When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their Super Bowl LV title defense tonight, they will be displaying more than the first championship banner at Raymond James Stadium in 19 years. They will also be the first defending champion in 42 years to retain the 22 starters in this championship game.
It remains to be seen whether this means anything. But defensive coordinator Todd Bowles knows familiar formations like this new banner don’t guarantee them anything.
“Even with 22 [starters returning]it’s always a different team, ” Bowles warned just days before the Bucs began their title defense against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Kickoff season opener Thursday night. “It’s a different team.
“We changed some things to improve ourselves. We know things that hurt us. As a team, we have to regenerate, redo our chemistry and everything in order to try and improve from there and start over from the bottom up. I think if you start the season saying we’re the best we’ve already lost. We start at the bottom and we will go up. “
Bowles understands the truth better than most of his players, perhaps all but quarterback Tom Brady. That’s because in 1987 Bowles was part of a Washington team that won the Super Bowl, but failed to advance to the playoffs the following season after experiencing a 7-9 season. and injuries.
The Bucs are the only team in the salary cap area, which began in 1994, to fire all of their Super Bowl starters after locking up defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Antonio Brown with one year contracts. It signaled their interest in keeping together a team that rallied mid-season a year ago to participate in a championship walk.
While team building and rebuilding were very different before the salary cap was introduced, keeping all of your players after a Super Bowl race doesn’t necessarily mean much, as the Oakland Raiders learned from. 1977 pre-cap era. This team crushed the Minnesota Vikings the year before in the Super Bowl, but lost their chance to defend their title in the AFC Championship game the following season.
The same was not true, however, for the 1979 Steelers, the last team before the Bucs to open their title defense with the same 22 starters who won the Super Bowl the year before. The Steelers fired all of their starting lineup from Week 1 of their Championship squad and managed to repeat themselves as Super Bowl champions.
The Buccaneers will now try to pick up where they left off a year ago, when they played their best football down the home stretch last season. Tampa Bay capped an eight-game winning streak by avenging a Week 12 loss to defending champions Kansas City Chiefs at the same Raymond James Stadium where they open their title defense tonight with two groups filled with familiar faces .
“The sky is the limit for us,” Suh said after re-signing with Tampa for $ 9 million. “At the end of the day, I wanted to have the opportunity to come back with a bunch of guys who have the opportunity to potentially come back and win another ring. We just have to keep developing ourselves and understand what Coach Arians expects from each other. of us and truly assume our roles. “
This is often the problem with reigning Super Bowl champions. With success come inflated egos and increasing pressures to repeat one of the sport’s toughest journeys. No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots managed to do so in 2003 and 2004. Tampa’s only advantage is the quarterback who led that team and now heads his club 17 years later.
No one in the league understands the cost of winning better than Tom Brady, which is why he has moved beyond the search for “one for the thumb” and is working to get closer to “three for my other hand”.
Can he lead a team that managed to bring back all of their guns a year ago on another championship round? Bettors in Las Vegas only give it a 14% chance. Worse yet, the Bucs aren’t even a Vegas wise man’s betting favorite. Familiar faces don’t seem to mean much to them.
Whether they mean something to the Bucs and, more importantly, to the 17 regular season opponents they face is a question everyone in football can’t wait to see answered. Can they do it? Like the wise men of Vegas, I wouldn’t bet on it.