Tony Dungy heads to Canton this week and the season that started 17 summers ago is a big reason why.
Dungy had ended Tampa Bay’s long playoff drought in 1997 but the Bucs were coming off an 8-8 campaign while division rival Minnesota ran roughshod through the NFC with a 15-1 mark the previous season.
But behind a stellar, swarming Tampa 2 defensive unit that included two other future Hall of Famers (Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp) the Bucs won 11 games to capture the NFC Central crown — their first division title in 18 years. Tampa Bay then defeated the Redskins in the divisional playoffs before heading to St. Louis for its second ever NFC Championship Game appearance. In a tight defensive struggle, the Bucs fell just short of their first Super Bowl in an 11-6 loss to the Rams.
In six seasons in Tampa, Dungy compiled a record of 56-46, the best winning percentage in Bucs history. He moved on to Indianapolis in 2002 and became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl when the Colts defeated Chicago in Super Bowl XLI. But Dungy kept his ties to Tampa and still resides there.