With new state-of-the-art video boards going up at Raymond James Stadium, we look back at the Top Ten unforgettable plays in stadium history that we'd want to see in an incredible HD replay!
This fall, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin play in a significantly-renovated Raymond James Stadium. Though the comprehensive renovation plan will take part in two stages, the second completed before the start of the 2017 season, this year's upgrades will include a very exciting new feature: massive, state-of-the-art video displays.
Raymond James Stadium is the same place the Buccaneers have called home since 1998, when the iconic structure with its signature pirate ship opened its doors and was quickly dubbed, "The Crown Jewel of the NFL." Over the past 18 seasons, the team has created many lasting memories on its home field, including a title run in 2002 and the exploits of dozens of Pro Bowl players. Fans who attended Buccaneer games in person can replay their favorite moments in their heads, bolstered by the replays inevitably shown on the Raymond James Stadium videoboards.
A look at updates being made to Raymond James Stadium.
The 2016 Buccaneers feature a new era of young stars, from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans to Lavonte David, and they're ready to give fans many more years of memorable highlights. Fortunately, those who witness those highlights at Raymond James Stadium will now get to see replays on one of the NFL's best video and sound systems. Not only will the stadium have two brand new HD video boards in the end zone, but they will now be coupled with HD video displays covering each of the four corner towers, in addition to HD ribbon boards along the center ring of the suite level.
All told, the combined video display area will cover more than 31,000 square feet, the third-largest total in any NFL stadium.
The Buccaneers, of course, will develop many manners of content to take advantage of this available video space, not to mention a vastly improved sound system to go with it. Still, there's no better video experience for a Buccaneers fan at Raymond James Stadium than reliving an acrobatic touchdown or a key interception via replay.
To celebrate the awesome new array of video display coming to the Bucs' home this season, we've chosen to look back at some of the best highlights in Raymond James Stadium history, so far. Whether it was a one-handed touchdown catch in the building's very first game or a stunning second-effort scramble just last year, Raymond James Stadium has been the site of many unforgettable moments. Below is our list of the top 10.
First, a few explanations as to the criteria we used to develop this list. We were looking for single, indelible moments as opposed to overall memorable Buccaneer victories. We preferred big plays that came in Buccaneer victories, especially if they were important wins. Mostly, we wanted those plays that anybody who witnessed them live at Raymond James Stadium would never forget.
We did not make a list of the best individual game performances on the Bucs' home field. There were surely some amazing highlights among Josh Freeman's five touchdown passes against Seattle in 2010; or Warrick Dunn's 210-yard rushing effort against Dallas in 2000; or Joey Galloway's 166-yard game versus Detroit in 2005; or even Ronde Barber's team-record two pick-sixes against Philadelphia in 2006, which also included a forced fumble. Those are great memories, too, but not single moments.
Actually, we almost did include that last one, but as you'll see below, Barber's heroics got trumped by an even more unforgettable moment on the same afternoon. That led to one of the most surprising aspects of this list: the fact that Ronde Barber – perhaps the greatest big-play producer the Bucs have known – is not involved in any of the following 10 plays. Oh well, we'll have to console ourselves with the fact that Barber still owns perhaps the top moment in franchise history…it just happened to take place in Philadelphia.
Other than Barber, the toughest exclusion from this list was the Buccaneers' 24-22 win over Green Bay on December 7, 1998. That win snapped a six-game losing streak to Brett Favre and the Packers and ultimately led to the Buccaneers getting over one of their toughest hurdles en route to an eventual championship. In that game, the Buccaneers sacked Favre an incredible eight times and forced eight fumbles, six of them by the Green Bay quarterback. It was one of the top highlights of the team's first season in its new home, and it surely made good use of the videoboards throughout the day, but we ultimately decided not to bend our own rules and to focus on the following 10 single moments.
Without further ado, the top 10 single-play highlights – so far – in Raymond James Stadium history, presented chronologically:
1. Moore Lights a Comeback Fire with One Hand
The Buccaneers played their first seven games of 1998, including five preseason contests, on the road as the stadium construction neared its completion. On September 20, 1998, the team took to its new home for the first time, with long-time rival Chicago getting the honor of the first visit to Raymond James Stadium. It was a highly-anticipated moment in team history…that almost turned into a day to forget.
