It’s Up To Us

-Alex Fleming

Photo credit: Sports Display Case

The combination of the season is upon us. The final Sunday in a mad name 21 week dark is finally here. The two teams left standing are considered the best in the NFL. No one questions the AFC defending Super Bowl champions. Armed with the best current quarterback in the business, a back-to-back championship is a possibility for the first time since 2003-04. Opposing this possibility is a team that people have taken for granted for 13 years, led by a GOAT, that has found the fountain of youth. Sometimes an old dog needs a new location to learn new tricks. This would explain the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Highly talented, loaded with weapons on the roster, but unable to break through due to their division, and their own derision of iniquities. There was always an issue: the secondary was lacking- the offensive line couldn’t hold up- no running game, insufficient play at the quarterback position- turnovers.

photo credit: CNN

Excuses never stop for a franchise that always meddled with the subpar record. Escaping the basement to reach that glass ceiling is sometimes a dream. 2020 was a nightmare for America. Small businesses suffered, Brothers at war against each other, politics tearing us apart instead of bringing us together, and it’s changed the way that we shopped, dated, and communicated. But one thing that 2020 has taught us, is that there are more things that bring us closer together than apart. The entire country needs a vacation. Everyone can agree that our lives and our downtime needed to be stimulated. And for the most part, this Super Bowl is a climax of the relief that football has brought to our everyday lives. Taken away the pain and sorrow that our new stations bring with insincere smiles, or the dissidance of our everyday lives that we hide behind with fake facial expressions; concealing the true context of how dark our lives are or could truly be. Football has been the Novocaine that has numbed the pain in our souls. From those who chose to ban the game, or checking up on it through their fantasy football apps. To those who decided to troll and hate anything related to football or constantly posting on every social media page possible. We all found relief through the 256 game regular season that we thought was impossible without a bubble; but somehow, some way, the NFL pulled it off.

photo credit: CNN

So for one last Sunday we get to celebrate and watch two gladiating teams go to war for a trophy that they can only stake claim to for one calendar year. In a historic year, history has been made: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be playing the Super Bowl on their home grass in Raymond James Stadium. A year of first indeed. From three old wise men, it will stand to prove that this will be the second Super Bowl that will not be sold out. Only 22,000 will be in attendance; and maybe a ruffian here or there. But millions will be watching. Across the country, all over forms of media, around the globe. The taboo that shall remain nameless has turned our perception of normal lives upside down, while providing an opportunity for those who were struggling and striving to be heard. For those that prospered during this time of pain, they who rose from adversity are a testament that proves that only the strong survive. One doesn’t have to be O-, to succeed without fear of loss. Our life is not predetermined; though some hands are dealt better than others, we control how the game finishes- regardless how stacked the deck is against us.

photo credit: Prime Time Sports Talk

Take for example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. This secondary struggled last year, but has blossomed over a short span of time. Missing the key component on the defensive line in Vita Vea, an undiscovered talent in Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon has risen to the task at hand. But similar to an Oreo cookie, what has kept this defense together under Todd Bowles system, has been the linebackers. Shaquil Barrett, last year’s sack leader, has formed a foundation with his brethren to be better than yesterday, to hold each other accountable, and to advance the mission that they have chose as a unit to accept. Jason Pierre-Paul has looked invigorated. Finally healed of injuries, his veteran leadership an tutelage cannot be purchased or replaced. Devin White could arguably be the best linebacker in the NFL. Young, yet cocky, his skills, speed, and ferocity cannot be ignored. He is a vital component to this Tampa Bay Bucs defense that allows them to pin their chinstraps back and shoot forward like missiles. But the best never get the credit that they are due; just ask Lavonte David. He never got the limelight that Luke Kuechly did. Or the admiration that Demario Davis does; but that’s just the division that we are currently living in today in the south. He constantly has better coverage than Bobby Wagner, and can cover a running back better than Za’Darius Smith or Preston Smith. His abilities encompasses more than just a North or west direction of movement. Sometimes you don’t get the credit you deserve, until you get to perform on the biggest stage. Maybe it might help if that stage is at home; no time for stage fright.

photo credit: Colts

Their collective mission, since they have no choice but to accept it, is to stop a running game that consists of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, and Le’Veon Bell: who would like nothing more than to have another rap single go viral after a Chiefs victory. Of course Ndamukong Suh and a healthy Vita Vea will have a word or two to say about it, but ultimately the linebackers will have the final say. To compound this boggle, a 1416 yard receiver trapped in a tight ends body is also part of their assignment. Travis Kelce is as fresh and so Clean like Chuck’s straight out of a shoe store. Is 11 touchdowns this season has been a career mark for him; he is only 38 touchdowns and 603 yards behind someone he considers his idol: Rob Gronkowski. Ironically the same age, one tight end’s glass seems half-full, while the other seems to be running out of juice. Sadly, that’s not a story for a different day. That time is now. However, Gronkowski has one last chance to rekindle his old ways, and be the monster he once was for a decade- for a day.

photo credit: Netgain Technologies

Expect a lot of physical play. Expect some pushing and shoving. Expect a left tackle to have a very long evening. Expect Patrick Mahomes to be sacked at least four times. Expect a running back to be driven to the ground in the backfield multiple times. Expect the screen pass to exhibit a class b assault from a linebacker. Expect a highlight reel performance from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers. It would be only fitting to finish off a season full of heartache and pain, for the linebackers of the Pewter and White to exert heartache and pain; to the Kansas City Chiefs. This war will be won in the trenches. Together we stand, or divided we fall. It’s up to us.

Feature photo credit: The Score