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Special day in Bucs history

Posted Jan 26, 2011 by Ira Kaufman

Updated Jan 26, 2011 at 12:42 PM

By IRA KAUFMAN

TAMPA—Eight years have passed, yet the vivid memories remain.

On Jan. 26, 2003, the Buccaneers trounced the Raiders 48-21 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, posing with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and anticipating several more Super Bowl victories in their future with Jon Gruden as their dynamic head coach.

It didn’t quite work out that way, but the league’s youngest team has every right to feel Tampa Bay is building toward something special once again.

As defending champions, the 2003 Bucs appeared even better in the season opener, blanking the Eagles in the first regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field, but a brutal Monday night home loss to Indianapolis proved devastating. Warren Sapp departed as a free agent the next season, a proud defense started to age and poor drafts eventually caught up to a franchise that needed a jolt.

The Bucs haven’t won a postseason game since that day in San Diego, joining the Lions and 49ers as the only NFC clubs without a playoff victory in the past eight years, but Tampa Bay staged the NFL’s biggest turnaround in 2010, improving by seven wins behind franchise quarterback Josh Freeman.

Eight years later, Buc fans are encouraged as head coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik enter their third season together, determined to craft a championship blueprint.

Freeman’s size and playing style often generate comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, who has led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances in the past six years. If the Bucs can develop a consistent pass rush in 2011, they could compete for an NFC South title and an automatic playoff berth.

A unique group of players and coaches came together eight years ago today. These young Bucs have no intentions of waiting another eight years to capture the NFL’s ultimate prize.

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