Coming off their breakout 1997 campaign, Tony Dungy's Buccaneers had high hopes in '98 but started out with two road losses to Minnesota and Green Bay. A Week Three meeting with a struggling Bears team, also 0-2, looked like a good opportunity for the Bucs to get back on track, but they came out flat and found themselves in a 15-0 hole at halftime.
Everything changed after halftime. Trent Dilfer marched the Bucs down the field on an 81-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, and the defense quickly got the ball back. After gaining a first down at the Chicago 44, Dilfer took a snap and faked a handoff before rolling sharply to his right. He then planted, turned back to his left and lobbed a high pass to tight end Dave Moore, who had snuck out to the sideline and was wide open.
Unfortunately, Dilfer's throw was a bit too far. Moore twisted so that the pass essentially sailed over his head as he faced the sideline diagonally, and then made an incredible one-handed grab with his outstretched right hand. After bringing the ball in, Moore sprinted to the end zone with safety Tony Parrish angling in from the middle of the field. Moore and Parrish both dived but the Buccaneer tight end managed to reach the pylon for the touchdown.
At that point, the comeback was in full swing. Tampa Bay ended up scoring 27 unanswered points and got the win they so badly wanted to christen their new home.
2. Abraham Stuns Vikings with "Blitz-Pick"
During Dungy's tenure as the Bucs' head coach, his team made a habit of beating his former squad, a very good Minnesota Vikings squad, at Raymond James Stadium. One of the most exciting examples was a December 6, 1999 game that the eventual NFC South Champions won, 24-17, on the Monday Night Football national stage.
The lead in the game changed hands three times, but the Buccaneers scored first just three plays into the game thanks to an amazing split-second reaction by Donnie Abraham, Tampa Bay's ball-hawking cornerback. A 34-yard catch-and-run by Robert Smith on the game's first play helped Minnesota get across midfield right away. Two snaps later, Abraham was lined up across from future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Cris Carter near the right sideline.
Just before the snap, Abraham began to creep away from Carter and into the slot, obviously intending to blitz. Carter began furiously pointing out the defensive ruse to quarterback Jeff George. In what may have been a "hot read" against the blitz, Carter takes a few steps across the line and George takes the snap and fires off a quick pass in his direction. Without so much as breaking stride on his blitz, Abraham leaps and intercepts the pass just moments after it is released and takes off in the other direction. Fifty-five yards later, he has a touchdown and the Bucs are on their way to one of the most important victories in their 1999 playoff stretch drive.
3. Dunn and King Improvise a Game-Saver
After the St. Louis Rams edged the Buccaneers, 11-6, in the unforgettable 1999 NFC Championship Game, the two teams got together for a key Monday Night Football affair late the following season. Both teams were in playoff contention again, badly in need of a win on December 18, with only one more week of games to follow.
In direct contrast to the low-scoring affair dictated by the Bucs' defense the previous January, this one turned into a wild shootout more befitting of the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf. The two teams combined for 834 yards of offense, and on the Bucs' side that included 198 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns for Warrick Dunn.
Still, the Bucs were in danger of losing the game and potentially a playoff spot when Kurt Warner hit Torry Holt on a 72-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the game. That followed not long after Marshall Faulk's fourth score of the contest and it gave the Rams a 35-31 lead. After an exchange of punts, there were only two minutes left and the Bucs were at their own 20. After one quick first down, they faced a seond-and-10 at their own 35.
Quarterback Shaun King took the snap and handed off to Dunn heading to his right. Rams end Kevin Carter sniffed the play out immediately and was waiting to wrap Dunn up deep in the backfield. As Carter began to swing Dunn to the ground, it looked like a 10-yard loss that would put the home team in a deep hole.
