March 20, 2020.
Can you think back to one year ago and just reflect on what the world was going through at that time? It was still the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting the U.S., and everyone was doing their best to adjust to the many changes that came with it. Quarantining, wearing masks, working from home, teaching the kids at home, not having sports to watch on TV and everything else... It was a truly, truly wild time.
Adding to the madness of that time was the single-biggest signing in Buccaneers history and a massive shift within the NFL landscape.
After 20 seasons, six Super Bowl victories and nine AFC titles with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady—widely considered to be the greatest quarterback of all time—decided it was time for a new chapter of his career. Up until mid-March, no one seemed to know if Brady would really hit free agency for the first time in his career. Any time “Brady to the Bucs” was brought up as a possibility, it seemed a little too crazy to be reality. We even wrote about the three-time NFL MVP in our free agency spotlight series, but there was just no way this could happen for the Bucs. Right?
But then things went full 2020 and the NFL free agency frenzy began. There were inklings about Brady being interested in signing with Tampa Bay, but for many, it still felt too good to be true. Then came the announcement that the quarterback would be leaving the Patriots. That’s when things became a little more real. The Bucs were mentioned as one of the frontrunners to sign Brady and then came the reports that it was happening. On March 17, it seemed to be a done deal.
Then, panic set in. Why? March 18 came and went with no official announcement. The same for March 19. No one could blame Bucs fans for fearing the worst. Brady surely had second thoughts about coming to such a struggling franchise and the team was going to be left at the altar. Right?
Wrong. On March 20, this popped up on Tom Brady’s Instagram:
The rest, as they say, was history.
Because of COVID-19, the Bucs didn’t get a normal offseason. Brady and his new teammates were forced to meet up at a local high school for workouts. There was no preseason, and training camp itself looked a lot different. Many wondered what this would mean for a new-look Bucs team that featured Brady trying to adapt to Bruce Arians’ offense. And because Brady signed a two-year deal, there was a lot of talk about Tampa Bay being a contender in 2021.
Instead, the timeline went just as Jason Licht and Bucs decision-makers dreamed it would.
The Bucs started 6-2 and things were looking great. From there, a 1-3 stretch had a lot of folks giving up on the team’s Super Bowl hopes. But after the Week 13 bye, Tampa Bay didn’t lose another game. A four-game winning streak to end the season placed the Bucs as the NFC’s No. 5 seed. But even entering the playoffs, it wasn’t all that popular to pick them as Super Bowl favorites.
Brady and the Bucs beat the Washington Football Team on the road to start their playoff run before coming up against the NFC South champion Saints, a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season. Surely, this would be the end of the road.
Nope. The Bucs beat the Saints in New Orleans, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay the following week. The No. 1 seeded Packers were going to be the team to prevent the Bucs from playing for a Super Bowl in their home stadium, right?
Wrong. Tampa Bay held on late in that one and earned a spot in Super Bowl LV against the defending champion Chiefs. But there was no way the home team had enough to handle Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s potent offense. There was just no way.
Until there was. The Bucs dominated, winning 31-9 to earn their second-ever Lombardi Trophy, with Brady earning MVP honors in the game and getting his seventh ring.
If you tried going back to January of last year to explain the Bucs’ 2020 season to someone, that someone would’ve probably told you to get your head checked. It was real, though. The 10-plus months between March 20, 2020 through Feb. 7, 2021 were a complete roller coaster, and it was one that Buccaneer fans will always remember.
Sure, Brady isn’t the only reason the team returned to glory. The defense grew into a championship unit, the offensive line came together with the addition of Tristan Wirfs and the offense’s skill players obviously played their roles. But when looking back on the championship season and how it went down, it will typically come back to the addition of Brady.
Brady, the ultimate winner, chose to sign with a franchise that—at the time—had the worst winning percentage of any franchise in the “big four” sports. Was he crazy? It turns out that, no, he wasn’t. He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns (to just 12 interceptions) and helped the Buccaneers earn their first trip to the playoffs since 2007, win their first playoff game since January of 2003 and claim their second-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Now, the team is going for two. Brady restructured his contract to do his part as the front office looked to retain some key free agents in hopes of winning Lombardi No. 3 next February. Brady is already talking about getting his eighth ring and he’s set to stick around in Tampa for both 2021 and 2022. There could be even more memorable times ahead.
But regardless of what happens during the rest of Brady’s time in the Bay Area, him putting pen to paper and signing with the Bucs last March 20 was a moment that led to one of the most special seasons in franchise history.
Happy one-year anniversary, Tom. How about some avocado tequila to celebrate?