The near miracle on 34th Street
Back in the old orange n'white days of Bucko Bruce (the helmet design, not the 2006 quarterback), you often found yourself approaching a Sunday evening with a feeling of trepidation and no sense of expectation of victory. The Bucs would travel into the cold of Chicago or the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field (God I hate that cliche) and you knew they were not going to win no matter what.
Then came 1997 and you began to expect victories. Suddenly instead of being pleasantly surprised at a Bucs' victory, you found yourself desperately disappointed when the result did not go Tampa Bay's way. Sales of replacement cats soared amongst Bucs UK members as the feline community bore the brunt of the frustration.
But 2006 has seen a return to the old feeling of deja vu all over again. When we all sat down to watch the Dallas game on Thanksgiving, we knew there was no realistic hope of success, even when the Bucs took a 7-0 lead because the Cowboys though it was a 4.30pm start instead of the actual 4.15.
|A few thoughts on the game|
What do you think Mike Alstott's time in the 40-yard "dash" is these days?
When Fox Sports brought up the graphic about the Bucs' two-biggest comebacks, 17 points against Chicago in the 1982 season and Baltimore three years earlier, I immediately thought of getting the DVDs out and watching both games this week.
After Fox showed clips of the Bear fans dancing in the aisles at 24-3 thinking their homefield advantage was secured, why did I think of them some 15 playing minutes later when the Bucs looked like they would be driving for the winning fieldgoal?
"Come on Tim" was the cry from the Davies' household down the phone line as Mr Rattay led the Bucs to score after score. Hence memories of Wimbledom tennis came back and "Henman Hill" for the numpties who bunk off work every July to go to the tennis. "Rattay Riverbank" was the best that JD, Gary Botteley and myself could come up with for our version - any offers?
And finally to Nick Halling - you tosser. I gave you some seriously inside information as a favour to use on the show to make you look good, and you said totally the opposite. In about three weeks' time when you're proved wrong, I won't do the "I told you so" speech, but I will have a little dance and song ready instead.
So when the Bucs were 24-3 down to Chicago live on Sky Sports on Sunday night, and producer Karl Baumann was wishing he had taken me up on my offer of the dodgy photographs for switching to another game, how many of you were close to turning off?
But back came the Bucs and almost pulled out one of the greatest comebacks and upsets of all-time, let alone in Buc franchise history. Of course it was not to be and perhaps we got the best of both worlds out of the game - expectation and excitement during the game, yet still maintaining our position with Detroit and Oakland for a real top draft pick.
There was still a lot wrong with the Bucs' performance in that game, and the first two Tampa Bay touchdowns from 24-3 to 24-17 were an example of Bear indifference. I remember the Super Bowl at 34-3 when the Raiders only clawed their way back from a Buffalo-like scoreline because the Buc players were busy mugging it up on the sideline.
The two long scores to Galloway and Hilliard were passes that Bruce Gradkowski would not have made and came after Rattay took that vicious hit from Brian Urlacher. But did anyone else feel that the Bears turned up a gear late in the game when they realised they were in danger of throwing it away?
Yes it was a nice feeling to see the Bucs in a game to the end and scoring touchdowns again. But the underlying problems of this team remain and what we actually saw yesterday was the "any given Sunday" adage that has affected every team at some point this season, striking at the heart of Soldier Field.