The year 2002 was undoubtedly the most exciting and storied year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans.
Rumors were swirling as to how the team could make quick, drastic improvements to the staff and roster following a disappointing beat down from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard Round, 31-9 which sent head coach Tony Dungy packing.
The Bucs searched for a worthy replacement head coach with fervor, and several big name coaches were considered for the job, including the "Big Tuna" (and one of my favorite coaches) Bill Parcells, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, and University of Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
Quickly, the search for coach was narrowed down as Steve Spurrier took a lucrative deal (the biggest ever) with the Washington Redskins and Parcells passed on the offer. Now there were two choices: go with McKay, or keep looking in the sea of NFL coaching talent.
Making a Choice
Bucs GM Rich McKay threw his support behind Marvin Lewis, but fate played out and John Gruden clinched the spot as head coach.
The acquiring of Gruden from the Oakland Raiders came with a heavy price that concerned Bucs fans—four draft picks traded to the new head coach's former team.
What would the season be like? Was Gruden worth it?
Would he and his staff give the Bucs a comeback season?
Gruden quickly went to work after joining the team, retooling a snail paced offense. He acquired former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Keenan McCardell and RB Ryan Pittman from the Arizona Cardinals, and began to win respect from Tampa Bay fans.
Sweeping Realignment and the Sealing of Fate
The NFL's sweeping realignment sent the Bucs to the new NFC South division that year, which made the season even more interesting. Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans joined Tampa Bay in the new NFC South division.
Despite the advancements made to the offense, the defense was the key part of the Buccaneers team during the 2002 season. To the delight of fans, the 2002 Bucs became the first team in franchise history to lead the league in total defense, points allowed, and interceptions.
No team had looked like this since the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The 2002 Buccaneers held opposing quarterbacks to an unbelievable 48.4 passer rating for the season, and in time, the dominant defense led the team to the NFC South title with Tampa Bay's best ever record of 12-4.
Soon, the Bucs won their first ever NFC championship against the Philadelphia Eagles after cornerback Ronde Barber intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown.
Barber remains as the only Buccaneer still active from the storied 2002 squad.
The Super Bowl
In a sports tale for the ages, Super Bowl XXXVII would be a matchup between Gruden's Bucs and his former team, the Oakland Raiders.
The town of Tampa Bay was electrified.
Gruden's familiarity with the Raiders playbook paid off, as Buccaneer players reocgnized Oakland formations in crucial parts of the game.
The Buccaneers stomped the Raiders by a score of 48-21, and the team became the first team to win a Super Bowl without any picks from the first or second round in the NFL draft.
Gruden also became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.
No Bucs Team Compares
It is obvious why the 2002 Buccaneers are the team that stands out as the best squad that Tampa Bay has ever had. The season played out like a fairytale, signaling that perhaps even God wanted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl that year.
We as Buccaneers fans hope each year that there will be another amazing season to come like the 2002 NFL season. As we say goodbye to Gruden this year and welcome head coach Raheem Morris, the fresh new 2009 Buccaneers give us hope for another storied season.