If you’ve ever been associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in more than just a casual capacity, then you know patience is the first box you have to check if you plan on sticking around.
The franchise had to wait 27 games before the its first win and over 25 years for the first Super Bowl appearance. Before the 2020 run, fans and those involved with the team had been waiting 13 years since the last postseason appearance and 18 years since the last playoff win.
I mean, not one quarterback drafted by the franchise has ever received a second contract with the team. People are still waiting on that.
That’s a lot of time and energy spent hoping, wishing, and waiting for the best to come.
Patience doesn’t jive with the NFL. Especially in 2020. Whether it’s with the players, coaches, GMs, or anyone; no one wants to wait around and see what the future has in store when it comes to their respective NFL careers. If you want to stick around you have to make things happen and you have to make them happen, fast.
Losing can really destroy a locker room. Most players don’t want to waste their careers missing out on the opportunity to win a championship, so it’s hard for losing teams to keep good players on the roster. Said task becomes even harder if, let’s say, you’ve finished last in the division seven of the previous 10 seasons.
(That’s Tampa Bay in case the intended target was missed.)
But the Bucs have found a way to keep guys like Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Will Gholston, Cameron Brate, and Donovan Smith around. Two of those guys I just mentioned —Evans and David— currently serve as team captains while Marpet is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the NFL. All of these guys have at least six seasons in Tampa Bay under their belts, with David’s nine seasons giving him the nod as the most tenured player on the roster.
From 2012-2019, Tampa Bay compiled a 45-83 record, or a .352 winning percentage, that includes just one winning season and zero postseason appearances. That’s the third-worst record in the NFL over that span and the winning percentage is actually below the franchise’s overall mark of .393, which is the worst all-time in league history. Only Jacksonville and Cleveland have fared worse when it comes to the overall record since 2012, but even as bad as it’s been for those two teams, Jacksonville was able to reach the AFC Championship game in 2017, so the Bucs weren’t even been able to hit a lucky streak like the Jags.
Evans —who’s been of the league’s best receivers since the moment he arrived in Tampa Bay— knows the position he and his fellow teammates are in, even if he’s never actually been here before. This is a special time for everyone, but it’s even more special for those who have been with the Bucs through all of the losing seasons.
“A lot of guys, we’ve been losing for a long time,” Evans told reporters after beating the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. “We didn’t take the easy road out – guys didn’t demand trades. I know people’s situations are different, but for guys like me, Lavonte [David], Will Gholston, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, Cam Brate and all those other guys who have been here for over four [or] five years – nine years for Lavonte – it means a lot. We’ve been here [and] we saw some bad days. We’re happy to be in the position we are now.”
“It just goes to show [that] throughout the hard times, the people upstairs and around the building believed in me,” David said. “Obviously, I believed in them, as well. It’s just an honor to still be here, to still be able to live out my dream as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and to be at this point right here. Through the first eight years of my career, I’ve never been in a situation like this. There have been some rough years I’ve been through, but for me to just still be here after all that – it’s just me having a strong mind and a great support system. Understanding and believing what’s at stake and what God has for me and always having faith – all of that paid off. All of that is paying off right now and now it’s just up to me to just go out there and continue to prove that I belong. It’s great that we’re here right now, but we’ve just still got a long way to go.”
On the flipside, you have players like Tristan Wirfs, who are experiencing the sheer bliss of playing in a Super Bowl. Wirfs’ first year has been everything a rookie dreams of, but he also knows you can’t take this type of run for granted.
“I think a lot of guys just said, ‘Don’t take it for granted.’ Like Lavonte [David], he’s been in the league for nine years and [has] never been to the playoffs, so being able to go to the playoffs your first year – just make the most of it,” Wirfs said. “ Go out there and don’t hold [anything] back. There is no reason to. I think that’s been the biggest thing – enjoy it, soak it all in and give it your all.”
But with the volatility and uncertainty that comes with each NFL season, this is still a time to celebrate and look back on the road that brought you here.
“It’s amazing,” Gholston said after the Bucs officially clinched a playoff spot back in Week 16. “To have the performance we had to be able to clinch, for me to be able to clinch in my hometown, [and] to know all the hard work we put in all these days through the pandemic – to be able to achieve one of our goals – it’s a beautiful thing.”
The best part about all of this? The Bucs wouldn’t be here without these players and the players wouldn’t be here if they didn’t tough it out when times were bad. The patience exhibited from all parties has paid off. And in a major way.
We are fast approaching Super Bowl LV, but the Bucs have to wait a few more days before finding out if they’ll be the ones to hold the Lombardi Trophy.
Something tells me they’ll have no problem with that.