TAMPA, Fla. — They are neither division nor geographic rivals. On average, they meet only about once every other season. Their demographics, culture, even time zones place their cities on literal opposite ends of the nation's spectrum.
But when it comes to creating instant classics, the Rams and Bucs have forged a kinship like few others in the NFL.
"We've had some great games against those guys," former Bucs linebacker Richard "Batman" Wood said. "Tough games."
The franchises will meet for the 26th time Monday night, and history suggests at least a 50% chance of a doozy. Thirteen of their previous 25 encounters have been decided by seven or fewer points, including six by a field goal or less. They have converged to produce offensive shootouts and defensive stalemates, staggering comebacks and startling controversy.
At one point in the rivalry, the Bucs held the Rams without a touchdown for 14 consecutive quarters — and still lost a conference title game in the process. And how's this for a juxtaposition? Less than 11 months after combining for 17 points and one touchdown in the 2000 NFC title game (an 11-6 Rams win), the teams totaled 73 points and 832 yards in a 38-35 Bucs win.
"There were so many ebbs and flows in that game," Shaun King, Bucs quarterback in both contests, said of the latter. "Probably the best game I've ever played in."
But for a moment, put the hysteria aside and consider the history.
The Rams, based for 21 seasons in St. Louis (1995-2015), have been part of some of the Bucs' landmark moments. They were the opponent for Tampa Bay's first preseason game (July 31, 1976), first prime-time game (Sept. 11, 1980) and first two NFC title games. Their latest encounter will feature the NFL's first all-Black officiating crew.
"I think it's a historic night, and I think it's fantastic," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.
Speaking of historic and fantastic, we've devised our list of the rivalry's top five contests. Historical significance, stakes, dramatic effect and sheer excitement of the game all were considered.