As Carter swung Dunn back towards King, the running back improvised, pitching the ball back to his quarterback. As the defense turned its attention to him, King started to run left, then reversed field and took off to the right, getting around the edge. He picked up 15 yards and, thanks to a late hit by Mike Jones as he ran out of bounds, got another 15 tacked on the end. The result was a first down at the Rams' 35. A six-yard run on fourth-and-four by King and a thrilling one-yard touchdown plunge gave the Bucs a 38-35 victory.
4. Quarles Goes the Distance Against Packers
By the way, while it might have been obvious, we should have mentioned that this Top 10 list is only concerned with plays made by the Buccaneers. Otherwise, the most thrilling play ever fashioned on the Raymond James Stadium turf would probably go to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. His goal-line interception and 100-yard touchdown return as time expired in the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, played in the Bucs' home following the 2008 season, is simply one of the most amazing plays in NFL history.
Harrison is not the only linebacker to run down that very same sideline, in that very same direction, for a record-breaking touchdown, however. Shelton Quarles did the same thing seven years earlier.
While Harrison's touchdown came on the last play of the second quarter, Quarles' pick occurred on the first play of the same period. In a scoreless game against the Packers on October 7, 2001, the Buccaneer 'backer was trying to help his defense keep Brett Favre and Green Bay out of the end zone on a first-and-goal play from the six.
Still the strongside linebacker in 2001 before his move into the middle the next year, Quarles was lined up directly across from Packers tight end Bubba Franks on the right side of the Packers' line to start the play. Franks released at the snap and cut across the middle of the field, with Quarles neatly staying right on his hip. Favre first looked to his right but then came back with a quick pass in the direction of Franks. Quarles saw it the whole way and cut under the tight end for the interception.
That's when the fun began. Franks nearly wrapped Quarles up after the pick but a stiff-arm gave the Buc linebacker some distance. Twenty yards later, Franks made a desperation dive and clipped his foe's heel but Quarles barely managed to stay on his feet. At the same time, Barber closed in as an escort and, according to Quarles, began calling for his teammate to pitch the ball to him. Quarles kept it and, now in the clear, ran down inside the 10 before diving from the four-yard line for the score. That was, and remains to this day, the longest touchdown of any kind in Buccaneer history.
5. Brooks Takes It to the House…And the Tunnel
Quarles' record for longest Buc touchdown barely survived a challenge the very next season, when Derrick Brooks sealed a victory at Baltimore with a 97-yard pick six. That was part of an NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign for Brooks, who would find the end zone repeatedly, including at the end of Super Bowl XXXVII.
Brooks scored his second TD of the season the next week after the trip to Baltimore, and this one was particularly dramatic. The Bucs had built a 19-7 second-half lead over the defending NFC Champion Rams on September 23 but saw that shaved to five points when Lamar Gordon ran for a 21-yard touchdown with four minutes to play. After a Tampa Bay punt, Warner and the Rams had two-and-a-half minutes left to try to win the game.
From the Bucs' point of view, the matter was complicated by the fact that Brooks was on the sideline due to a hamstring injury. St. Louis fell into a third-and-seven at their own 34, but Quarles then had the leave the game due to an injury, as well. Without asking the team's trainers, Brooks put himself back into the game and, moments later, intercepted a pass intended for Gordon. Brooks loped 39 yards into the end zone for the game-sealing touchdown and then kept right on running into the tunnel that led to the Bucs' locker room. His work was done.
6. Alstott Pinballs Through Cleveland's Defense
The Bucs followed those defense-driven wins over Baltimore and St. Louis with a pair of lopsided victories in Cincinnati and Atlanta. In Week Six, they returned to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Cleveland Browns on October 13.
The Bucs won this game handily, too, nearly doubling the Browns' yardage total (380-194) and allowing just a single fourth-quarter field goal. Fullback Mike Alstott, who had become something of the forgotten man in the Bucs' offense during the season's first third, would drive the train with 17 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
While it was good to see the A-Train back in the mix, there was one play in particular that thrilled Buccaneer fans. With nine minutes to play and the home team grinding out a two-touchdown lead, Johnson handed off to Alstott to start a drive from the Bucs' 32. The big fullback started right, stepped out of a potential foot tackle, threw off a defender and headed upfield. The rest of the Browns' defense responded, and before he was finally dragged down at the Cleveland 49, Alstott had made contact with nine of the 11 defenders on the field, usually to their detriment.
