KUSA—Even if Tampa Bay had a one in 99.99 percent chance of coming back to defeat the Denver Broncos following a lengthy weather delay Sunday, forgive some Buccaneer officials not named Dirk Koetter if they pushed to resume, anyway.
The Broncos were leading Tampa Bay, 27-7 with 6:52 remaining in the game when play at Raymond James Stadium was halted for one hour, 26 minutes because of lightning in the area.
Since the start of the 2000 season, teams that were leading by at least 20 points with 7 minutes or less left in the game were 1,153-1, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
That one exception? It happened at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium almost 13 years ago to the day. And the game included an incredible amount of connections to the Denver area and the Broncos.
It was a Monday night, Oct. 6, 2003. Ronde Barber, the great cornerback for the great Tampa Bay defense that won the Super Bowl the season before, had just returned a pick six off Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning with 5:09 remaining to give the Bucs a 35-14 lead.
“I remember standing on the sidelines thinking this thing is over,’’ said Colts receiver Brandon Stokley, who was injured and didn’t play in that game. “You’re dealing with a Tampa Bay defense that wasn’t exactly a bad defense. You had John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks. They had Ronde Barber on the team. You had a lot of great players. And nothing was really going our way.’’
And then Brad Pyatt, who starred for Dave Logan’s Arvada West state championship football team in 1997 and is now head coach for his alma mater, started the comeback with a 90-yard kickoff return to the Tampa 12.
That’ll save some clock. It also set up a touchdown that made it, 35-21 with 3:43 remaining. Then the Colts recovered an onside kick.
“What I remember is 50 things had to happen and every one of them did,’’ said former Broncos safety John Lynch, who was playing for Tampa Bay that day. “It was crazy the things that happened. It was one thing after another. And then Peyton and Marvin got hot and there was no slowing them down.’’
Within one minute of game clock, Manning completed five passes, the last one a 28-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison. It was 35-28 with 2:38 remaining.
Tampa Bay recovered the next onside kick attempt, but its offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that stopped the clock and spoiled the Bucs’ favorable field position. A play later, the Bucs punted and Manning had the ball at his own 15 but with 1:41 remaining.
The Bucs’ Warren Sapp committed a 15-yard penalty and Manning connected with Harrison for a 52-yard pass play. Two plays later, it was 35-35.
In overtime, Indy kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 40-yard field goal. It would have been the only field goal he missed that year – he finished a perfect 37 of 37 – but Tampa Bay and former Broncos defensive end Simeon Rice was penalized for leaping. Vanderjagt made it from 29 and the Colts completed one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
That game was also the return of Indy coach Tony Dungy to Tampa, where he had transformed the Bucs from 15 consecutive losing seasons into a team that made the playoffs four out of five years – only to get fired.
“The biggest thing was, Tony Dungy all the great things he has done for people all over the world, he was returning to Tampa, the team that had fired him and afterwards – this might be a cop-out but I said to him, ‘You know what, the football gods were with you,’’ Lynch said. “What did you say it was: 1,153 to 1? Oh my goodness.’’
Know how they say a person might have one in 99.99 percent chance? That’s what 1,153-1 is.
None of these events happened 13 years later on Sunday, Oct. 2 at Raymond James Stadium. The Broncos were up 27-7 when Bucs coach Koetter issued a surrender by punting the ball on fourth-and-6 from Denver territory with 7:22 remaining. One play and 30 seconds later the rains came and halted play.
The game resumed and each team had one series before Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch took three knees to finish off the 27-7 win.
One more connection – Broncos public relations boss Patrick Smyth was on the sidelines for both games. He was a Tampa Bay PR intern in 2003 standing not far from where Manning hit Harrison for the 52-yard completion that set up the tying score.
Smyth was also out in the rain Sunday night ushering Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak off the field on his way to his postgame press conference.