The most famous quote ever uttered about NFL ineptitude came out of the mouth of the Buccaneers’ first coach, John McKay. Asked about his team’s execution, he famously said, “I’m in favor of it.”
It took the team almost two full years to win its first game. When the Bucs beat the Saints in 1977 to snap an 0-26 franchise start, McKay was ready with another quip.
“Three or four plane crashes,” he said, “and we’re in the playoffs.”
The Bucs began their existence as the NFL’s laughingstock. They spent the next four decades living down to their reputation, save for a span from 1997 to 2002, when they went to the playoffs five times and won one Super Bowl. Their .393 all-time winning percentage is still the worst in the NFL.
Entering this past season, they hadn’t been to the playoffs since a loss in the wild-card round in 2007 and had hired five coaches since. The four who were fired before Bruce Arians — including former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who won a quarter of his games — combined to go 55-105.
They whiffed on their No. 1 overall pick in 2015, quarterback Jameis Winston. In 2018, the NFL suspended Winston for three games after allegations he groped an Uber driver. The next year, he became the first NFL quarterback since 1998 to throw 30 interceptions. His team went 7-9.
The Bucs replaced Winston with Tom Brady, a free agent after 20 years with the Patriots.
On Sunday night, they celebrated a Super Bowl victory in their home stadium.
“This was a very, very talented football team last year, but we didn’t really know how to win,” Arians said Monday morning. “When you bring a winner in and he’s running the ship, it makes a total difference in your locker room, every time we step out on the field. . . . It permeated through our whole locker room — his belief that we’re gonna do this. And knowing that he’d been there and done it, our guys believed it. It changed our entire football team.”
The Bears are a team in desperate need of a similar change. As bad as the Bucs have been traditionally, they have dwarfed the Bears in success since 2000. In the same number of postseason appearances — six — the Bucs have won two Super Bowls. The Bears have won three playoff games.
While Bears president/CEO Ted Phillips bizarrely bragged about the team’s culture in a postseason news conference last month, the Bears know a winning vibe must come from the person who plays the most important position in sports. It’s trite to say the Bears need their own Brady. They probably would be thrilled to add a quarterback who produces even 70 percent of what Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl winner, does at age 43.
They’re kicking the tires on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, though surely not at the price point — two first-round picks? — that has been floated in recent days. Two league sources wondered this weekend if a series of leaks during the Super Bowl media cycle was just Eagles general manager Howie Roseman trying to chum the waters in hopes someone would meet his asking price.
The teams checking in on Wentz’s availability appear to have leverage. And the fact the Eagles are willing to eat $33.8 million — more than anyone has ever swallowed to part with a player in league history — warrants caution.
Like the Bears, the Colts have a need at quarterback and a connection to Wentz. Colts coach Frank Reich was Wentz’s former coordinator in Philadelphia, and Press Taylor, who is reportedly headed to Indianapolis, was his quarterbacks coach and pass-game coordinator in 2020. Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo served the same role for the Eagles in 2017, when Wentz had an MVP-caliber season before hurting his knee. On Monday, the Bears announced they were giving DeFilippo the added title of pass-game coordinator, a job Dave Ragone held last year.
The Bears are tied, justifiably, to every veteran quarterback this offseason. They might find the trade market for the Jets’ Sam Darnold or the Raiders’ Derek Carr more to their liking. Carr might be better than Wentz; Darnold is 4½ years younger than Wentz.
None are Brady — not even close — but each could stabilize the position. Teaching the Bears how to win, though, is a stretch.
Looking as though he never made it to bed Sunday night, Arians told a story Monday: After a Week 5 loss to the Bears in which the Bucs committed 11 penalties for 109 yards and fumbled once, their leaders huddled on the flight home.
“Our guys coming back on the plane from Chicago made a commitment to each other that we’re gonna stop beating ourselves,” Arians said. “What a great, great job they have done all the way through. No turnovers, very, very few penalties. . . .
“We realized that after that game. It’s been an easy job coaching ever since.”
That’s also the best way to describe adding the right veteran quarterback: It makes everyone’s life easier. It mitigates mistakes. It sucks up specters, “Ghostbusters”-style, that were once thought to be inseparable from a failing franchise. It saves jobs — something that Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy should be keenly aware of. And it makes fans forget a team’s scandal du jour; if the Bears land a standout quarterback, no one will remember Phillips’ baffling culture comments a year from now.
There’s only one Brady. If the Bears were inspired by any part of Sunday’s game, it’s this: If the Bucs can be turned around by the sheer force of a quarterback, anyone can.