It’s been about one year since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began their mission to sign Tom Brady, who entered free agency after spending 20 seasons with the New England Patriots.
That mission proved successful. Not only did Tampa Bay ultimately land the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He since has led the Buccaneers to Super Bowl LV, where they’ll face the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7.
Interestingly enough, the organization’s pursuit of Brady garnered a funny nickname behind closed doors: “Operation: Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
Why? Well, as Bucs general manager Jason Licht explained this week in an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King, a comment made during the team’s exploratory talks regarding Brady kicked off a series of “Field of Dreams” references.
“We were in my office one day, and (Bucs head coach) Bruce (Arians) was in there, and I posed that very question,” Licht recalled. “I said, ‘Well, why would (Brady) come here?’ And Bruce said, ‘Why the hell wouldn’t he?’ And then (Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek) pointed to, I had a depth chart up in my office on my smartboard, and he said, ‘This is why he would come.’ And he pointed to Mike Evans and (Chris) Godwin and O.J. (Howard) and our defense, Lavonte (David) and company. And he said, ‘We built it. He will come.’ And so, it became known as ‘Operation: Shoeless Joe Jackson.’ “
Sure enough, Brady arrived in Tampa Bay a short time later, joining the Buccaneers on a two-year contract that runs through his age-44 season.
It was a somewhat surprising move. Not just because Brady left New England, where he won six Super Bowl titles alongside Bill Belichick. But also because Tampa Bay had a reputation for losing.
Still, the Bucs felt good about their chances of signing Brady after their internal discussions and reaching out to the quarterback’s agent. And the “Field of Dreams” jokes certainly added to the excitement of Tampa Bay’s chase.
“Throughout the process, Spytek would pop into my office, or Mike Biehl, my college director, or Mike Greenberg, our cap guy, or Rob McCartney, my pro director, and just like every once in a while, we’d say ‘Hey, go the distance’ and drop little lines from ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” Licht said. “So, it was a fun time. They were just trying to keep my sanity, but also realize ‘Hey, this could happen.’
“It felt like years, but it was only months until we actually had the opportunity to talk to his agent and then ultimately talk to him when we were able to. But when we called his agent, Don Yee, the first thing he said was, ‘You made the right call.’ So I knew at that point we had a chance. It obviously told me that they had been looking at us as a potential option.”
Sticking with the “Field of Dreams” theme, Brady will go a long away toward easing everyone in Tampa Bay’s pain should the Bucs upset Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.