History of the game: The 1996 season was Tony Dungy's first as Bucs head coach. Tony brought his team of assistants to Tampa Bay to try and turn around the loser mentality in Tampa Bay. With 13 consecutive losing seasons, each season was just one more "wait till next year" after another. Sam Wyche had broken the streak of 12 straight double digit losing seasons with a 7-9 record in 1995, and there was some talent on the field with '95 draft picks Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, to go along with the best player on defense Hardy Nickerson. John Lynch was still a little known safety who made his share of mistakes along with his share of great plays.
Dungy knew he had to change the mentality of the Bucs, having spent many years as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, he would often tell his Viking teams to jump out on top of Tampa Bay as quickly as possible. That their losing mentality would get the best of them, and the "bad things always happens to us" would kick in as soon as they go down by a few scores. When the Bucs are in a game late in the contest, they have as good of a chance to win as anyone else. Dungy's message was lost early in the season, as the Bucs were wiped out by two scores in just over a minute towards the end of the first half of the opening game vs the Packers. Herm Edwards, Dungy's choice as secondary coach said to Tony after the opening day 34-3 loss to Green Bay ..."This may take a little longer than we thought" !
(more after the jump)
Starting out 0-5, the Bucs got their first win of the season over the Vikings in Tampa. What few noticed was even though they lost the next 3 games in a row, the Bucs were holding teams to 13 points or less in each game for 4 straight games. Then the Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders in Tampa when Raiders kicker Cole Ford missed a 28 yard FG with time expiring to force overtime, and the Bucs won it in the extra period.
Now 2-8, the Bucs were starting to see some signs that perhaps the team was responding to the new coaching staff and their message. Up next however was a road trip to San Diego, where the Bucs had NEVER beaten the Chargers in franchise history, and had only won 1 game on the west coast....ever!
Why the game is significant: The Bucs faced adversity they had faced many times before, but this time they handled it. They went down to the Chargers 14-0 quick, and most Bucs teams give up at this point. They were in California, they had every excuse to lose. Instead, they played inspired football and gave us the 25th best game in Bucs history!