What made this a particularly memorable Raymond James Stadium highlight was the reaction to the replay on the video boards. As Alstott bounced off one tackler after another, the Buccaneer crowded provided the collision sound effects, ending in thunderous applause.
7. Johnson and Jurevicius Begin Playoff Rout of 49ers
After going 12-4 in the regular season, the 2002 Buccaneers were even more dominant in the postseason, outscoring their opponents 106-37 on the way to their first Lombardi Trophy. However, Tampa Bay's impressive January run wasn't exactly a foregone conclusion, especially because quarterback Brad Johnson had missed two games due to a worrisome back injury.
Fortunately, a first-round bye helped Johnson return for the playoffs, though he got off to a little bit of a shaky start in the NFC Divisional matchup with San Francisco on January 12. Johnson and the Buccaneers would eventually win in a blowout, 31-6, but it was only 7-3 in the home team's favor when it faced a third-and-seven at the San Francisco 20-yard line in the second quarter.
Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius lined up on the left side and sprinted into the end zone before making a perfect in-and-out move to gain separation. Johnson delivered a perfect lob pass that found his target just before he hit the sideline, resulting in the game's second touchdown. Asked about the pass in the postgame locker room, Jurevicius described it as a 100 on a scale of 1-10.
What made this play, and every other big moment in the only home playoff game in 2002, particularly special was the display of "Battle Flags" in the Raymond James Stadium stands. In a surprise move for Buc fans, the team had placed alternating red and white flags in every seat in the house, and the result was a stunning visual every time things went well for the home team.
8. Alstott, Bucs Won't Be Denied on Final Two-Point Try
Like the 2000 game against the Rams, the Bucs' November 13, 2005 matchup with Washington turned into a shootout and one of the most entertaining regular-season contests in franchise history. The score was similar, too – in this case a 36-35 Bucs victory that wasn't secured until Jon Gruden made one of the gutsiest calls ever.
Chris Simms threw for three touchdowns on the day, the last one a diving 30-yard grab down the middle of the field by Edell Shepherd with just less than a minute to play. The Redskins had taken a 35-28 lead earlier in the fourth period on a Clinton Portis touchdown, and now the Bucs could set up overtime simply by kicking an extra point. And that's exactly what they intended to do.
Gruden's plans changed, however, when the Redskins jumped offside on the extra point try. The Bucs lined up for a second kick and their opponents jumped the gun again, this time blocking Matt Bryant's attempt. At that point, with the ball now moved down to the one-yard line, Gruden sent his offense onto the field for a do-or-die two-point conversion try. Mike Alstott was in the backfield.
Alstott's presence could have been used as a decoy for a play-action pass, but Gruden chose to play it straight, betting that his big men could power forward for a yard. Alstott got the ball and headed over right guard, but he was hit before he made it to the line. His typical second effort allowed him to fall towards the end zone, where he just clipped the line for the game-winning score.
9. Matt Bryant Creates "Matt Bryant Day"
Remember when we mentioned another play trumping the only time a Buccaneer player (Ronde Barber) had two interception-return touchdowns in the same regular-season game? Well, that was Matt Bryant's fault.
The Buccaneers welcomed the Philadelphia Eagles to Raymond James Stadium on October 22, 2006, and that meant another matchup between Barber and quarterback Donovan McNabb. The former had famously victimized the latter for a game-clinching pick-six in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, a play many Buccaneer fans would put at #1 on their all-time lists. Barber wasn't any kinder to McNabb on this afternoon, taking his second pass of the second quarter 37 yards in the other direction for the game's first score. Barber had also forced a fumble by Jason Avant in the first quarter that Buc teammate Torrie Cox recovered.
