It had been nearly two decades - 18 years of frustration for the fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The jokes were plentiful. The Suckeneers, the Yucs and a few more lewd names seemed to follow the team around. The creamsicle orange uniform with the winking pirate logo became synonymous with losing. They were every team's bye week before bye weeks were even introduced in the league. They were Wiumama Tech, Big School U's homecoming sacrifice.
If there was one thing always constant through out the 80's and most of the 90's - the Bucs were going to lose at least 10 games.
In 1997, that all changed. The Bucs buried "Bucco Bruce" and the creamsicles in a mock burial at sea, introducing Pewter Power to the Tampa Bay lexicon.
That year, Tampa Bay shot out of the gate with a 5-0 start, their best start since 1979. After a heartbreaking loss in Green Bay ended their winning streak, Tampa Bay would play .500 ball the rest of the way to claim their first winning season and playoff berth since 1982 while tying a team record 10 wins in a season. The Bucs would host a home playoff game for the first time since Lee Roy Selmon terrorized quarterbacks.
Still, the doubters remained. Most pundits predicted a lopsided win for Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wildcard game. After all, Sanders had just broke the 2,000 yard barrier and reeled off an NFL record 14 consecutive 100 yard rushing games.
In one magical chilly evening in Tampa - it would all be washed away.
One of the lasting memories of that game for me was it was bitterly cold - perhaps one of the coldest in Tampa Stadium history (Houlihan's Stadium by that time).
The Bucs built a 20-0 lead using the Tony Dungy Buc Ball formula of pounding the Lions with Mike Alstott and striking them with the shifty rookie Warrick Dunn, then playing dominate defense. The original Thunder and Lightning combined for 140 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
The great Barry Sanders? For the first time since Week 2 of the season (which was also against the Bucs), he would be held in check, limited to just 65 yards on 18 carries.
While Trent Dilfer only completed 50% of his passes, he still connected on a 9-yd scoring strike to Horace "Hi-C" Copeland late in the second quarter to build a 10-0 first half lead and avoided the huge turnover, throwing just one interception.
When Alstott rumbled 31 yards for a touchdown with 3:41 left in the third quarter, the stadium erupted in premature celebration.
Someone forgot to tell the Lions they were supposed to go to sleep. A field goal by Jason Hanson just three seconds into the 4th quarter got Detroit off the snide.
At the 7:12 mark, Touchdown Tommy Vardell plunged in from a yard out and suddenly a laugher had just gotten interesting.
The Bucs defense would have none of that. When Lions QB Frank Reich - the engineer of the greatest comeback in NFL history - completed a 3rd and 16 pass 15 yards and then spiked the football on 4th down to stop the clock - the game was finished and the delirium in the stadium ensued.
The Bucs had exorcised the demons of 15 consecutive seasons of bad management, bad ownership and bad football players.
Finally, there were some more names to board the Bucs playoff victory bus other than Lee Roy, Doug and Jimmie Giles. After 18 long years, the "Yucks" had another playoff win.
Veteran defensive lineman Brad Culpepper took a victory lap - young Warren Sapp followed suit.
"I was just so overcome with the fans," Sapp had said. "I saw what 'Pep was doing, and I thought I'd do the same thing. I couldn't make a whole lap, though."
They had closed down the old Sombrero in style and ushered in the era of end zone pirate ships, division titles and a Super Bowl championship.