18 years ago today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played in and won, what was at the time, their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
26th of January 2003 is a day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will never forget. Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego was the venue for Super Bowl XXXVII.
Tampa’s opponents that day were the free scoring Oakland Raiders. For the first time in Super Bowl history, this was a match-up between the NFL’s number one Defense, Tampa Bay, against the number one Offense, the Oakland Raiders.
The Gruden Bowl
Bucs’ Head Coach Jon Gruden had been traded by Oakland to Tampa in the off-season in 2002 in a monster deal. The Bucs sent the Raiders two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft picks and eight million dollars to get their man.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the Bucs and Raiders were regulars in the Post-Season. After the Gruden trade, it was written in the stars that Tampa’s new Head Coach would face his old team in the Super Bowl.
Despite Gruden’s impressive record as Head Coach in Oakland, their were rumours that the Raiders owner and legendary NFL figure Al Davis was looking for a new Head Coach. Gruden’s current deal expired at the end of 2003 and it was anticipated that Davies was looking to move on from Gruden.
With a chance to take down his former employers, Jon Gruden was determined to make it a day to forget for AFC Champions.
The Week Before the Super Bowl
Back in 2002, there was only one week between the Championship weekend and Super Bowl.
After Gruden was traded, Bill Callahan was installed as the Raiders new Head Coach. Despite having a new Head Coach, Oakland’s Offense was remarkably similar to the one that Gruden ran whilst he was Head Coach at the Raiders.
In practice the week before the Super Bowl, Gruden assumed the role of Raiders Quarterback Rich Gannon. The plan was to give the Bucs Defense an idea of what they would likely face in the Super Bowl. Gruden’s plan worked to perfection especially on the Raiders biggest play of the season; the Sluggo Seam.
The Sluggo Seam was a chunk play which the Raiders had great success with throughout the regular season and Playoff run. A fake slant and go from the Quarterback which moved the Safety allowing the Quarterback to go back to the receiver up the seam.
Gruden was able to run it to perfection in practice as the Defense got a first hand view of their opponents favourite play.
Due to Oakland’s potent Offense, the Raiders were the pre-match favourites. However, it was the Silver and Black’s Defense that came up big early in the first quarter as future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson picked off Bucs Quarterback Brad Johnson.
Oakland had to settle for a field goal after Rich Gannon was sacked by Bucs Defensive End Simeone Rice. That was to be Oaklands only lead of the game.
After a successful field goal from Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica tied the game at 3-3, Gannon was picked off by Tampa Safety Dexter Jackson. Tampa couldn’t fully capitalise on the interception as they had to settle for another field goal to take their first lead of the game.
Incredibly, on Oakland’s very next drive, Dexter Jackson again intercepted a Gannon pass. Gruden’s imitation of the Raiders Offense in practise started to reap the rewards as Tampa Defense were virtually predicting the opponents plays. Jackson became the first player in history to record two first half interceptions in a Super Bowl.
The Bucs couldn’t take advantage of the turnover as both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions.
Tampa soon started to dominate on both sides of the ball as they scored a touchdown on their next possession thanks to a two yard run from Mike Alstott to go ahead 13-3.
After another punt from the Raiders, the Bucs scored a touchdown on their final possession of the half as Brad Johnson found Keenan McCardell for a five yard score to put the Bucs up by 17 at the half.
Half Time Entertainment
Down by 17 points and facing the stingiest Defense in the league, the Raiders were probably wishing that the Police would turn up, send everyone home and end their misery. Sadly for Oakland, it wasn’t the Police, just Sting on his own who teamed up Shania Twain and No Doubt as part of the Halftime show.
The Raiders were hoping to get back into the game on their first possession of the second half. Sadly for Oakland, similar to their last two possessions of the first half, it resulted in a punt.
An 89 yard drive from the Bucs on their subsequent possession resulted in a touchdown as Tampa went up 27-3.
If the Raiders chances of getting back in to the game were slim, they were virtually rendered impossible on the next drive. Bucs Defensive Back Dwight Smith intercepted Gannon and took it to the house as the game spiralled out of control as Tampa led 34-3.
After conceding 34 straight points, Oakland finally stopped the rot on their next drive as they scored on a touchdown pass to Wide Receiver Jerry Porter.
Down 34-9 starting the fourth quarter, the Raiders had nothing to lose. Oakland blocked a punt on the Bucs next possession and returned the block for a score to reduce the deficit. On the Bucs next possession, a botched snap on a field goal attempt left Tampa empty handed. and the score still 34-15 in Tampa’s favour.
Despite the lead, Tampa’s nerves were beginning to show and none more so on Oaklands next drive. Rich Gannon found Hall of Famer Jerry Rice on a 48 yard touchdown pass. A failed two point conversion resulted in the lead being cut to 34-21.
Tampa were then forced to punt the ball back to their opponents on the next drive as the Raiders were sniffing an unlikely comeback.
Fortunately for Tampa, up stepped Bucs legendary Linebacker Derrick Brooks. On a 3rd and long, Gannon was picked off at midfield by that seasons Defensive Player of the year as Brooks returned the interception 44 yards to the house. Tampa’s legendary radio announcer Gene Deckerhoff called it perfectly. ‘The dagger’s in, we’re gonna win the Super Bowl’ was Deckerhoffs description of one of the most famous plays in Buccaneer history.
With the Bucs up 41-21 and only just over a minute left. The game was over.
Still, there was enough time for Tampa to pick off Rich Gannon once more. Dwight Smith intercepted a pass for the second time in the game and again returned it to the house for the final touchdown of the day. Smith became the first player ever to return two interceptions for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
A comprehensive 48-21 beatdown of the top Offense in the NFL. It was a day never to forget for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nor Head Coach Jon Gruden. With Gruden’s new team dominating his old team who traded him, it was Chuckie who got the last Chuckle.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2002 season, Bucs fans will be hoping that Tampa can make it two wins out of two appearances in the big game.
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