It was a damp and cold night late in December. Our last year's #1 Draft Pick, a talented immense specimen of a QuarterBack, had been benched for ineffectiveness, along with the hopes of a Win to leave a good taste in our mouths. Looking back you almost knew the writing was on the wall for Head Coach Sam Wyche, whos "5 Dash 2" press conference rant inflaming Tampa Bay media by pointing out the Bucs record at the time, turned into a 7 dash 9 final record.
He wasn't without his chances. Common belief was Sam was doomed after the 1994 season. But then the Bucs had to go on a 4 game winning streak, which may have saved the franchise staying in Tampa Bay.
Back in '95, After an upset win over Green Bay on ESPN Sunday Night Football, the Bucs were sitting at 7-7 with two games to go. They clinched the end of double diget losess. If they could get their act together, they could end losing seasons, and even make the playoffs.
Not so fast!
The Glazers listened wisely to football minds and hired Minnesota Defensive Coordinator Tony Dungy, and the rest is history. While we don't know who if anyone the Glazers contacted to make the decision this time around, they felt Raheem Morris was going to be the man for the franchise.
How much do the two situations have in common? A lot more than people think.
THE MAN AT THE TOP- While Tony Dungy waited a long time for his turn at Head Coaching, Raheem Morris' rise to power is a startling tale. He didnt even have time to wear in his Defensive Coordinator shoes before they became too small! From listening to what Raheem is saying, it appears we are in for a blast from the past mentality around here; of taking care of fundamentals, doing things right all the time, and responsibility and just over all being a good man. In 1996, when two of his players forgot(?) to show up for apperances at local functions (one forgot a second time after Tony called and apologized and swore it wouldnt happen again), the coach put off even one iota of discussion about the upcoming game. He laid into his players about Character. Some say it was the turning point in the franchise; The next game was a win vs the Oakland Raiders at home, and started a string of 3 consecutive wins and 5 wins in the seasons last 7 games. Tony knew as a Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings who played the Bucs twice every year, that Tampa Bay had talent, they just had a losing mentality. Tony would tell his Viking players to get up on the Bucs early, because if they did the players in Orange would get that "here we go again" mentality and pack it in.
This last weeks OTA's showed the Bucs working on basic fundamentals, where as new play installations would have been the lesson under Jon Gruden.
THE PLAYERS- At some point Bucs fans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that you sometimes only get one Warren Sapp, and one Derrick Brooks. Who knows how long Green Bay will be trying to replace Brett Favre. Time will only tell the next time an LT will run around with a Charger Uniform on. So without doing a direct position by position analysis and comparison, the Bucs of 2009 like the team of 96 have a great deal of youth and vigor. Gone are the days of key playmakers spending most of preseason nursing nagging injuries or being kept out of evening practices because of safety measures. The '96 Bucs were a group of young and hungry players wanting to show everyone what they could do. Now the 2009 version will get to do the same.
THE COACHES- Wether he packed it in early or not, Monte Kiffin came to Tampa Bay to help Tony Dungy install a newer variation of the Cover 2 formation. Eventually known as the Tampa 2 for being the architect, the 1996 Bucs had an assistant coaching staff that had no small talent pool. Half the assistant coaches went on to become head coaches on their own. If half of the new staff has that kind of success we could be in for one heck of a ride.
When Tony took the field for game one against the Packers, he envisioned a year for Tampa that we ended up having in 1997, a year of unbridled enthusiasm from the fans. It wasn't to happen right away though, and the '09 team may be in for a similar fate of close calls and heartbreak losses piled onto each other. But in the end, it was the overall team chemistry, character, and faith in their coach that turned a laughing stock team into an eventual SuperBowl winner. The 09 Bucs? Well they are nowhere near requiring as much work to right the ship. After all, we did have two back to back winning seasons.
Does lightning strike twice?