Bucs' supporters feel a chill

0-20 mark in cold no warming thought for game vs. Eagles

January 10, 2002|By Chris Harry | Chris Harry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TAMPA, Fla. - Forecasts in Philadelphia this weekend call for temperatures in the high 30s when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) take on the Eagles (11-5) in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Veterans Stadium.

Guess what this story is about.

In case you've been holed up in an igloo somewhere for the last decade or so, you know what sort of cards the Bucs bring to the table when they play in temperatures below 40 degrees.

The kind you fold.

No matter how high the stakes.

It is truly one of the most enigmatic records in all of sports. In the 26 seasons since the franchise debuted in 1976, the Bucs have played in 20 games in which the thermometer has read 39 degrees or less.

Twenty games, 20 losses.

"That's incredible," said quarterback Brad Johnson, in his first season in Tampa Bay. "I mean, that's amazing."

Though the Bucs played December road games in Cincinnati and Chicago this season, both times the temperature was in the balmy 40s or 50s. In other words, the game was winnable.

The last time, in fact, the Bucs braved sub-40 temperatures was Dec. 31, 2000. Coincidentally, it came in a first-round playoff game in Philadelphia. Not so coincidentally, the Bucs lost, 21-3, being dominated in virtually every phase of the game.

"We just got outplayed," defensive end Steve White said. "The weather had nothing to do with that."

Say what they want, it's hard to believe that the weather - and the mindset that went into playing on a bitter cold day that followed a northeastern snowstorm - had nothing to do with the Bucs playing their worst game of the 2000 season. Tampa Bay rushed for just 50 yards, surrendered 126 on the ground and let Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb take over the game.

It could almost have been predicted.

A week earlier, the Bucs had a chance to clinch the NFC Central Division and lock up a first-round playoff bye and home game with a win in minus-16 wind-chill conditions in Green Bay. Martin Gramatica's 40-yard field goal - a chip shot for him all season - sailed wide right and the Bucs lost in overtime.

Bye-bye bye and home game.

"How cold is it in Philly?" tailback Warrick Dunn asked in the post-game locker room that day.

Dunn and his teammates went on to end their season in a frozen funk at the Vet.

"I think we'll go in with a different mindset than last year," wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. "We're not saying, `Well, if we would have [won last week] we'd had a bye.' That's over with. We know what we're playing for and it'll be fun."

Could be, but it will be cold.

It could be worse. The Bucs, like the San Francisco 49ers, could be headed for Green Bay, where forecasts are calling for possible snow and temperatures in the 20s on Sunday. Packers quarterback Brett Favre, by the way, is 29-0 in games of 34 degrees or below at Lambeau Field. The Packers are 12-0 all-time in the postseason at that temperature.

"I think everybody is physically tough and ready to deal with it, though," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "It shouldn't be an issue."

For most teams, it isn't.

But then there's the Bucs, who have 26 years of history working against them. They've even lost a home game - 31-22 to Pittsburgh on Dec. 24, 1989, at old Tampa Stadium - that kicked off at 39 degrees.

"It's pretty much a myth based on the past," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "We haven't had that many shots to win cold-weather games, but when we have, we haven't won them. ... The big thing we have to do is just go and play our game, not make mistakes, and outplay Philadelphia. If we do that, we'll win, regardless of what the temperature is."

Until that happens, however, it'll be talked about.

"Oh-and-twenty?" Brad Johnson asked in disbelief. "That's crazy."

NFL playoffs


Tampa Bay at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m., Ch. 2

N.Y. Jets at Oakland, 8 p.m., Ch. 2


San Francisco at Green Bay, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 45

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