When Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was in absolute shock. The look of 20-year New England Patriot and owner of a record six Super Bowl rings in the red and black of the Buccaneers was jarring, the rare instance of an all-time legend joining a small-market, side note of a team.
When Tom Brady won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after blowing out the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs 31-9, I was a little bit less in shock. Sure, the Bucs entered the playoffs as a fifth seed and played Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in consecutive playoff games as underdogs, but from Week 1, it was clear that Tampa Bay had an offensive gear that could not be ignored and a leader that could not be counted out.
I really enjoyed this season. I spent most of my childhood rooting against Brady based on my rooting interest in the Baltimore Ravens — I absolutely hated the guy — but this season I couldn’t help myself. Since picking the Bucs to win the NFC and buying an $18 Cadillac Williams jersey back in August, I jumped aboard the Tampa Bay hype train (boat) and have been captivated by one of the greatest stories in NFL history and another unbelievable chapter in the career of the best player to ever lace up cleats.
What is so impressive about this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team? Consider this…
- Tampa Bay’s history — The Buccaneers have never been considered among the league’s most functional franchises, more of a gimmick than a serious contender or relevant talking point. Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl in the 2002 season, but the dominant season was sandwiched by the dreadful Creamsicle Bucs era and a playoff drought that lasted from 2007 to 2019. This is not a team that is used to the national stage.
- The coronavirus-impacted offseason. Brady’s move south was more than just a change in location. Brady moved from the methodical offensive system he had flourished in for 20 years to the extremely aggressive, downfield passing attack of Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Brady’s weapons were top-tier, but the frustrations and tension between the two philosophies nearly derailed the Bucs in November. Brady’s ultimate adaptability is even more impressive considering the stripped-down NFL offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the recent acquisitions of receiver Antonio Brown, rusher Leonard Fournette and tight end Rob Gronkowski (each scored in the Super Bowl).
- The quarterback is 43 — Brady is 43 and just threw for 40 touchdowns and 4,000 passing yards. Elite quarterbacks several years younger than him are breaking down in January, while he shows impressive arm strength and accuracy every week. A revamped offensive line, the starkest difference between the Chiefs and Bucs in Super Bowl LV, also helps.
- The offense wasn’t even the reason behind the playoff run — Brady threw three interceptions in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, and Tampa Bay’s pass rush was the story in the Super Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should have won Most Valuable Player if coaches were eligible for taking the otherworldly Patrick Mahomes out of his element with relentless pressure. It’s probably Mahomes’ first less-than-good game as a pro in his four-year career (a testament to his career) and the Bucs’ defensive unit deserves plenty of credit for solving the impossible.
- Tampa Bay didn’t combust — The Buccaneers loaded up the ship with gunpowder with big names who probably peaked in 2016, from Gronk to AB to Brady to LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. The flipside to that talent infusion is that Tampa Bay brought in a lot of new personalities and egos to mesh together in a short amount of time. Instead of combusting, Tampa Bay looked composed and tougher than their opponents, winning games in New Orleans, Louisiana and Green Bay, Wisconsin, two notoriously difficult playoff environments. The Bucs’ offensive playoff performances: 31 points, 30, 31, then 31 points, with the Washington Football Team probably playing them the closest.
Every Super Bowl means something in the scheme of things and has legacy implications, but Super Bowl LV might mean a little bit more. I don’t think any less of Patrick Mahomes because of the absolute failings of his undermanned offensive line (although the game showed me of his mortality and the possibility of a strong game plan being able to defeat him). The real takeaway is that Tom Brady won a Super Bowl outside of New England and apart from coach Bill Belichick, who found his team out of the playoffs for just the second time since 2003. That is a significant development in the eternal debate over who meant more to the reigning dynasty of the 2000s and 2010s.
Tonight, I’m feeling good for a couple people. I’m happy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneer fanbase, which, after years of irrelevance in a Central Florida market (like the nearby Magic), had a season to remember. I’m happy for the guys that stuck through the rough years and didn’t get their respect, like Lavonte David and Mike Evans. I’m happy for the minority coordinators on both sides of the ball, Leftwich and Bowles, who should get looks for head coaching roles. I’m happy for the Ravens, who saw that there was a way to stop Mahomes, and for Belichick and New England haters everywhere who achieved a sweet victory. I’m happy for great uniforms, as the Bucs switched back to their early 2000s threads over the summer and immediately won a Super Bowl in the coolest stadium in the NFL.
I don’t particularly feel happy for Brady, who has a pretty nice life and already had six rings entering Sunday, but I’m definitely grateful for his role in bringing hapless Tampa Bay its second Super Bowl trophy, making my NFL predictions look like I know something about football and giving non-New England sports fans a story to savor and remember. It was fun to root for the NFL’s villain for once. Fire those cannons!