(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Ronde Barber interview, fast-forward to 24:45 of the attachment above)
The 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs had one of the best defenses of the modern era, including two starters who were first-ballot Hall of Famers and two more who are serious Hall-of-Fame candidates -- including one who’s been a finalist the past six years.
So it’s no surprise that they won a Super Bowl.
But that’s the problem: They won one. Nothing more.
They had Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson on a defense that held opponents to an NFL-low 12.2 points a game ... led the league in pass defense ... led the league in overall defense ... were sixth vs. the run ... held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating ... and produced 40 interceptions (including the playoffs), including five in Super Bowl XXXVII, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
What’s more, they had a head coach (Jon Gruden) who was advertised as the original “quarterback whisperer” and considered so ingenious that the Bucs paid a ransom of two first-round draft picks, two second-round choices and $8 million in cash to pry him loose from Oakland.
Yet they didn’t win another Super Bowl. Worse, they went 45-51 in the next six years under Gruden and didn't win a single playoff game after 2002.
So what happened?
“That’s a great question,” said Barber on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "That’s a question that I wish I could answer."
“People want to answer that question by asking: Why didn’t we win (more) going forward? Our best chance other than that was probably 1999, which was three years before that. To me, that was our best football team.
“We didn’t have the same offensive talent that we had (in 2002). Tony Dungy, obviously, was our coach. It wasn’t Jon Gruden. But we went to St. Louis and held the best team in football … the best offensive team in football … to 11 points on a touchdown that they scored at the end of the game.
"That should’ve been our first Super Bowl, in my mind – and in a lot of guys’ minds that I played with. And that should’ve been the run that we got on.””
The 1999 Bucs, as Barber acknowledged, were offensively challenged. Quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer and Shaun King, they ranked 28th in overall offense, next-to-last in passing, 27th in scoring and nine times during the regular season failed to produce 20 or more points.
But it wasn’t offense that made them an 11-5 division winner. It was a defense built by Hall-of-Famer Dungy, with Tampa Bay nine times holding opponents to 10 or fewer points. And it was that defense that shut down the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” in the NFC championship game before a late Ricky Proehl touchdown pushed St. Louis to an 11-6 victory.
Nevertheless, Barber believes it was that Tampa Bay club that should have produced the start of a Super Bowl run … not the 2002 club.
“We felt like we were good enough in ’99, 2000, 2001 to get there,” he said, “but football’s crazy. It’s a weird sport. You lose games that you shouldn’t. You win games that you shouldn’t. But the most consistent team (goes). And we weren’t.
“We were the best team in 2002, and that’s why we won. And I can’t give you an answer why we weren’t in 2003 and 2004. I truly believe our best football was 1999-2002, and we won only one Super Bowl in there.
“So if you want to indict us, indict us from there. Because we had good teams. It is what it is, and the NFL is the greatest sport because of that."
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