The New/Old Bucs Constellation

June 26th, 2017


In the summer of 2002, Buc fans didn’t quite know what to expect.

Jon Gruden had just arrived from the left coast, lucrative new contract in hand, and a frustrated franchise knew that a dominant defense was approaching the end of the line.

Time was running out for the Glazers to prove they had assembled a championship organization. They had just paid a huge price to pry Gruden out of Oakland and they hoped for an immediate return on investment.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of Tampa Bay’s proudest sports season, what better time to appreciate what once was … and what could be again.

This time around, the stars are predominantly on the offensive side of the ball — Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson. Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries and rookies O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin round out an impressive group of targets, And Dirk Koetter has already proven he can oversee the most productive attack in franchise history.

Now it’s the defense with the question marks. That wasn’t the case heading into 2002, despite two consecutive lopsided playoff losses at Philadelphia.

I haven’t seen a better NFL defense since the Bucs humiliated league MVP Rich Gannon on that glorious day in San Diego. Michael Bennett can talk up his Seahawks all day long, but the 2002 Bucs set a defensive standard that has not been topped in the ensuing 14 seasons.

“It just does my heart good that they played the Tampa 2 in Japan,” says Warren Sapp. “They played the Tampa 2 in Barrow, Alaska. The Purple People Eaters, you only find them in Minnesota. The Steel Curtain, you only find them in Pittsburgh. Fearsome Foursome, Los Angeles Rams. The Flex Four, only found in Dallas. The Tampa 2 is worldwide known. No one else can re-duplicate what we did. I mean, it was our thing and we perfected it.”

Why shouldn’t a Hall of Famer be proud of what his team accomplished?

Balanced & Dominant

You could make a strong case that the 2002 Bucs boasted the best pass defense in league history. Period.

That’s almost 100 years of football, people.

Opposing quarterbacks were limited to a 48.4 passer rating against Tampa Bay during the regular season. In the postseason, that number shrunk to 45.9.

“I see the aerial attacks today and I appreciate our group even more,” says former Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly. “Obviously, I’m biased, but we were able to win games 12-9 and score points off turnovers.”

En route to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the Bucs defense scored nine touchdowns.

Top that, Seattle.

“I don’t know how you play much better defense than that,” says Falcons president Rich McKay, who was the general manager of the Bucs in 2002. “It was a balanced defense. They had dominant players at all three levels. They could play the run and the pass even in a Cover-2 scheme. They could rush the passer with four men, and then benefit from having seven in coverage.”

Flashing Hope

The Bucs played serious defense last year during a five-game winning streak that left them in charge of their own playoff destiny at 8-5. Then Tampa Bay got pushed around against Dallas and New Orleans on the road, ending the suspense.

With Kwon Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence, the Bucs have young talent at all three defensive levels. Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Brent Grimes are accomplished veterans.

Mike Smith would be wise to show his group a few defensive highlights from the 2002 Bucs.

Let Spence watch Simeon Rice knifing off the right edge with speed and superb technique. Let Alexander see how Shelton Quarles covered the deep middle with distinction. Let Hargreaves study the subtle genius of Ronde Barber.

“I’ll put our influence the same as the Steelers in the ’70s,” says Derrick Brooks. “They had just enough offense – we had none. I don’t take a backseat to anyone with what our defense was able to do over a period of time.”

Nobody expects the 2017 Bucs to match the exploits of their 2002 predecessors, especially on defense. But Koetter won’t soon forget the roar of the Stick Carriers when Russell Wilson was running for his life last November.

It’s a raucous soundtrack once heard routinely at Raymond James Stadium.

“That was a very smart group, with Hall of Famers at every level,” Gannon says. “They weren’t big up front, but they were a penetrating, attacking group. That defense made it very difficult to throw the football. Believe me, I know.”

Ira Kaufman, the most beloved and esteemed columnist in town, has hung his hat at world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira’s columns pop here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays.

