The place and time where everything changed for the Buccaneers under Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy was a mid-November afternoon in 1996 in San Diego.
The Bucs were coming off an impressive 20-17 overtime victory at home against the Raiders the weekend before but were just 2-8 overall on the year and were still better known nationally as “The Yucs.’’
In fact, that’s precisely how ESPN’s Chris Berman referred to the Bucs as he laid out his predictions for the weekend ahead, his slight absolutely infuriating Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
As he sat in his San Diego hotel room watching Berman, Sapp turned to his roommate, linebacker Derrick Brooks, and with absolute fury in his voice told Brooks, “This ends now.’’
As he so often did, Sapp backed his words with actions a day later, the Bucs beating the heavily favored Chargers 25-17 to spark a 4-2 finish that launched their return to prominence in the NFL.
As he sat in preparation for his gig as studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America on Sunday afternoon, Dungy couldn’t help but be reminded of that day while watching the Bucs beat the Chiefs 19-17 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“It kind of reminds me of my first team,’’ Dungy said later, referring to that 1996 Bucs squad. “We were up and down and up and down and then we went to San Diego and won a game on the road.
“I think this (win over Kansas City) can jump-start the Bucs. This was a huge win for them today. I think this might be the signature win they were looking for.’’
There was a similar feeling inside the Bucs locker room on Sunday. Coach Dirk Koetter wasn’t about to go there, saying such sentiments are for the fans and media to express. Others weren’t so hesitant.
“You know, good teams find a way to win in November and December and that’s what we’re doing,’’ wide receiver Cecil Shorts said. “We’re playing outstanding ball in all three phases of the game right now so, signature win? You can call it that.’’
Added center Joe Hawley: “It’s hard to win in the NFL. It’s been especially hard for the Buccaneers. But this is a sign we’re heading in the right direction.’’
“I think it means we can play with anybody,’’ wide receiver Mike Evans concluded. “I mean, we’ve been really good on the road (4-1 record) and I think this shows we’re a tough team to beat.’’