In the third quarter, Barber got his hands on another McNabb pass on the left sideline and ran it back 66 yards for a second score. Unfortunately, McNabb would throw three touchdown passes over the next 15 minutes to give the visitors a 21-20 lead with 33 seconds to play.
A 37-yard kickoff return by Michael Pittman gave the Bucs some hope and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski completed two short passes to get the ball to the Philly 44 with one second to play. Gruden sent Bryant out to try a 62-yard field goal, tying the longest ever attempted by a Buccaneer. Amazingly, Bryant nailed it, prompting an unforgettable radio call by Gene Deckerhoff ending in, "Matt Bryant is my hero!"
That was a common feeling after what proved to be the second-longest game-winning field goal in NFL history. In fact, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio decreed that October 23 would be "Matt Bryant Day."
10. Winston Wills His Way to the Win
If there is to be a new era of memorable moments for the Buccaneers, young quarterback Jameis Winston will likely lead the way. He's already shown a flair for the dramatic.
The first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Winston had a remarkable debut campaign, becoming just the third rookie in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards. He also threw 22 touchdown passes, including five in one game in a rout over the Eagles, which might have made this list had it not occurred in Philadelphia.
Winston's highlights included a surprising six touchdown runs, as well. His season-defining moment also came courtesy of his legs rather than his arms, as he kept the Buccaneers alive against Atlanta in Week 12 with a 20-yard scramble on third-and-19.
That by-the-numbers description – "20-yard scramble on third-and-19" – doesn't do the play justice. First, Winston's team was trailing 23-19 with four minutes to play, meaning a field goal probably would not have been enough. A sack on second down moved the ball back to nearly midfield, which meant the Bucs' offense still had to make up some ground even to get off a kick.
Winston took a shotgun snap but didn't spend much time in the pocket, quickly heading up a lane straight upfield. He pump-faked even as he crossed the line of scrimmage, trying to buy some hesitation from the defenders. It worked to some extent, but he was still sandwiched by two Falcon defenders as he crossed the 35-yard line, well short of the first down.
Seemingly wrapped up, Winston suddenly bounced out of the pack, back a few yards and to his right. He then headed upfield, made two inside cuts to elude defenders and wasn't dragged down until he had crossed the first-down marker. Six plays later, Winston threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans and the Buccaneers had a 23-19 victory over their division rivals.
If we simply wanted to highlight some of the more impressive plays in Raymond James Stadium history, we'd probably need a top 50 or so. Running back LeGarrette Blount had some of our favorites, including the 360-spinning-and-reaching touchdown against Carolina on November 14, 2010 and one of his hurdle runs against Seattle on December 26, 2010.
Three of the most difficult exclusions from the Top 10 all came from the 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff win over Washington. John Lynch started it with a crucial sideline interception, Mike Alstott followed with one of his signature second and third-effort touchdown runs and Shaun King completed it with a leaping rollout touchdown pass to tight end John Davis.
The Buccaneers' showdown with a red-hot Atlanta Falcons team on December 8 during the Super Bowl year deserves mention. In particular, Derrick Brooks tracking down and stifling Michael Vick in his attempts to scramble come to mind. Joe Jurevicius, who makes the list above, made a great corner-of-the-end-zone catch in that same game that had to be upheld by replay and which led to an enormous reaction from the Raymond James Stadium crowd.
From a novelty standpoint, Earnest Graham's option pass to tight end John Gilmore for a touchdown against the Falcons on December 5, 2010 was pretty neat. However, Atlanta rallied for two late scores to win that contest, so it's not a particularly fond memory.
Mike Williams made a very impressive touchdown catch against Cleveland as a rookie to kick off his career in 2010. Ronde Barber intercepted a pass in the red zone against Green Bay in a late-season 2002 showdown despite having a heavily-casted hand thanks to a fracture. And to end it, one of our all-time favorites: defensive end Dewayne White blocked what seemed like a certain game-ending 28-yard field goal by Todd Peterson early into overtime on Christmas Eve day in 2005. A loss might have eliminated the Bucs from the playoffs; instead, they won in the last seconds of that overtime period and took the NFC South title a week later.