Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers' home field and site of Sunday's Super Bowl, has been a springboard for the NFL careers of former Gophers stars Antoine Winfield Jr. and Tyler Johnson.
During the Buccaneers' "home" Super Bowl on Sunday, Winfield and Johnson will complete a whirlwind 13 months that started with the Outback Bowl victory over Auburn on the same field. Let's revisit some of the biggest moments in their paths from the bowl win to the Lombardi Trophy's doorstep.
Jan. 1, 2020
Gophers upset Auburn 31-24 in Outback Bowl
Johnson, the former Minneapolis North standout, stamped his productive college career with 12 catches, 204 yards and two touchdowns, including the 73-yard catch and run for the game-deciding score against No. 12 Auburn. Winfield, who would declare for the NFL Draft a week later, finished with five tackles for a Gophers defense that allowed just 17 points.
Feb. 7, 2020
Invited to NFL scouting combine
Winfield and Johnson were among four Gophers invited to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. With a three-time Pro Bowler as a father and confidant, Winfield continued to boost his draft stock in workouts and interviews with NFL teams. They took notice of his 4.45-second 40-yard dash. Johnson opted out of speed testing, saying he would wait for a Gophers pro day, which was eventually canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm still learning, still adjusting to all the different techniques that these types of tests require," Johnson said in Indianapolis.
April 24-25, 2020
Selected in NFL Draft
Halfway through the second round, Winfield became the first of five Gophers selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the fourth safety selected, going to the Buccaneers with the 45th overall pick.
"I've dreamed about this moment since I was a little kid watching my dad play," Winfield told Tampa reporters.
A day later, Johnson was next for the Gophers as a fifth-round pick (161st overall) for the Bucs.
"It's going to be amazing. It's a very surreal moment. I saw 'Big Tweeze' get drafted yesterday, had a chance to call him and congratulate him," Johnson said, referring to Winfield. "But we all know right now it's back to business. We celebrate and take these moments in, but next day on we move forward."
Tampa Bay's director of player personnel John Spytek said Johnson's Outback Bowl performance in their backyard raised eyebrows.
"Not that we hadn't noticed it before," Spytek said, "but that game, including the one-handed catch by the pirate ship, just made you go back and look at [Johnson's] tape again."
Sept. 7, 2020
Winfield named Week 1 starter
Edging out second-year safety Mike Edwards, Winfield earned a starting job in Tampa Bay's secondary despite the pandemic-shortened offseason. He sounded like a weathered veteran before making an NFL start.
"My goal is to go in there and do my job," he told Tampa reporters. "Try not to do too much or do anybody else's job, just do mine and make any plays that I can."
Winfield would start 16 games and play more snaps than any NFL rookie defensive back during the regular season.
Oct. 1, 2020
Winfield is Defensive Rookie of the Month
Winfield answered questions about his 5-foot-9-inch, 203-pound stature with a breakthrough first month. The NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for September had 23 combined tackles (one for a loss), two sacks, two pass deflections and a forced fumble in his first three games. The fumble, a strip sack on Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, led to a Buccaneers touchdown in the Week 2 win.
"You wouldn't even know he's a rookie," Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead told Tampa reporters. "We're on the same page. He's a professional. He plays like one. He practices like one. Every day he comes to work, he doesn't complain."
Oct. 8, 2020
Johnson runs with first start
Injuries at receiver opened the door for Johnson's first NFL start. He burst through in a close loss to the Bears in Chicago, leading the Bucs with 61 receiving yards on four catches. Johnson's fine route running showed up on a 35-yard gain, in which he spun off one Bears defender and ran over a second.
"I knew my opportunity was coming," Johnson told Tampa reporters. "I was ready. I feel like I got a lot to work on still, but I'm definitely going in the right direction."
He scored his first NFL touchdown 10 days later. He would finish the season with 12 catches, 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Nov. 2, 2020
Winfield's game-saving play
A week after his first NFL interception off Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Winfield was again in the right place at the end of a win against the Giants. But there was controversy over whether he was there at the right time. Officials picked up a flag for illegal defensive contact after Winfield deflected a two-point conversion throw while hitting Giants running back Dion Lewis at the end of a 25-23 victory.
January 17, 2021
Advancing in New Orleans
Both Winfield and Johnson have had key plays during the Bucs' playoff run. Trailing 20-13 in New Orleans, Winfield turned a third-quarter Saints catch into a takeaway by punching the ball out of Saints tight end Jared Cook's right arm. Bucs linebacker Devin White recovered, and Tom Brady threw a touchdown five plays later.
Tied 20-20 on the Bucs' next drive, Johnson snagged a back-shoulder throw with his fingertips to convert a long third down and continue another scoring drive in the win. "He's modeled himself after Chris [Godwin]," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of Johnson after the game. "He's doing a great job blocking. He does not drop balls and he's improved tremendously."
January 24, 2021
Moving the chains in Green Bay
Johnson only has two grabs in three playoff games, but both moved the chains on third downs. During Tampa Bay's 31-26 NFC Championship Game win at Lambeau Field against the Packers, Johnson made another impressive catch on a low throw into tight coverage. The 16-yard catch over the middle moved the Bucs into Packers territory.
His day was also notable for a pass he didn't catch. On third and 4 with less than two minutes remaining, Brady threw Johnson's way and Packers cornerback Kevin King grabbed the bottom of Johnson's jersey. King was called for pass interference and Tampa Bay was able to run out the clock.
Winfield did not play at Green Bay due to an ankle injury suffered in practice.
Feb. 7, 2021
After three road playoff wins, Johnson, Winfield and the Buccaneers return to Raymond James Stadium as the NFL's first home Super Bowl participant.
"Every time I see Tyler, I'm just like, 'Man, we in the Super Bowl,'" Winfield said Wednesday. "It's crazy because we both came into [college] together. We got drafted on the same team and we're about to play in the Super Bowl. It's been an amazing experience to have that with one of my friends that I've played with at different levels of the game."
Johnson will again be a reserve behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, likely getting more work while Antonio Brown nurses a knee injury.
Winfield had been held out of Tampa's practices last week, but asked about his ankle injury Wednesday, he said, "The ankle is feeling good and I am going to play in the game."