cover, but within Athlon predicts a Super Bowl Championship for the Buccaneers.

Just last year, Sports Illustrated made Tampa Bay its preseason Super Bowl favorites, predicting a 14-2 season. Obviously, after reaching the NFC Championship Game in 1999 and coming within minutes of their first Super Bowl, the Bucs were disappointed in their eventual one-and-done visit to the 2000 playoffs.

Similarly, high expectations after the team's breakthrough 1997 campaign were followed by an unexpected 8-8 showing in '98. As strong as Tampa Bay's roster appears to be heading into the 2001 season, perhaps the team would prefer the role of underdog.

"If you had your druthers about how things were going to be, I think you always would like to be the team nobody sees coming," admitted Head Coach Tony Dungy. "I think you would like to sneak up on people. But it's not always going to be that way. It might be that way the first year that you come into prominence, but that's about it. It's something that you can't really worry about."

Though some wonder about the effects of the team's sudden 1997 success on the 1998 season, few within the organization believe that was a problem last year. In fact, the team nearly did capture its second straight division title and first-round bye last December, despite an inexplicable four-game losing streak in October. While conceding that it's possible for a team to become distracted by too much hype, Dungy believes that his team has learned to handle it.

"Sure it can (be a distraction), if you get caught up in it," he said. "Many people think that what you are as a team is based on what other people think.

"If, all of a sudden, people don't think you're going to be good, does that carry over into how you practice and how you perform, or does that give you motivation? If people do think you're going to be good, that can go either way. You can say, 'People think we're going to be good, so let's just relax.' Or you can say, 'Hey, people are going to be coming after us, people are going to be circling that game on the calendar. We've got to be ready.' Hopefully, you use it as a positive."

The Bucs will need to take that approach, because it is likely that the national media attention is only going to pick up steam as training camp approaches.

In fact, on Wednesday, as another voluntary practice ended at noon, Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp and Brad Johnson were being rounded up for a photo shoot with The Sporting News, presumably for the cover of that publication's NFL Training Camp issue.

Elsewhere, Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli was being trailed on the practice field by a photographer seeking a cover shot for the trade publication, American Football Monthly. Fox Sports Net had a camera crew on hand. The camera wielders weren't exactly jostling for position on the sideline as they do in the stadium during a game, but there was an awful lot of attention being paid to an early-June voluntary workout.

The hype is just beginning. This time the Bucs would like it to build all the way through the end of January.

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