The Super Bowl is just 15 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 15 years ago to honor this not-so-significant occasion!
San Diego hosted Super Bowl XXXVII on January 26, 2003. The game pitted the NFC champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Oakland Raiders of the American Football Conference.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 15 Years Ago
After the famous “tuck rule” game, Jon Gruden was traded from the Raiders to the Buccaneers for a bunch of draft picks. The pieces were already in place for Tampa Bay to make a run at the title thanks to a fantastic defense, but Gruden was acquired to fire up their lethargic offense. It didn’t happen. What did happen was the Bucs’ defense got even better.
The Buccaneers fielded a “D” with five Pro Bowlers including Shelton Quarles and John Lynch. Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, and Warren Sapp were first-team All-Pro. Their fantastic defense led them to a 12-4 record.
Their offense finished 24th in the league. Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Alstott were joined by Keenan McCardell and Michael Pittman in 2002. As the season progressed, the unit improved somewhat. In reality, they did not have to do much. In fact, Tampa only gave up 16 total points in the playoffs.
In the divisional round, Tampa walloped San Francisco 31-6. The real challenge for the Buccaneers lay ahead. Their primary nemesis during this era had been the Eagles. In the NFC title game, things got off to a lousy start as Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards. Duce Staley followed that with a 20-yard score and it was 7-0 less than one minute into the game.
However, today would be different for the Bucs. In the last game ever played at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, Tampa Bay closed it with a Ronde Barber pick six off Donovan McNabb. Thus, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to their first Super Bowl!
Oakland Raiders 15 Years Ago
Gruden’s former team was the preseason favorite to win the AFC. Coming off their heartbreaking loss in New England, Al Davis retooled his squad putting together quite a cast of veterans. 37-yr old NFL MVP Rich Gannon was the best of the bunch as he mounted a career year. 40-yr old Jerry Rice caught 92 passes for over 1200 yards and 37-yr old Rod Woodson made the Pro Bowl.
Bill Callahan’s team had a surreal first half of the season in 2002. They won their first four by posting crazy offensive numbers. Then, they lost four straight included two in overtime. They got their act together with two prime time conquests. First, they flattened Denver on Monday Night Football. Six days later, Oakland upended the defending-World Champion Patriots 27-20.
In the playoffs, Oakland cruised past the Jets and Titans scoring 71 points in those games. Therefore, Super Bowl XXXVII was advertised as a battle of Oakland’s offense vs. Tampa Bay’s defense.
The Super Bowl was projected to be exciting and unpredictable. Gruden, however, seemed to know exactly what the Raiders were calling on every play. Keyed by two first half Dexter Jackson interceptions, the Buccaneers jumped out to a 27-3 lead.
Late in the third quarter, Gannon was intercepted again. This one was returned for a touchdown by Dwight Smith. Down, 34-3, the Raiders finally showed some life. They rallied for three consecutive touchdowns, but missed the two-point conversions on all of them. They got the ball back trailing 34-21 late in the contest. But, Derrick Brooks picked off Gannon again! And, he brought this one to the house. Dwight Smith added one more pick six giving Gannon record five interceptions in the 48-21 drubbing.
In their only Super Bowl appearance, Tampa Bay was triumphant. However, they were not able to sustain their greatness beyond 2002. Indeed, both the Buccaneers and Raiders slumped in 2003.
It will be interesting to see how Jon Gruden fares as he signed on to coach the Raiders effective 2018.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills