In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were coming off of a 7-9 season in which they ranked third in scoring, first in run defense, and if not for leading the NFL in turnovers, were probably just a couple of “all-stars” away from competing under respected head coach in Bruce Arians. In response to their failings the year before, the Bucs signed Tom Brady, traded for Rob Gronkowski, and over the course of the year also added Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, and rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs to a roster that already had considerable talent.
I know we live in an “in one ear, out the other” society where all content is as disposable as Kleenex, but did Troy Aikman already forget that the Bucs are the reigning Super Bowl champions?
On Tuesday, the former Cowboys quarterback and longtime Fox broadcaster went on the Dallas radio program 1310 “The Ticket” and criticized the LA Rams’ strategy to assemble the most talent in the league for a 2021 Super Bowl run — which in the context of LA’s three-game losing streak is a completely fair idea to explore — but how is Tampa Bay not a direct counterpoint from the last 12 months?
“We’ve talked about it — the all-star team just — I’ve never seen it work in the NFL. I know Washington tried it back in, I think, ‘99. I’ve just never seen a team that goes out and tries to put together this all-star team that can win a Super Bowl, much less success,” Aikman said. “It usually unravels, and right now, that’s kind of what’s happening to the Rams. They’ve just not been very consistent.”
Perhaps what is most interesting though is not that Aikman overlooked the most recent champion, but that he used an example from over 20 years ago to provide counter-evidence to the “all-star” strategy; ignoring the fact that the 1999 Super Bowl champions are perhaps the greatest roster ever assembled.
It should have zero bearing whatsoever that Kurt Warner was an unknown commodity prior to 1999 — the only thing that matters is that the Rams dominated the NFL with a team that had “all-stars” all over the field: Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, and Kevin Carter were first team All-Pros, Isaac Bruce and Todd Lyght went to the Pro Bowl, and Torry Holt, D’Marco Farr, London Fletcher, and Grant Wistrom are just the beginning of the talent that comprised the rest of that team.
How could it possibly matter if people thought that the Rams were gearing up for a Super Bowl run in 1999 or not, when we know in hindsight that the ‘99 Rams were as much of an “all-star” team as any in history?
Aikman instead turned his focus to 1999 Washington, a team that played really well and came within a heartbeat of beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round and facing St. Louis in the NFC Championship game — is the margin of “success” and “failure” really a playoff 14-13 loss to a really, really good team?
Of course, Aikman’s statement about all-star teams is not exclusive to him and is not a new concept. More often, people bring up the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles team that had braggadocios expectations with Michael Vick but fell flat at 8-8. But in all cases, what Aikman and others are really doing is grabbing onto a popular, familiar narrative and fitting it into the popular team/story of the day, which is the 2021 Los Angeles Rams...
People are actively rooting for the Rams to catastrophically fail because that is a “more interesting story” to them than the one where Matthew Stafford, Sean McVay, and Aaron Donald do well every week, with the only saving grace for LA fans being that it would be one hell of a bonfire to watch burn. Unfortunately for the Rams and the fans, the embers are burning hot thanks to a three-game losing streak and there’s little that anyone can say as of December 1st to counterpoint Aikman’s argument that LA has been a significant disappointment.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t counterpoint the entire argument, because I don’t know what you are supposed to call the 2019 Chiefs or the 2016 Patriots or the 2010 Packers or the 2009 Saints or the 2006 Colts or the 2004 Patriots or the 2003 Patriots (and most of the teams that I’ve left out) if not teams that were supremely, supremely talented.
Few teams reach the Super Bowl without assembling loads of talent. How the media saw or portrayed the talented prior to the season is of no consequence, it is only narrative.
And I know that the 2020 Bucs were an “all-star” team.