‘Bay of Pigs' stink has disappeared

The Packers and Buccaneers have transformed themselves from NFL doormats to elite franchises. PackerReport.com's Bob Fox remembers the rivalry.

In the late 1980s, when ESPN was doing its "NFL Primetime" show, Chris Berman and the late Pete Axthelm borrowed the phrase "The Bay of Pigs" when talking about matchups between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Like the botched "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba in April 1961, the Packers and Bucs in the late 1980s were woeful. It started for the Packers in 1986, when coach Forrest Gregg gutted the team to add youth to the roster. The Packers suffered seasons of 4-12, 5-9-1 and 4-12 from 1986 through 1988, when Lindy Infante took over as coach.

Infante, with the help of quarterback Don Majkowski, led the Packers to a 10-6 record in 1989. The success, however, was short-lived. The Packers fell to 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991.

The Packers' revival began in 1992 under new coach Mike Holmgren and new quarterback Brett Favre. Since then, the Packers posted the best record in the NFL, have had just one losing season (2005), won Super Bowl XXXI and have played in 22 playoff games.

The Buccaneers were born in 1976 and lost their first 26 games. But they won the NFC Central Division in 1979 and 1981 and reached the NFC championship game in 1979. Starting in 1983, however, things got progressively worse for the Bucs.

The Bucs suffered 12 straight double-digits losing seasons from 1983 until 1994, and didn't have a winning record until 1997, when they went 10-6. The biggest reason for the turnaround was Tony Dungy, who coached the Bucs to a 54-42 record from 1996 to 2001 and won the NFC Central in 1999.

The Bucs, however, couldn't get over the playoff hump under Dungy, and in 2002, they made former Packers assistant Jon Gruden their coach. Sure enough, Tampa Bay won it all, as the Bucs beat Gruden's former team, the Oakland Raiders, in the Super Bowl that year.

Since then, however, the Bucs have gone 50-49 and have dropped two consecutive home playoff games.

The Bucs' biggest issue has been the merry-go-round of quarterbacks. Gruden has used Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson, Shaun King, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, Luke McCown, Tim Rattay and Jeff Garcia.

Garcia played in the Pro Bowl after leading the Bucs to last year's NFC South title, but a flirtation with Brett Favre and issues regarding a contract extension for Garcia ruined the Garcia-Gruden relationship. After the season opener, Gruden benched Garcia in favor of Griese.

The Packers under Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, have seen normalcy return after the soap opera involving Favre played out early in training camp. Through three games this season, it appears the confidence McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have shown in Aaron Rodgers will be rewarded.

The Packers and Bucs are 2-1 heading into Sunday's matchup in Tampa, Fla. The Packers lead the NFC North, while the Bucs are tied with Atlanta and Carolina for the NFC South lead.

Sunday's game will be the 50th time the former division rivals have met in the regular season, with the Packers holding a 29-19-1 advantage. Both teams have made themselves into upper-tier teams over the last decade or so.

It wasn't like that in the late 1980s, when it was called "The Bay of Pigs." Now, it's two quality football teams that happen to reside on a bay.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com

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