We’re about four months removed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning Super Bowl LV. The celebrations after the game and over the next few weeks were a sight to behold, but at this point, the focus of the team has fully shifted from last season to repeating as champions this season, or as they’ve been putting it, “going for two.”
Obviously, winning back-to-back championships in just about any league is typically a tall task. But in all other major American sports leagues other than the NFL and MLB, there have been repeats within the last decade. The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups as recently as 2016 and 2017. And as one of four teams currently left in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lighting are on the doorstep of repeating after winning it all in 2020.
The Los Angeles Galaxy won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012. In the NBA, a league where “parity” is usually just the word “party” with an extra letter in it, the Golden State Warriors took home consecutive titles in 2017 and 2018. Before that, the Miami Heat won two straight in 2012 and 2013. And not long before that, the Los Angeles Lakers went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
Major League Baseball is the only league to go longer than the NFL since its last repeat, as the league’s last time having the same team win consecutive World Series was more than 20 years ago, as the New York Yankees won three straight between 1998 and 2000.
In recent NFL history, teams just haven’t been able to take advantage of their chances to repeat. The Chiefs were unable to win their second straight earlier this year. The Patriots failed to win it again in 2018 after winning it in 2017. The Seahawks won a title in 2014 and returned to defend it in 2015, only to lose. Before those three tries, the last team to have a chance at going back-to-back was the 2004 New England Patriots, and they finished the job.
As winners of Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXVIX, New England is the NFL’s last repeat champion. That team was led by none other than current Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. So, an the greatest of all time repeat for the second time in his career by leading Tampa Bay to a win in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February?
History isn’t the only one that says the Bucs have a tough road in front of them. Before Super Bowl LV, two members of the Patriots team that earned back-to-back titles came together to discuss the challenges of repeating as Super Bowl winners.
NFL Network analysts Willie McGinest—a New England linebacker during those years—and Scott Pioli—the team’s vice president of player personnel at the time—broke down some challenges that came up during the 2004 season as they chased another championship. The piece was written, of course, because Kansas City was trying to finish a repeat. Now, we can look back through red and pewter lenses to see how those obstacles apply to the 2021 Buccaneers in their quest to go for two.
Obstacle No. 1: A shorter offseason
This may be an obvious product of winning the Super Bowl, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. Given its history of losing, Tampa Bay is used to starting the offseason in early January rather than mid-February. Having one fewer month of the offseason has multiple effects, which is why getting the perspective of both a player and a front office member is extremely helpful here.
McGinest said starting the offseason later than everyone else meant a delayed start to the process of recovering from the season. With 16 regular season games and another three or four games in the playoffs, that’s a lot for the body to go through. Not to mention, there’s something to be said about unwinding mentally and getting away from the game for a little bit. By the time the Super Bowl champions start that process and begin planning their offseason trips, the offseason is already a month and a half old for everyone else.
“It’s extremely hard to do, especially when you’re coming off a Super Bowl win. There’s the parade and guys are planning trips, parties and celebrating for much of the spring. And look, it’s hard not to succumb to the Super Bowl hangover because players work their entire careers to win it, so it’s definitely worth celebrating the accomplishment. But you quickly learn to not stay at the party too long.”
The Bucs won the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 and had their boat parade on Feb. 10. From the outside looking in, it seems like there was roughly three months between the championship celebrations and the return to the field. Tom Brady and some of the key starters had unofficial workouts in late May and early June while other players were in attendance for OTAs, then it was right into mandatory mini camp this week. There will now be about a month and some change before players are back for mini camp.
It’s obviously far too early to tell how a shorter offseason is going to impact the 2021 Bucs physically, but it’s something to keep in mind throughout the summer and fall. The coaching staff will surely manage the workload of some of the key veterans throughout the preseason to hopefully account for some of that lost time.
From the front office personnel side of things, Pioli said there’s a lot of multitasking down the stretch of the season. Offseason preparation needs to happen while the season is still going on, especially if your team is playing deep into the playoffs. And once the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to get right to work.
“So almost immediately after the Super Bowl ends, you have to fully immerse yourself into player acquisitions and end-of-the-season evaluations. From a personnel standpoint, it’s very bittersweet. You know nothing remains the same year over year, because each player is a year older — some are entering their primes and others coming out of them — and, of course, there are salary cap casualties. We knew the roster we won with this time wasn’t going to be good enough the next year with every other team getting better.”
Pioli tells a story from the day after the Patriots’ first championship, when he and Bill Belichick were already having to make a list of guys that they would leave unprotected for the expansion draft while on the plane home from the game. Thankfully, the Bucs didn’t have to deal with anything like that. And in terms of jumping right into the offseason and making transactions, it’s clear the front office was well prepared. That brings us to the second obstacle.
