During any championship run, folk heroes are born at nearly every turn on that path to glory. For the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to mention their Super Bowl run without bringing up the play of running back Leonard Fournette. He proved to be an instrumental piece to this latest championship, earning the moniker “Playoff Lenny” thanks to his above-average production throughout Tampa Bay’s playoff contests.
However, Fournette earning that title and a place in Tampa sports history almost never happened. As Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports, the veteran back had a sit-down with coach Bruce Arians toward the later part of the regular season and faced the possibility of being cut. Fournette seemed discontent with his role behind starter Ronald Jones and was made inactive for the Buccaneers’ Week 14 win over the Vikings. It was the next day where he met with Arians and faced a critical crossroad of his Bucs tenure.
“I said, ‘This is your situation. It can change at the drop of a hat,'” Arians told Stroud of his meeting with Fournette. “But this is your situation. Either embrace it, or you say, ‘Cut me.’ I said, ‘What do you want? Because this is a very special team that you’re part of. I think you’ve got a feeling of that. Just see if you can hang in there to see what happens.’ And he did, and I’m really proud of him.”
After that meeting, the door opened for Fournette to jump into the starting rotation following Ronald Jones landing on the reserve/COVID list. With that opportunity upon him, the back performed admirably to end the regular season, which set the stage for the postseason. Jones suffered a quad injury leading up to Tampa Bay’s matchup with Washington, again giving Fournette the starting nod and beginning the legend of “Playoff Lenny.”
Fournette totaled 448 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns during the Buccaneers’ playoff run, including a performance in Super Bowl LV where he notched 89 yards rushing on 5.56 yards per carry and one touchdown. He also caught all four of his targets for 46 yards in the 31-9 win over Kansas City.
Had things gone the other way during that sit-down with Arians, it is a curious “what if?” scenario for not only the talented back but Tampa Bay’s prospects of standing atop the NFL mountain as Super Bowl champs.