TAMPA, Fla. — For the first time since the 2002 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reached the Super Bowl. This year’s game will have special meaning for the Bucs since they are the first team in Super Bowl history to play the big game in their home stadium. It will also have meaning for Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, who will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl.
Other teams have come close. The 1979 Los Angeles Rams played Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, several miles from their home stadium, the Los Angeles Coliseum. In Super Bowl XIX, the San Francisco 49ers played the Miami Dolphins in Palo Alto, California, located south of the team’s home stadium, Candlestick Park.
Tampa Bay’s 45 seasons have been fraught with futility, with several bursts of success. Even after going 11-5 during the 2020 regular season, the Bucs still own the lowest winning percentage of any NFL franchise, .393 thanks to a 278-429-1 record.
Here are 10 things to know about the Buccaneers franchise, past and present:
BEGINNINGS: The Tampa Bay area was awarded the NFL’s 27th franchise in April 1974. Along with the Seattle Seahawks, the Buccaneers made their NFL debut during the 1976 season. Tampa Bay played in the AFC West during their first season, but swapped leagues with Seattle in 1977, joining the NFC Central division.
FUTILE FOOTBALL: The Bucs opened as the laughingstock of the NFL, losing their first 26 games in 1976 and 1977. The team was the butt of many jokes nationally, particularly from late-night host Johnny Carson. “I don’t think the guys expected to win,” Carson once cracked. “I mean, they trotted out on the field wearing leisure suits.” Comedian Charles Nelson Reilly noted that “My career has sunk so low, I am doing victory dinners for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” Added Greg Bishop for The New York Times, “The Bucs played. The Bucs lost. The nation laughed.” The 1976 team was particularly awful, being outscored 412-125. In a 28-team league, they ranked 28th in offense and 27th in defense and were shut out five times. After the Bucs beat New Orleans 33-14 for their first NFL victory, Saints owner John Mecom fired coach Hank Stram the next day.
WISE-CRACKING COACH: Tampa Bay’s first coach, John McKay, was a quote machine noted for the putdown. Asked after one game what he thought his team’s execution, McKay responded, “I’m in favor of it.” After cutting kicker Bill Capece, McKay told reporters, “Capece is kaput.” After the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers blanked the Bucs 42-0 in 1976, McKay noted that “There were times I felt like leaving the stadium and hitchhiking home.” After the Bucs won their first game, McKay observed that “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.” McKay also once compared coaching an expansion football team to a religious experience: “You do a lot of praying, but most of the time the answer is ‘no.’” As Tom McEwen, the longtime sports editor of The Tampa Tribune, wrote when McKay’s tenure in Tampa Bay ended in 1984, “He has puzzled us, piqued us, pleased us, left us in fits of frustration and he has caused us to fantasize about the future. He came to us a wonder and he leaves us a wonder. He came wondering about us and he leaves wondering about us.”
BUCCO BRUCE: The original logo on Tampa Bay’s helmet was designed by longtime Tampa Tribune cartoonist Lamar Sparkman. According to author Jason Vuic, Sparkman seemed “to have felt very passionately that the Village People needed a pirate.” “He was a curious chap who looked like Captain Hook’s wayward brother, the one nobody in the Hooks family talks about,” St. Petersburg columnist Tom Zucco wrote in 1983.
HALL OF FAMERS: Three members of the Bucs have had their uniform numbers retired, and all three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lee Roy Selmon (63), Warren Sapp (99) and Derrick Brooks (55). Selmon was the Bucs’ first overall pick in their first NFL draft in 1976. Ronde Barber and John Lynch are finalists for the Hall of Fame and could be elected to the Class of 2021 on Feb. 6. Tony Dungy, who coached in Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2001, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.
SEASON SERIES: Tampa Bay leads the regular-season series against the Chiefs, 7-6. The teams met for the first time on Oct. 31, 1976, in Kansas City. During their first season in the NFL, the Buccaneers played in the AFC West division. Earlier this season, the Chiefs defeated the Bucs 27-24 on Nov. 29. in Tampa. Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to an early 17-0 advantage and held off a late rally by Tampa Bay to win. Tom Brady threw for 345 yards and threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Mike Evans to trim the deficit to three points, but the Bucs could not get the ball back after scoring with 4:10 to play.
RAINY DAY: The Bucs earned their first playoff berth on Dec. 16, 1979. Tampa Bay won the NFC Central title in a driving rainstorm, winning 3-0 on Neil O’Donoghue’s 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Bucs’ opponent that day? The Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs finally made the playoffs, going from worst to first within four years. The team reached the NFC Championship Game before losing 9-0 to the Los Angeles Rams. Tampa Bay would also win a division title in 1981 under McKay, and qualify for a wild-card berth during the strike-shortened 1982 season.
DUNGY TAKES OVER: The Bucs suffered through 13 losing seasons under McKay, Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche from 1983 through 1995. In 1996, Tampa Bay hired Tony Dungy as head coach. After losing their first five games and eight of nine under Dungy, Tampa Bay began to turn its fortunes around. The team would earn four playoff spots in five seasons from 1997 to 2001, reaching the NFC title game during the 1999 season. Dungy was fired after the 2001 season after a playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
SUPER BUCS: Tampa Bay’s lone trip to the Super Bowl came during the 2002 season. Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden was traded to the Bucs for four draft picks and $8 million, but the investment paid off as Tampa Bay went 12-4 during the regular season and finally defeated Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the 27-10 victory. The Bucs then went on to dominate Gruden’s old team, the Raiders, with a memorable defensive effort that included five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Dwight Smith had pick-six returns of 44 and 50 yards, while Derrick Brooks returned an interception 44 yards for a score.
BRADY’S BUNCH: There is no doubt that the addition of Brady fueled the Bucs’ run to the Super Bowl. The 43-year-old completed 65.7% of his passes for 4,633 and 40 touchdowns. Before facing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, Brady had thrown 14 touchdown passes and had only one interception. Against the Packers, Brady threw three TD passes but had three second-half interceptions. In Tampa Bay’s 11 regular-season wins, Brady completed 278 of 397 passes, a 70% completion rate, for 3,371 yards, 32 touchdowns and three interceptions. He had a 119.5 passer rating. In the team’s five losses, Brady completed 123 of 204 passes (60.3%) for 1,262 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. His passer rating was 72.8. Brady got the headlines in 2020, but the Tampa Bay defense delivered when it counted, especially against the Packers in the NFC title game. The Bucs had the league’s top run defense for the second straight year, allowing just 80.6 rushing yards per game. The Bucs allowed 73.8 rushing yards per game in 2019.