Obstacle No. 2: Roster reconstruction
This is the one obstacle of these four that we can confidently say the Bucs have already cleared—and they cleared it in a big way. Tampa Bay had a lot of impending free agents and it didn’t look like the whole team was going to stick together. However, through some salary cap magic and some creative contract extensions, every single key player from last year’s title-winning team is back. There was no roster reconstruction to be done, really, as there weren’t any replacements to make. Things weren’t quite the same for New England in 2004, but part of what Pioli said about that offseason does line up with where the Bucs are now:
“There was also a lot of turnover along the defensive line, as we lost our starting nose tackle Ted Washington, defensive ends Rick Lyle and Bobby Hamilton, and DL Anthony Pleasant. So we looked to the draft for a big body in the middle of the D-line and we ended up nabbing Vince Wilfork, who became an integral part of our defense for years. And luckily, we didn’t expect most of our draft picks — with the exception of Wilfork, due to the significant turnover — to contribute in a major way in 2004 because we had a good veteran team, which allowed those players time to develop.”
The Bucs didn’t have a single position group take that much of a hit, so that’s where things are different. But then Pioli mentions that they weren’t going to need much of their draft class to contribute right away. Sound familiar? With the exception of Joe Tryon and maybe Jaelon Darden, Tampa Bay’s rookies will mostly be able to sit back and develop in 2021. People around the league are legitimately floored at the Bucs’ ability to keep the 2020 team together. This obstacle isn’t quite in play anymore, and that’s a huge deal.
Obstacle No. 3: Times of doubt in the regular season
This takes us back a little bit to the mental side of the game. Recovering mentally during the offseason is important, then when it’s time to get back on the field, it’s important to come back and play with the same confidence that carried you through the previous season. McGinest said that the 2004 Patriots simply did not entertain the idea of losing:
“We never thought about losing or the possibility of losing. We worked tirelessly to make sure we were as prepared as possible each week, and fortunately, everyone in the building was on the same page about that. If there was ever any stress, it was felt during the preparation period because, naturally, you didn’t want to be the player or the unit to let anybody down. It was like this every day and every week from Week 1 through the Super Bowl.”
This kind of mentality seems to already exist within the Bucs’ locker room, thanks not only to Brady and other veterans but also young guys like Devin White, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting who are as confident and as driven as they come. All offseason long, Tampa Bay’s players and coaches have been talking at length about the team’s mindset and how important it is to stay on the right track. When the goal is to go for two, there can’t be any complacency. That doesn’t feel like it’ll be a problem for this group in 2021. And if there’s a rough patch at some point in the regular season, it’s hard to see this team getting shaken by it.
Obstacle No. 4: Actually finishing the job
This is perhaps the obstacle that is impossible to control. You can be rested, have the roster in a good spot to compete and possess the right mentality and confidence to carry you through the long regular season. But what happens on the field is unpredictable. There’s not a team out there that can just waltz its way through the year and land in the Super Bowl. Other teams get better, injuries happen and things may not fall in your favor the way they did at times in the previous season. It’s hard enough to get to the playoffs, then it’s a major challenge each week of the postseason to earn a shot at completing the repeat. Getting yourself back to play for the Lombardi Trophy again takes a whole lot, and even then the job still isn’t finished.
McGinest’s Patriots were able to get the job done, but the Seahawks, Patriots and Chiefs teams that had the chance to go back-to-back in the years since? They couldn’t pull it off. Says McGinest:
“Just because you’ve won before doesn’t mean you’ll automatically do it again. The thing that is advantageous for teams and/or players who’ve been to the big game before is you’re familiar with everything that comes along with the Super Bowl, mainly outside distractions like the media, getting tickets and reservations for family and friends and going to events along with game preparation.”
The advantage of having been there and done that when it comes to the off-field stuff is certainly nice, but it obviously still comes down to what happens on the field. The Chiefs came into Super Bowl LV as favorites and could’ve likely never envisioned the game going the way it did. That’s football. There’s a reason it’s rare for teams to complete repeats.
What McGinest said the Patriots had back in 2004 on their way to a repeat, it’s clear that the Bucs have it in 2021 as well:
“Repeating as champions was really special, and there was the feeling around the locker room that we could do it because of the chemistry and cohesiveness of our team.”
Yeah, that sounds like a feeling the Bucs may have entering this fall. But Pioli leaves us with some great insight into what makes a perennial contender. And it also leaves us realizing that the Bucs still have something to prove:
“In order to repeat, teams have to have a lot of talent and really good coaching. There are plenty of instances where a team gets really hot at the right time, but when you win multiple titles within a small window, it’s a reflection of the system and process in place.”
There’s an argument to be made that Tampa Bay was one of those teams that got hot at the right time last year. Of course, it had the talent and the coaching. There’s no disputing that. But the doubters are going to be out in full force trying to discount it as just a hot streak at the right time. In 2021, the Bucs will look to prove that, yes, they do have the system and process in place that Pioli is talking about.
What do you say, Bucs Nation? What will be the biggest challenge Tampa Bay will face as it goes for two this season? Let us know what you think in the comments down below.