Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We Got Next

Tampa Bay watches the Super Bowl with designs on being in attendance next year

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Buccaneer coach Tony Dungy said he would tune in to Super Bowl XXXIV

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy may be watching Super Bowl XXXIV with a smile on his face Sunday. After all, the St. Louis-Tennessee showdown is being played in snow and ice-covered Atlanta, while Dungy will be enjoying the temperate warmth of Honolulu at the Pro Bowl.

Otherwise, the viewing of Sunday's Super Bowl is a bittersweet experience for Buccaneer players and coaches, many of which are with Dungy in Hawaii. The Bucs got closer to the Super Bowl this year than they ever had been before, losing 11-6 at St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game. With perhaps the league's most feared defense and a focus on offseason offensive improvement, Tampa Bay hopes it's in the middle of the action next Super Bowl Sunday.

Still, Sunday is the Rams' and Titans' day, and Dungy indicated he would tune into the game, which starts at 6:00 p.m. EST. "Yes, I will watch it as a fan," he said. "I think it's going to be a good one. They had Tennessee and St Louis play earlier in the year and it ended up being a very good game. It came down to an onside kick and a chance at the end for St Louis to win. I would expect it to be very similar."

Tennessee jumped out to a 21-0 lead in that regular-season contest and held on to a 21-14 win in the face of a furious Rams rally, handing St. Louis one of just three losses this year. Dungy has a mild interest in seeing that score reversed.

"I would like to see the NFC win, being an NFC guy," said the Bucs' coach. "I've got a couple of buddies that work in Tennessee and obviously we've got some players, Jackie Harris and Lorenzo Neil, that are there, so maybe I'd like to see them win. So, based on that I don't know whom I'm going for, but I guess I'd like to see the NFC win."

Obviously, that's not a strong endorsement of either side. Check back next year, when Dungy hopes to have a much higher interest in an NFC victory.

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that maintaining the Bucs' current level of success next year will be a simple task. The modern NFL landscape is littered with quick falls from grace, including a handful last season. Of the four teams that competed in the conference championship games at the end of the 1998 season, only one posted a winning record in 1999. Minnesota dipped from 15-1 to 10-6 but still made a strong showing in the playoffs. However, Atlanta slipped from 14-2 to 5-11, Denver dropped eight games from 14-2 to 6-10 and the N.Y. Jets came on strong to finish 8-8 this year after a 12-4 1998 season. Atlanta, Denver and the Jets were all struck by extremely significant injuries, but none expected such precipitous slides.

The Buccaneers can even look to their own history for an example. Tampa Bay reached the NFC Championship Game in 1979 (against the Rams, believe it or not), in just the fourth year of the franchise's existence. That was a remarkable accomplishment in those pre-free agency days, but the team then slipped to 5-10-1 the next year before rebounding to win the NFC Central in 1981. However, this is not an invitation to a pity party. There is ample evidence on the other side, suggesting that the Buccaneers' achievements of 1999 are a prelude to greater things.

In the 1990s, exactly one half of the teams that made the Super Bowl participated in their conference's championship game the previous year. The most instructive example for Buccaneer fans is the case of their arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay lost in the divisional round of the playoffs in 1994 (to Dallas), and then advanced to the NFC Championship Game in 1995 before falling again (to Dallas!). The Packers then made it to the next two Super Bowls, winning one.

In addition, the Buccaneers already believe they have had their own personal backslide, after their 1997 playoff season was followed by the disappointing 8-8 campaign of 1998. The current unit thinks its time has come.

"We lost in Green Bay two years ago and I think everyone kind of felt that we played a better team," said Dungy. "Green Bay was the defending champions and we went up there and played as well as we could and it was a good season. "I think this game left everyone with a bitter, bitter taste, a feeling that we lost a game that we had a chance to win. It wasn't a satisfying end to the season, so hopefully we'll use that for motivation and I think come into camp ready to go."

So watch the Rams and Titans go at it on Sunday on the NFL's biggest stage, but feel free to daydream about the red-and-pewter being on that screen. And if you have any lingering animosity towards the Rams, keep this in mind:

In 1980, the season after the Rams first defeated the Bucs in Tampa Bay's first conference championship game, those two teams squared off again in the first Monday Night Football game in Buccaneer history. Tampa Bay gained a small measure of revenge with a 10-9 victory in front of a national audience. Well, the Rams are scheduled to visit Tampa Bay during the 2000 campaign, on a date not yet determined. Think the schedule-makers will think that one's worthy of a prime-time slot?

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