16 Responses to “The New/Old Bucs Constellation”

  1. Buc4Lyfe79 Says:

    I actually feel bad for Rich Gannon. Sets a SB record for interceptions against that defense, then sees Mr. Derrick Brooks end his career on a blitz two years later. He probably still has nightmares about players flashing towards him in streaks of Pewter & Red. GO BUCS!!!

  2. Tom Edrington Says:

    We can see how it has gone from a league where defense could win a championship to a league where the rules have been honed to put the emphasis on offense. History shows you spend most of your salary cap on one side of the ball or the other……with Evans and Winston, the cap will be lopsided on the side of the offense….so this team will go as far as the offense can take it, defense has to be better than just average, however.

  3. The Buc Realist Says:


    I know you are feeling some nostalgia looking at old tape as you prepare to get the great Rhonde Barber in the Hall of Fame as a first ballot!!!!!!!! But offenses have changed in the last 15 years!!!!!! The rules have changed!!!!!!! While you can show them highlights of the tampa2 defense in 2002 you could also show them the tampa2 getting carved up the last couple of seasons!!!!!!

    and man, the Bucs defense jumped up a notch the year after dungy left!!!!!! hall of fame my azzzzz!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Bucsfanman Says:

    @Realist- Was it scheme or the players? How many of Lovie’s players don’t even have jobs now?! You have to have the right players, and that’s for any scheme. The talent we had in 2002 is unrivaled.
    No, I don’t want to see Tampa 2 played on a regular basis. Lovie ruined that! I want to see balance and creativity. I want teams to once again fear playing the Bucs. I want QBs to cry on the sidelines and coaches to hurl their headphones in disgust!
    Go feed Tampa Bay! Make them wish for the 2002 team!

  5. theodore Says:

    I’m sick of talking about 2002. We need to stop living in the past. New team, new stars.

  6. RayJameisStadium Says:

    @the odor – Obviously you are a youngster. A true football fan will never stop celebrating a winning Super Bowl season!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Obviously you are oblivious of what happen that year. Maybe you were still in diapers!!!!

    We are celebrating the past because this off season remind us of the off season of 2002. You know the year we dominated the NFL!!!!!

    You need to go watch your fathers DVD of the 2002 season a few times.

    Go Bucs!!!

  7. RayJameisStadium Says:

    Great job Ira!!!

    Although the summer of 2002 was one of high expectations. We finally knew there was a possibility of getting pass Philly with our new offensive minded coach and the stellar defense.

    Malcolm Glazer was the original Stick Carrier!!!!

    Thanks Malcom!!!! Your kids will do you proud this year!!!! RIP

  8. Pickgrin Says:

    Bucsfanman Says:
    “I want QBs to cry on the sidelines and coaches to hurl their headphones in disgust!”

    We play McCown and the Jets week 10 so your vision isn’t that far out of line…

  9. theodore Says:

    @RayJameisStadium – Are you always this condescending to others? Do you make it a habit to make incorrect assumptions about others?

    Either way, 2002 is gone. 2002 is irrelevant. 2002 is a different team in a different NFL. Yeah, Spence can learn from Simeon (the real SB MVP, btw), but he can learn from 50 other proficient DEs too. The fact Simeon was a Buc is irrelevant. That is my point.

    And I’m glad you don’t like it.

  10. Bucsfanman Says:

    @Pickgrin- LOL! I’m hoping it’s more than the Jets Though!

  11. Jarod Says:

    I want qbs we face this year to mimic the words of Michael Vick from ’02…I can’t even set up! I can’t set up to throw !

  12. BucTrooper Says:

    You know what would help? Bring back those unis

  13. Buc Fresh Says:

    Great read Ira

  14. RayJameisStadium Says:

    @Theodore …. I was just shock. Nevertheless, I apologize. You are right. It was uncalled for.

  15. Buc1987 Says:

    2002 will be talked about forever.

    That’s my only point.

  16. theodore Says:

    @RayJameisStadium – Thanks.

    FYI – I’m old.