The Bucs haven't left Lambeau with a victory since 1989
Every year on their trip to Green Bay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stay in an outlying town, about 45 minutes down the highway from the home of the Packers.
That means a long but familiar Sunday morning bus ride each fall, through a pastoral and often wintry stretch of Wisconsin. This year, that ride may be one of reflection, as the Buccaneers contemplate their last trip to Lambeau Field for quite awhile.
The National Football League will add the Houston Texans to its roster in 2002 and realign the divisions, with the Buccaneers heading to the newly-created NFC South. A new and improved scheduling format will also keep each team in constant rotation around the league, increasing fans opportunities to see all the other clubs in the league.
That schedule is already in place through the 2009 season, and the Bucs will only make one trip to Green Bay during that eight-year period, in 2005. Thus, today's bus ride will be the last of its kind for some time, the last romp on the frozen tundra, the last Warren Sapp-Brett Favre dance in Green Bay.
Most importantly, though, it will be Tampa Bay's last chance for four years to break an 11-year losing streak in Wisconsin. Some players are convinced that, without that victory today, it will be extremely difficult to win the division in the team's last year in the Central.
"It's important for that reason," said Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We'd like to go up there and get a win, get us back in the race in the Central Division and give us a chance to string two games back to back. That's probably what we need more than anything.
"The big thing we have to do is go up there and play a full game. We probably have a five or eight-minute lapse in every game that kind of hurts us. We've just got to play full-go. We know they're tough. They've had a week off to rest up for us, so it should be a great game."
So start the music and let that Sapp-Favre dance begin. Of course, this will be a battle of 45 players on each side – and the Bucs proved the importance of depth last Sunday against Minnesota – but the Sapp-Favre matchup encapsulates the hopes of victory for both team.
For Green Bay, which has pulled out narrow victories over the Buccaneers in Lambeau repeatedly over the last five years, Favre is usually the brilliant hand that makes those comebacks possible at the end. For Tampa Bay, Sapp sets the emotional tone for a defensive that only last week appeared to be playing with the swagger of 1997-2000.
Whose emotional, supremely talented leader will finish with the upper hand? Perhaps it will be the Buccaneers, as it was a month ago in Tampa, if the visiting squad can combine the intensity of last week with a laser-like focus.
"You just have to be sharp and you have to concentrate," said Dungy of winning in a hostile environment. "You have the noise factor against you, things are a little different, it's tougher on the road. You have to be mentally tough, and teams that are mentally tough can get the job done."
As usual, you'll be able to follow all of the action today and throughout the season right here in the Buccaneers.com GameDay section. This afternoon, Buccaneers.com will begin reporting from Lambeau Field at 12:00 p.m. ET, one hour before kickoff. Your only source allowed in the Bucs' locker room prior to the game, Buccaneers.com will provide two pre-game reports, complete with Head Coach Tony Dungy's thoughts. Once the Bucs and Packers have kicked off, this same space will carry game updates after each quarter.
Elsewhere in this section, you'll find links to constantly updated statistics, injury information, lineups, game photos, live play-by-play, postgame video conferences and more.
So join us again at noon today in the GameDay section as the Buccaneers try to make the most of their last NFC Central trip to the home of the Packers.