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How the Buccaneers fell apart after dominating the 2002 Super Bowl

The schadenfreude is strong with this one.

On Jan. 26, 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders for their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.

The Tampa defense picked off Rich Gannon five times (he’d only thrown 10 interceptions during the regular season), including one by Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson to help grab an early lead, and one by Dwight Smith among the final ticks of the clock in the fourth quarter, with players already celebrating on the sideline.

But the path to the Super Bowl started well before the players took the field that season. General manager Rich McKay spent the mid 1990s and early 2000s constructing this champion, including drafting seven of the 11 players on the NFL’s No. 1 defense. And that defense came together under coordinator Monte Kiffin and former head coach Tony Dungy, who crafted the now iconic Tampa 2 defense.

However, it was Dungy’s shortcomings that ultimately led to their championship. Following back-to-back losses in the Wild Card round, both on the road in Philadelphia, Dungy was let go. Tampa Bay then stacked first- and second-round picks onto a pile of cash and sent it to the Raiders for the rights to their head coach, Jon Gruden. After leading the team to a franchise best 12-4 record, Gruden did what Dungy couldn’t — he defeated Philadelphia on the road in the postseason. And when staring down the barrel of his former team, the Bucs buried them, 48-21.

Gruden was the difference maker. With him at the helm, they couldn’t lose. The future was bright and nothing could stop this team from becoming a dynasty.

Oh, wait — I’m reading this wrong. It was all downhill from there.