Before the start of training camp and the official kickoff of the 2014 Buccaneers season, Bucs Nation will take you through every season in Buccaneers history, one by one, to paint the whole picture of how the Buccaneers got to where they are today.
We move on to the 1997 season, and the Buccaneers looked like a brand new team.
Record: 10-6 (Second in the NFC Central, Playoff Berth earned via Wild Card)
Playoff Result: Lost in Divisional Round to Green Bay Packers (1-1 playoff record)
Points scored: 299 (23rd in NFL)
Points against: 263 (2nd in NFL)
Dilfer Turns Things Around: After struggling to get into a rhythm in the NFL in his first couple of seasons, Trent Dilfer was relatively impressive in 1997, posting the best QB Rating in franchise history (at that time) for a QB who started 10 or more games in a season. His 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions were more than enough to score points for an offense that only needed to set the table for the new-look defense.
Defensive Dominance: Not since 1979 had the Buccaneers been quite this great on defense, posting the third-best SRS in franchise history (and best at the time) on that side of the ball according to Pro Football Reference. Hardy Nickerson was a First Team All-Pro, while Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Warren Sapp all made the Pro Bowl.
All-Pro Alstott: The defense weren't the only ones breaking out in 1997, as fullback Mike Alstott earned All-Pro honors for his 10 touchdown campaign at fullback. In only his second season in the NFL, the A-Train rushed for 665 yards, caught 23 passes for another 178 yards, and found the end zone on a consistent basis for the Bucs.
On Top Of The League: The Buccaneers raced out to a 5-0 start thanks to a 19-18 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. A Karl Williams touchdown in the fourth quarter put the Bucs ahead by one, and long-time Bears kicker Kevin Butler missed a 47-yarder as time expired to clinch the victory for Tampa Bay.
Goodbye, Tampa/Houlihan's Stadium: The final home game to be played in the "Big Sombrero" would come against the Lions in the first round of the playoffs, as the Buccaneers secured their second playoff victory in franchise history in a 20-10 win. The Bucs rushed out to a 20-0 lead thanks to a Horace Copeland TD reception and a long Mike Alstott scoring run, and held off a late rally from Detroit to seal the win.
Everything changed for the Buccaneers in 1997.
The team adopted new uniforms and a new logo, trading out the laughable Buccaneer logo of old and out-of-fashion bright orange for red, pewter, and a skull-and-crossbones logo. This change of look also signaled a change on the field, as the Buccaneers put their losing ways behind them in a hurry.
The team began the season 5-0, and despite some struggles mid-season, finished second in the NFC Central and earned their first trip to the playoffs since the early 80's. Tony Dungy was pulling the strings for a dominant defense, which ranked near the top of the league in both points and yards allowed, while Trent Dilfer showed signs of why he was a first overall pick, posting the best QB performance ever by a Buccaneer at the time.
However, 1997 would mark the first year of what would become a strong rivalry with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, as they ended the Bucs' five-game winning streak, and knocked them out of the playoffs in the second round.
A new stadium was built next door to the Bucs' original home for use the next season, and with new uniforms, a new coach, and a new sense of hope for the future, the Buccaneers were a completely different team from the one that struggled to compete for most of the previous two decades.