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Treasure THIS

The Bucs dominate most of the game, returning three of five interceptions for TDs, enabling long-suffering fans to savor the area's first major sports championship.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- They would swap additional draft picks. Throw in more cash. Barter their very souls.

There is nothing the Bucs wouldn't trade for this feeling.

The feeling of being a world champion.

Tampa Bay made the deal for Jon Gruden a steal Sunday, defeating the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to win Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium.

It once seemed difficult living up to the large bounty paid by the Bucs to the Raiders for the charismatic 39-year-old coach. But like his team, it turns out Gruden was discounted.

Using inside information on his former team supplied by Gruden, the Bucs No. 1 defense dominated the Raiders No. 1 offense, intercepting quarterback Rich Gannon five times, a Super Bowl record.

The Bucs returned three interceptions for touchdowns, two by cornerback Dwight Smith and one by linebacker Derrick Brooks. Safety Dexter Jackson, who had two interceptions in the first half, was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

It was an emotional victory for the Bucs and Gruden, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He coached four seasons in Oakland before being traded to Tampa Bay by Raiders owner Al Davis on Feb. 20 for two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8-million.

"It was a very emotional week, obviously," Gruden said. "I'm very proud to be a head coach in the NFL. I don't know how I got to Tampa Bay.

"I knew it was going to be a very sensitive situation. Again, (former coach) Tony Dungy did a great job and I reaped the benefits of a lot of his hard work. But by God, this is Tampa Bay's night and we're world champions."

In winning their first Super Bowl, the Bucs engraved a place in history as one of the best all-time defenses, joining other world champions like the '79 Pittsburgh Steelers, the '85 Chicago Bears and the '00 Baltimore Ravens.

"Going down as one of the greatest defenses wasn't one of our primary objectives, winning the Super Bowl was," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "But we're a prideful group and we've always said you've got to win a world championship. We'll leave that for you guys to judge, but I would think we'd have to be one of the great defenses of all time."

Gannon, the league's Most Valuable Player, locked on to his receivers like a skeet shooter and was ineffective against the Bucs. He finished 24-of-44 passing for 272 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. When he wasn't throwing to the wrong jersey he held the ball long enough to be sacked five times, two by Simeon Rice.

The Raiders had 62 yards in the first half, the fewest in Super Bowl history since the '85 Bears held New England to minus-19 in Super Bowl XX.

"Obviously, it was not our night," said Gannon, whose rating was 48.9 Sunday. "I give a lot of credit to the Buccaneers, they played a great game. We were just absolutely terrible. It was a nightmarish performance. I think we had only three first downs in the first half and we were just completely out of rhythm. We just couldn't generate much offense."

The Raiders possessions in the first half ended in a sack, sack, pass knockdown, the two interceptions by Jackson and on downs.

"We never thought we'd come out and dominate them and shut them down, but we pretty much did," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "Once we dig, we drag you in and then pour dirt on you."

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who completed just 6 of his first 18 passes, warmed up to throw touchdowns of 5 yards and 8 yards to Keenan McCardell. And the Bucs got a huge day from running back Michael Pittman. Playing in his hometown of San Diego, Pittman rushed 29 times for 124 yards, the first time he went over 100 this season and the most yards Pittman gained in his past 40 games.

Just like last week's NFC Championship Game, the Bucs fell behind early, this time by a field goal.

Johnson was hit by former Bucs defensive end Regan Upshaw as he tried to hit McCardell deep and the underthrown ball was intercepted by Charles Woodson. That led to a 40-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowsi.

But Tampa Bay scored 34 consecutive points. The Bucs all but put the game away early in the third quarter by driving 89 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown when McCardell took a short pass and made safety Anthony Dorsett miss before walking into the end zone.

"I knew there was something special about (Gruden) from the first day he stepped on the field and in my first meeting when he told me he wanted me to get excited about football," Johnson said. "I always was, but he took it to another level. I wish we could keep playing through February and March and get ready for training camp. The guy is contagious."

So were the big plays on defense. Smith, playing off receiver Jerry Rice, read Gannon's eyes and got a good break on the ball, intercepted the pass and returning it for a touchdown with 4: 43 remaining in the third quarter.

"We were watching film and Gannon had been throwing that sluggo over there without looking and Dwight (Smith) said I'm going to get one of those," Sapp said.

The Raiders tried to make a game of it, thanks to a few miscues by Bucs special teams. Eric Johnson returned a punt blocked by Tim Johnson 13 yards for a touchdown and Jerry Rice caught a 48-yard pass from Gannon for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 34-21 with 6: 06 remaining in the game.

But linebacker Derrick Brooks, who returned four turnovers for scores during the regular season, intercepted Gannon and raced 44 yards for a touchdown with 1: 18 left. Then Smith took his second pick back for a score with two seconds left.

"Turnovers absolutely killed us," Gannon said. "It was a very, very long night for the Raiders."

It had to be even longer for Davis, who traded the rights for Gruden with one year remaining on his contract and chose offensive line coach Bill Callahan to replace him. But Callahan was impatient on offense and only attempted 11 rushes, gaining 17 yards.

"Last thing I would ever do is gloat a former team," Gruden said. "I spent four years of my life with them. I'm not gloating."

The Bucs motto this season had been "Pound the Rock," but on Sunday, they used the rock to pound the Raiders with.

Perhaps it was fitting the Raiders, a team for the ageless with Gannon, 15-year veteran Tim Brown and 18-year pro Rice, ran out of time.

This day, this game and ultimately, this Super Bowl XXXVII title belonged to the Bucs.

Think back a year ago, when the Bucs fired the beloved Dungy, who built the defense. Remember the near marriage to Bill Parcells, the flirtation with Steve Mariucci before the 36-day odyssey ended with a 1 a.m. call to Gruden by Davis, informing him he had been traded.

"We were waiting for the right man and he came," Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer said. "Jon Gruden."

Gruden lost his first game, set a club record for wins with 12, captured the NFC South and then a conference title at Philadelphia.

That set up a delicious grudge march with the Raiders and Davis.

It would be completely unbelievable if it weren't true.

But it is. The Bucs are world champions.

And they wouldn't trade it for the world.

"Coming from where we came from as an organization and all the ridicule and heartbreak, and the evolution of a playoff team and everybody saying we couldn't take that next step," Lynch said. "But we took that next step and we're world champions and nobody can ever take that away."

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