PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – MARCH 31
By Leo Haggerty

MOUNT RUSHMORE – TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

And you though there were no sports to talk about in this time of crisis.  Oh, yea of little faith.

If you check out the last article by correspondent David Alexander, you’ll see where the lightbulb went on in my brain.  Doc chose to write about what he believed are the five best sports movies and books and names.  Buddy, I definitely agree with Hoosiers as the best movie.  The rest, we’ll have to chat about those.

That single column will spark conversation among sports fans from all over the globe.  So, what can I do to continue to flame the fire of sports discussion?  I think I have the answer and hhere it is.

I am creating the Sports Mount Rushmore Series.  Every other day, I will pick a pro sports franchise and list my four top moments in its history.  On the other day, I will do the same thing for colleges.  Hence, the Mount Rushmore title and that will give me an almost limitless supply of material as we move forward during these days of sheltering in place.

So, let me get right to it.  Obviously, I’ll start with my four Mount Rushmore moments for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Enjoy

1-Winning the 2002 National Football Conference Championship
OK, Bucs fans, don’t throw me off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for this implied blasphemy until you hear me out.  The Lombardi Trophy doesn’t come to Tampa Bay without the win over the Eagles in Philly.

I’ll give you another reason why I put this #1 on the Buccaneers Mount Rushmore.  If you ask any true Tampa Bay fan what is the most memorable play in Pewter Pirates history, I would bet you a Cuban sandwich that everyone would say it was the Ronde Barber interception that secured a 27-10 victory over the Eagles.

That got the Bucs to San Diego and a shot at playing in the Super Bowl.  With that, I rest my case as this being Pewter Pirates Excelsior moment.

2-Winning the 2002 Super Bowl XXXVII Championship
I know some people would have this #1 on the Tampa Bay Mount Rushmore.  I don’t only because of what I knew before the game even kicked off.

I was fortunate enough to have a media credential for the Super Bowl.  I was also lucky enough to have the first question of the Raiders HC Bill Callahan.  I asked him, and I quote, “How do you plan on replicated the speed of the Bucs defense at practice this week.”  His answer was, and again I quote, “We won’t have any problems doing that.”

I immediately turned to the people next to me and said that Tampa Bay will crush Oakland.  Frankly, I used stronger verbiage that is unprintable.  It was blatantly obvious that the Silver & Black had no concept as to how fast the Pewter Pirates were on that side of the football.

And, low and behold, I was correct.  Final score was 48-21 and Tampa Bay had its first NFL Championship.  Fire the cannons.

3-Loss in 1999 National Football Conference Championship
So, you ask, how can a loss be on the Bucs Mount Rushmore?  It’s the way the Buccaneers lost that haunts the Tampa Bay fans and changed the way the game will be officiated in the future.

Let me take you back to 1999.  The Pewter Pirates had beaten the Redskins 14-13 at Raymond James and were heading to to St. Louis to take on the Rams for the NFC championship.  This game was billed as The Greatest Show on Turf vs The Greatest Defense in the Universe.

Now, I let you in on another little secret. In the Bucs locker room the week before the tilt, some new member of the media made the mistake of asking Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp how it felt to be a 13-point underdog.  #99 immediately, in a very loud voice so that everyone in the locker room could hear him, shouted, and I paraphrase here,that people should bet their house payment on the Bucs with that spread.  The Rams won’t ever score 13 points.

The 1999 Defensive Player of the Year was prophetic.  The Rams, indeed, did not score 13 points.  St. Louis only managed 11 against the Bucs defense but the Pewter Pirates could only manage 6.

Which brings me to the point I want to make.  Trailing 11-6 and late in the 4th quarter, the Bucs were on the move.  With less than a minute to go, QB Shaun King had Tampa Bay deep in Rams territory when he completed a pass to the sure-handed Bert Emanuel.

As the Tampa Bay WR went to the ground, the tip of the football kissed the turf.  The pigskin never moved from #87 grasp but the tip of the football grazed the playing surface.  No problem because the catch was controlled and a new set of downs for Tampa Bay.

But, not so fast, my friends.  After further review, the call was overturned as being incomplete.

Now, I’ll give you my conspiracy theory.  The NFL hierarchy was seeing what happens when great defense meets great offense.  The powers-that-be wanted no parts of a 6-3 Super Bowl and that’s what would have happened had Tampa Bay won the game.

The NFL needed an out and ruling Emanuel’s catch a no-catch was their escape.  Calling an obvious completion an incomplete pass was the break the league needed and they took advantage of it.  See you, Bucs.  Here’s a copy of the home game for playing.

I always said that I will take two things to my grave.  The first was the Game 7 clash between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference championship game where no penalties were called.

I believe that edict of “no blood, no foul” came from the NHL higher-ups.  In my opinion, the league wanted no parts of a Vancouver-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup final because that would be catastrophic for ratings.  You’ll hear more about this when I get to the Lightning Mount Rushmore moments for sure.

The second is that Bert Emanuel caught the football.  Period.  End of story and he and the Bucs were robbed.

The NFL tried to atone for that obvious coverup by changing the rule to allow the ball to touch the ground if the pigskin is firmly in control of the receiver.  To me, that’s sounds like just what happen in the final 47 seconds of the NFC Championship in St. Louis to Emanuel and the Bucs.

At  least the NFL had the decency to call the change “The Bert Emanuel Rule.” Little satisfaction to the man who though he had put his team in position to go to the Super Bowl.

With all that being said, how can you not put on the Tampa Bay Mount Rushmore a game, whether the Bucs won or lost, where a play changed an entire rule.  I think Bert would have rather had the catch.  I hope, someday, I can ask him.

4-Loss in 1979 National Football Conference Championship
So, you must think I’m crazy putting another tilt that the Bucs lost as one of the Top Four moments in franchise history.  To me, the outcome was as important as the events leading up to the contest.

The Buccaneers, in only their fourth year of existence, were playing in the NFC title game.  And, not just playing, hosting the Los Angeles Rams at The Big Sombrero.  Coach John McKay and his troops were the rags to riches feel good story of the year.

As fate would have it, I was coaching basketball at Newberry College in South Carolina.  We had a week long, three-game trip schedule in the Tampa Bay area and it just so happened to be the week leading up to that game.

To say the city of Tampa was caught up in the excitement of hosting, and possible winning a NFC title, was an understatement.  We’re talking just two years and some change away from the pitiful 26-game losing streak that highlighted the franchise’s birth in the NFL.

Now, the Bucs were the toast of the town.  Everywhere you looked, there was orange.

Sadly, Tampa Bay lost 9-0 to the Rams.  A Doug Williams to Jimmie Giles TD pass was nullified by a penalty and that’s the closest the Buccaneers would get to the end zone.

Well, that’s my Mount Rushmore quartet.  What’s yours?