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Age-old question will be answered tonight

Something has to give when the top offense and the No. 1 defense collide.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- This argument is so old, it may have played out on Noah's Ark.

What wins championships, offense or defense?

How do you create a legacy, by running up and down the field like the Rams did in the late 1990s or by slamming opponents' hopes at the door like the fabled Steel Curtain of the 1970s?

Who do you remember most, Brett Favre and the Packers in 1996 or the Bears and Ravens of 1985 and 2000, respectively?

Today, when the Bucs play the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium, the debate will hit a crescendo. For the first time, the league's No. 1 defense, Tampa Bay, will face the league's No. 1 offense.

"The game is going to boil down to more than just the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "I think that it is really critical that we recognize that as players. That's something that we were talking about during the past (few days). We're not going to get caught up into that matchup of No. 1 offense against No. 1 defense because the game is much bigger than that."

Brooks has some statistical proof.

If you believe defense wins championships, then explain why the league's best defense (defined by the league based on yards per game) has made it to only nine of 36 Super Bowls? In those nine games, the team with the No. 1 defense is 6-3. The 1967 Raiders, 1969 Vikings and the 1982 Dolphins all finished No. 1 in defense but lost in the Super Bowl.

"I believe defense gives you a chance and offense will win it for you," Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "Eventually, it's going to come down to the man in your scheme with the skills. They've got a lot of skilled players and we do too, and it will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes in this ball game and who can execute the best."

Offensively, the picture is no better. The league's best offense has reached the Super Bowl 11 times and is 7-4. The potent offenses that made it to the game but lost included the 1984 Dolphins, the 1985 Bengals, the 1991 Bills and the 2001 Rams. The league-record 48 touchdown passes Miami's Dan Marino threw in 1984 didn't produce a ring.

As spectacular a season as the Rams offense had in 1999, St. Louis did not earn its championship until linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line as time ran out.

All this means that what a team does successfully during the season may or may not play a role on Super Bowl Sunday.

"Obviously, the Raiders offense has a lot of power, and it's very fitting that we're the best at what we do defensively," Brooks said. "They're the best offense, and there's no way to solve the difference than to play (the game) on the field. But more importantly, it's a lot of other components that are taken into the matter and we're going to win as a team come Sunday. We're going to fight as a team come Sunday."

The Bucs think their one-gap defensive scheme up front, their speedy linebackers and their Cover 2 philosophy in the secondary can slow down the league's best offense and, in particular, one of the league's most dangerous receiving trios.

"You get in the receivers' faces and disrupt them any way you can and get pressure on them," safety John Lynch said. "You vary your looks by showing them one thing and giving them another. That's tough to do with a guy like (Raiders quarterback) Rich (Gannon) because he has played for so long and is so knowledgeable, as are guys like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.

"That's the beauty of this game, and I think it is certainly a case where the best two teams have risen to the top and it's going to be a tremendous showcase of the two best teams in the NFL."

While all the attention has been focused on the Bucs defense and the Raiders offense, both teams know that Tampa Bay's ability to score on Oakland will have just as much influence on the outcome.

"It's an interesting matchup because as I watch the Bucs on offense you see an offense that's efficient, that's multiple, that creates as many formations and schematic problems," Raiders coach Bill Callahan said. "Knowing (Bucs coach) Jon (Gruden) and understanding his world and what he's trying to create, there's going to be a lot of different shifts, motions, formations and personnel groupings."

Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said regardless of what past games indicate, No. 1 vs No. 1 is a thing of beauty.

"I like that. It sounds good. It sounds real good," Rice said. "It is going to be a game of epic proportion. There is no hiding the truth. The two best of the best. It's going to be a war of attrition, through and through. They know us, we know them. I think they are the antithesis of what we are. (The Raiders) are bizarro Bucs. (The Bucs) are the bizarro world of the Raiders. So, it's all good."

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