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Let this serve as an inspiration for franchises that aren’t sure about whether to go for it. Let this, perhaps, make the Nets feel better about shoving all their chips into the middle of the NBA table, seeing an opportunity to pounce and choosing to pounce.
It doesn’t work out for everyone.
It worked out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A year ago, they finished their 13th straight season outside of the playoffs. They went 7-9. It was the ninth losing season in that time. They were coached by a man who was 67 years old (now 68), Bruce Arians, and they weren’t interested in five-year plans. So they did something that seemed a bit preposterous last March 20:
They signed Tom Brady to a two-year, $50 million contract. He would turn 43 in August. Again: you don’t do this because you want to sell tickets and create buzz; besides, eight days earlier, American sports had shut down in the face of a pandemic. There was no guarantee there would even be an NFL season this year.
The Bucs said: we’re in, anyway.
“What this team has done, coaches and players, all of them, I salute them,” Arians said. “This football team … I love these guys. I love what they have done. And I love how they believed in themselves from the start.”
And Sunday, they turned in one of the great workdays you’ll ever see in pro sports. Brady was the MVP and he deserved it, he threw three touchdowns (two to his old pal, Rob Gronkowski). But this 31-9 thrashing of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 2021 was as complete, and total, a team effort as anyone could ever create. This was a defense — and defensive coordinator, old friend Todd Bowles — that took on Kansas City’s pinball offense and made it look like a Pop Warner team. They eviscerated Patrick Mahomes.
Leonard Fournette — released by the 1-15 Jaguars in summer — bulled his way for 89 rushing yards, added 46 receiving yards, and welcomed garbage time to Raymond James Stadium with a 27-yard touchdown run that officially sent the Chiefs to Palookaville.
“They played better than we did,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “That’s my responsibility. You can’t do the things we did and beat a good football team, especially at this level. It was a bad day to have a bad day.”
The Bucs made it that way. It doesn’t always go this way. The brash talk of an offseason doesn’t always neatly translate. Sometimes it does. It did for the Lakers, who last year paired up Anthony Davis with LeBron James. It did for the Dodgers, who traded for Mookie Betts and then gave him $365 million contract and secured their first World Series title in 32 years.
And it did for the Bucs. There was no worry about three- and five- and seven-year plans. They went for it. And for a long while, it seemed like a foolish bet. They fell to 7-5 after losing to these same Chiefs on Thanksgiving weekend.
And then didn’t lose again.
It is title No. 7 for Brady, a number that will almost certainly stand forever going forward. It is title No. 2 for the Bucs, and title No. 1 for Arians, a coaching lifer, who once upon a time thought there was no finer job than guiding the Temple Owls, and now stands alone as the reigning coach in the NFL.
All because the Bucs took a shot.
All because they decided: why not us, why not now.
“I’m not going to compare this with the others,” Brady said. “Every championship is amazing. And these guys are champions forever.”
This happens as some sports almost encourage teams not to care — baseball springs to mind, where it feels only a fraction of the franchises truly want to compete. It happens all across football and basketball where the hoarding of assets and draft picks is celebrated, in some circles, with the same fervor as winning a title.
It isn’t the same. It isn’t close. Look at Brady’s expression as the final gun filled the Tampa air Sunday night, the reality of triumph etched deeply in his face. Look at Arians’, who won in front of his 95-year-old mother, who had to believe days like this were over for him when he walked away from the Cardinals four years ago.
Look at the Buccaneers, after turning in just about the most perfect football game, start to finish, both sides of the ball, up and down the roster. Good for them. They decided to go for it. And look where they are.
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