In 2001, the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won, thanks to a huge day for running back Jerome Bettis. The Bus rushed for 143 yards and even threw a 32-yard touchdown pass as the Steelers rolled on to a 17-10 victory. That wasn't the story though. The story was what safety Lee Flowers said following the game as he called the Buccaneers "Paper Champions".
Those words weren't forgotten in 2002 when the two teams met again, and the feud between the two teams began before the kickoff was even a thought. Words were had a midfield and Bettis even shoved Warren Sapp at one point before the game began. There was no love lost between these two teams, and the Steelers were out to prove the 2001 victory was no fluke.
The Steelers wasted no time getting started with an Antwaan Randle El touchdown reception from Tommy Maddox to make the score 7-0. It was then the defense began capitalizing on the fact Brad Johnson was not in the game, as Chad Scott intercepted a Shaun King pass and took it 30 yards for a touchdown. The Jeff Reed extra point made the score 14-0 in the first quarter. Before the end of the quarter, the Steelers would add a Reed field goal to make the score 17-0 before the second quarter.
Rob Johnson would eventually replace King at quarterback, and would throw a late 4th quarter touchdown to Keyshawn Johnson to make the final score 17-7.
The Steelers' first quarter would prove to be more than enough behind a stellar defense, but the team backing up Flowers' comments is what is most remembered in this game. In a day and age when bulletin board material is scarce, Flowers never shied away from comments like calling the Buccaneers "paper champions".
In fact, it didn't stop Flowers from talking after the Steelers beat the Buccaneers for back-to-back seasons. Following the 2002 game he had this to say about the comment he made after the 2001 victory, as well as the team's most recent win over Tampa Bay.
"They felt very confident, but please don't bully us,'' Flowers said. "That's the last thing that a team needs to do to us if they think they're going to win the game.''
"It's amazing how one little comment can change your life,'' Flowers continued. "You make comments in the heat of the moment. Do I retract them? No, I don't. We've still got to play the game on the field.''
Flowers' words reverberated around the locker room as WR Hines Ward sounded off following the win as well. "We don't like them, they don't like us,'' "We really wanted to go out there and show them that this is the same team that went out here last year and beat you at home. We've got a great team.''
The Steelers would go on to a 10-5-1 season in the first year of the Maddox era. They would win the division, but ultimately lose to the Tennessee Titans 34-31 in overtime of the divisional round of the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion after a controversial roughing the kicker call.