Best Buccaneers Team Ever: 2002

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
10:45
AM ET
Notable players: LB Derrick Brooks, DT Warren Sapp, S John Lynch, CB Ronde Barber, QB Brad Johnson, WR Keyshawn Johnson, FB Mike Alstott.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Bucs sent two first-round picks and two second-round picks, plus $8 million, to the Raiders for Jon Gruden.
Analysis: In the first year of the NFC South’s existence, the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, pulled one of the boldest moves in sports history. The Glazers fired coach Tony Dungy, who was beloved by players and fans and the only coach in franchise history to have any extended success.

They thought they had Bill Parcells lined up as the replacement, but Parcells backed out of the deal. That led to desperate measures as the Glazers overstepped general manager Rich McKay, who wanted to hire Marvin Lewis, and worked out a rare trade for a coach. They shipped four draft picks and $8 million in cash to Oakland for Jon Gruden.

Gruden came in and did what Dungy couldn’t -- he won a Super Bowl. Still relying heavily on a defense built by Dungy and coordinator Monte Kiffin, Gruden was able to infuse a little bit of offense into the Buccaneers.

With Brad Johnson at quarterback and Brooks, Lynch, Sapp and Barber all in their prime on defense, the Bucs were pretty much dominant as they went 12-4 and became the first NFC South champions.

In the irony of all ironies, Gruden wound up facing the Raiders, then coached by Bill Callahan, in the Super Bowl. Although the Raiders had the league’s No. 1 offense, Gruden outdid his former team and the Buccaneers won 48-21.

Most impressive win: A 26-14 victory in Week 3 in which the Bucs intercepted St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner four times.

Research room: Tampa Bay’s defense held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating for the season.

Honorable mention

1997: This was not the best Tampa Bay team ever, but it might have been the most important in franchise history. In Dungy’s second season, the Bucs went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. That raised expectations and changed the entire football climate in Tampa Bay.

1979: The Bucs were formed in 1976 under some harsh expansion rules and lost their first 26 games. But with Doug Williams and Lee Roy Selmon leading the way, John McKay took this team to the NFC Championship Game in only its fourth season.

1999: This might have been the Tampa Bay defense at its absolute best. With rookie quarterback Shaun King, the Bucs still managed to go 11-5. The Bucs lost the NFC Championship Game, 11-6, to St. Louis in a game that involved a controversial non-catch by receiver Bert Emanuel.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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