By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000
CHICAGO -- Thank goodness it's going to be thirtysomething.
That's what Bucs coach Tony Dungy was thinking when he learned that his team will get a chance to break its c-c-c-cold streak of never having won a game in temperatures lower than 40 degrees -- an 0-17 mark that could end today.
The forecast for the game at Soldier Field is for cloudy skies and a high of 32.
If the Bucs don't get this abominable snowman off their back today against the Bears -- a team they have beaten six times in a row -- they never will.
Since arriving at Tampa Bay, Dungy has exorcised most of the Bucs' demons. They have won on the West Coast, on the road in December, on artificial turf in domed stadiums, even in playoff games.
But beating the thermometer would be a great victory.
"It is one that we probably would like to get rid of, that way we could probably stop talking about it," Dungy said. "But if it doesn't happen, the last couple of times we've gone up north, we haven't gotten that opportunity. It's been 45 or 50 degrees. That's been fine with us. However the weather turns out we'll be fine.
"I really don't think that's going to be a factor. I think whoever goes out there and plays the best football, that's going to be what determines who wins and loses the game, not the weather.'
By rights, the Bucs should have ended the cold weather jinx the past two seasons, but they didn't get a break from the weatherman.
Two years ago, Tampa Bay blasted Cincinnati 35-0 in the final game of the regular season, but the unseasonably warm temperature was slightly higher than 40 degrees at kickoff, before dipping.
Last season, the Bucs beat the Bears at Soldier Field to clinch the NFC Central title on the final day of the regular season. But a virtual heatwave kept the mercury from dipping much below 45.
"It should be a lot of fun," Dungy said. "Last time we were up there we got to break out all our stuff that we only get to wear once or twice a year. We'll see what (equipment manager) Darin (Kerns) has got for us. Maybe we'll be nice and colorful.
"Really, I don't think the weather will be that big a part of it. We've got to go up there and try to outplay Chicago. That's our goal right now."
NO-WIND SITUATION: The worst element at Soldier Field is the wind, not the cold.
"Wind is more of a factor than anything when you go to Soldier Field," Dungy said. "You have one half of the game that you're playing where it is tough to throw the ball, it's tough to kick generally when you're going toward the lake. You sometimes have to coach and play a different game up there."
BEAR MARKET: Remember when the Bears used to always beat the Bucs?
Tampa Bay was dominated in the series until the mid-'90s and had only won at Soldier Field once each decade, in '79 and '89.
But the Bucs have won six in a row against Chicago and seven of the past eight. Today they will attempt to sweep Chicago for the third year in a row.
The Bucs also have done it convincingly, not allowing an offensive TD in 14 quarters.
"I think our coaches have done a great job of preparing a game plan," safety John Lynch said. "They throw some different wrinkles at you and they try to spread you out and I think our speed and quickness matches up with that. I think also you have to tackle well against this team. They like to make a lot of yards after the catch and I think we've done a good job of eliminating that.
"The 41-0 game was 3-0 with about three minutes to go in the half. It's not the type of thing where we don't expect them to play well."