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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Ones to Beat

The Sporting News throws down the gauntlet, predicting a Super Bowl championship for the Buccaneers

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(From left) Warren Sapp, Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson - three reasons The Sporting News believes Tampa Bay will win Super Bowl XXXVI

What do you want first, the good news or the better news?

The good news is that there is no 'jinx' widely associated with the cover of The Sporting News, as there is with Sports Illustrated.

The better news: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a reason to care.

TSN's 'NFL Training Camp Special' issue hit mailboxes and newsstands late this week, and it should go over big in the Bay area. Featured on the cover are three of the Bucs' biggest stars, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Even better, on the inner pages, is a prediction of the Bucs' most fervent wish. Tampa Bay to win Super Bowl XXXVI, says The Sporting News.

The cover blares 'Get Ready!' which is likely moot for anxious Buccaneer fans. While Tampa Bay has enjoyed high preseason ratings since 1998, following its breakthrough campaign in '97, expectations appear to be at their peak for the 2001 season. That's certainly the indication one gets from TSN's decision to begin their 2001 coverage with the Buccaneers.

Yes, expectations can have a weight of their own, but perhaps not as much as the burden of hopelessness. Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay, who has helped usher the Bucs from mediocrity to superiority, views the cover-worthy attention as a positive.

"Having been a franchise that forever was without expectations, it's nice when you actually do get mentioned in this manner," said McKay. "It's nice when there are high expectations for your football team. I don't view it as a negative in any way, other than the fact that you can't rely on it. It really doesn't mean anything, but it's good for the fans and it's good for the franchise."

TSN's Buc-heavy coverage even gives the Bucs' credit for the most recent system 'craze' sweeping the league. The reliable 'cover-two' defense so expertly installed by Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin is, by TSN's estimation, being adopted at several other league outposts, including in New York with the Jets and on the St. Louis Rams' practice fields.

After naming the Bucs as its Super Bowl favorites, TSN does delve into one relationship it believes is crucial to the success of the magazine's prediction. New quarterback Brad Johnson and talented wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson have to 'establish the proper chemistry,' claims the magazine, for the Bucs to win the Lombardi Trophy.

But, even with reservations, The Sporting News' clamor over the Buccaneers is a welcome change from the silence of the not-too-distant past.

"You used to open these magazines and the only time that anything was written about us, it was in the section covering our team, and it was usually pretty negative," said McKay. "So this is certainly better than the alternative."

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