The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be taking on the Philadelphia Eagles at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. When the Buccaneers entered the playoffs in the early 2000s, it would always go through Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Eagles resulted from the Buccaneers’ early playoff exits from 2000 and 2001. Philadelphia had a playoff exit loss of their own at the hands of the Buccaneers in the 1979 NFL Divisional Playoff by a score of 24-17 at Tampa Stadium. John McKay coached the Bucs, and they would advance to the 1979 NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Tampa Bay would fall the Eagles two consecutive years in the 2000 NFC Wildcard and the 2001 NFC Wildcard. After losing the 2001 Wildcard, the Buccaneers felt it was time to move from head coach Tony Dungy. The Glazer family thought that a lack of offense was why the Buccaneers were having early playoff exits and not playing to the same standards as the legendary Bucs defense.
When the Buccaneers were pursuing a new coach, they went to the west coast and felt that Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden would be the perfect fit in Tampa. The Glazers felt that working together with Gruden’s offensive mind and the Bucs already talented defense would be an ideal fit. When Gruden was hired, Tampa’s expectations were already high for a special season.
On October 20, 2002, Gruden would get his first crack at the Philadelphia Eagles as the Buccaneers head coach.
Unfortunately, the Buccaneers would suffer their third straight loss to the Eagles by a score of 20-10, and it was the same story with offensive struggles, and Warren Sapp would leave the game with an injury. Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks told an Eagles player that we will be back, and by God, he was right as the Bucs would win the NFC South with a 12-4 record.
On January 19, 2003, the Buccaneers would return to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship game.
This would be the final game at Veterans Stadium, and the Eagles wanted to go out as winners. The Buccaneers kicked off to the Eagles, and it was almost an opening kickoff for a touchdown, but shortly the Eagles’ offense would score first. The Buccaneers would answer back with a 48 yard Martin Gramatica field goal but would still trail 7-3. Tampa would get the ball back shortly and drove 96 yards to set up a 1 yard Mike Alstott touchdown to give the Bucs a 10-7 lead.
The Buccaneers would get the back again, and one of the biggest plays of the season was a 71-yard pass from Brad Johnson to Joe Jurevicius, a pass from the Bucs’ own 24-yard line. Brad Johnson would hit Keyshawn Johnson on a 9-yard touchdown pass to give them a 17-10 lead. Martin Gramatica would hit a field goal to provide the Bucs with a 20-10 lead, and Ronde Barber would have a pick-six to shut the door and give the Bucs a 27-10 win.
The Buccaneers closed down the Vet and would head to San Diego for Super Bowl XXXVII, where they defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21. Tampa Bay has already played the Eagles once this season, and they defeated them on Thursday Night Football by a score of 28-22. Sunday will be the Bucs’ first home playoff game since January of 2008 — when the Bucs hosted Eli Manning and the New York Giants. That Giants team ended up upsetting Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and denying them an undefeated season.
I am pretty excited about Sunday’s game, but as a fan going back to the early 2000s, you still get nervous. Those games were never in Tampa, and the Buccaneers did not have Tom Brady yet. The Bucs have not won a home playoff game since 2002, but Sunday, I am pretty confident that will end, but the Buccaneers are taking on a pretty good Eagles team.