After 27 seasons, the Bucs had slayed the evil dragon and reached the mountain top. Yet another, old adversary wanted to knock them off the pedestal and take the moment for their own.
Jon Gruden's old team, the Oakland Raiders, reached the Super Bowl, too. Al Davis vs. Gruden. Would the student best the teacher or would the old dog still have some bite left?
Luckily for Gruden, the new coach Bill Callahan was a Gruden Disciple. He changed very little from Gruden's playbook. Further, most of the cast of characters in Oakland remained the same. There was no one who knew this football team better than Jon Gruden.
Would it be enough to exorcise the demons of 0-26? Of 14 consecutive double-digit losing seasons? Of being "paper champions"?
The story of Super Bowl XXXVII began Feb. 18, 2002, when the Buccaneers completed one of the most lopsided deals in NFL history for a coach. Two first round picks, two second round picks and $8 million Glazerbucks pried Gruden out of the cold semi-dead hands of Al Davis.
Gruden wasn't happy in Oakland, he wanted a big money extension and Davis didn't like being dictated to. The Glazer boys fired Tony Dungy while believing they had Bill Parcells in their back pocket. When Parcells backed out, the duo made an embarrassing trek across America looking for a football coach.
After Steve Mariucci said thanks but no thanks, the boys zeroed in on Gruden.
While I have no inside knowledge of those conversations, I can imagine it going something like this:
Glazer: Al, we want Jon Gruden.
Davis: Ya can't have him, he's under contract with me for at least anoTHA year.
Glazer: Yeah, but he doesn't want to be there and you don't like him stealing your limelight anyway. We need a coach.
Davis: Ya, but I can't put him in a position to succeed. If you were Buffalo - that would be one thing. But your team is a jiffypop Super Bowl club. Just pop ya inta the microwave and presto blamo, you're playing in San Diego. I'm not giving that to that snot nose little ego maniac.
Glazer: Okay, I'll tell you what. We'll give you our first round draft pick.
Glazer (grumbling): Okay, how about our first and second round pick.
Davis: Make it for the next two years, plus $16 million smackers.
Glazer: WHAT? You crazy son of a...
Davis: I'm hanging up now, son. Give my regards to Malcolm.
Glazer: Wait...wait...okay...what if we do both first and second round picks and $8 million?
Davis: Hmmm....well, we will have some salary cap issues coming up. Yeah, okay Joe...
Davis: Whatever, you have a deal. Good luck...you're gonna need it.
As Gruden's Bucs dominated the NFC South, Bill Callahan's Gruden-lite Raiders battled through the rugged AFC West, compiling an 11-5 record. Convincing victories over Jets and Titans had them flying high heading into the big game.
The game was billed as the number one offense (Oakland) against the number one defense (Tampa Bay),
The old irresistible force against the immovable object. As it turned out, the Raiders were very resistible and the object did some forcing of it's own.
The two teams traded field goals in the first quarter, ending in a 3-3 deadlock after one but Tampa Bay began to take control in the second quarter.
Dexter Jackson's first interception eventually led to Martin Gramatica's 43 yard field goal to give Tampa Bay their first lead of the Super Bowl. They wouldn't trail again.
On the ensuing drive for the Raiders, Bucs safety John Lynch used some of the intel that Jon Gruden had given his defensive players on a bread-and-butter play of the Oakland offense - the Sluggo Seam. The play featured a pump fake to the opposite field by QB Rich Gannon, who then quickly turned and fired a pass to the opposite seam route.
Usually, the pump fake would draw opposing safeties off their mark, leaving a wide open receiver on the opposite side.
Lynch called it, "Sluggo Seam! Sluggo Seam!"
Jackson stayed on his mark and pulled down his second interception of the game, setting Tampa Bay up at the Oakland 45.
The Bucs offense would fail to score but it flipped field position in favor of the Bucs. After the Tampa Bay drive stalled, they pinned Oakland deep in their own territory. Three incomplete passes later, the Raiders punted from their own end zone.
Karl Williams returned the punt 25 yards to the Oakland 27. From there, Tampa Bay pounded the ball in with Michael Pittman, setting up Mike Alstott's two yard plunge and the first touchdown of Super Bowl 37.
Tampa Bay led 13-3.
The Bucs offense wasn't quite done. After an Oakland drive stalled, Tampa Bay got the ball on their own 23 with 3:45 left in the first half. Michael Pittman ran the Bucs out of being conservative, breaking runs for 5 and 9 yards (plus an Oakland offsides penalty) to move the ball out to the Tampa Bay 42 yard line with a little over 2 minutes left in the half.
Gruden changed tactics and decided to go for the jugular. Brad Johnson began firing passes, Alstott for 16, Keyshawn for 10 and Alstott for another 12 yard gain.
With 1st and goal from the 5 yard line and only 0:34 seconds left, Tampa Bay delivered a lethal blow with Johnson hitting Keenan McCardell for a touchdown.
As the halftime spectacle began, the Bucs were comfortably ahead 20-3.
The second half would be no better for the Raiders. After a three and out by Oakland, Johnson marched the Bucs on a 14 play, 89 yard drive that ate up 7:52 of the game clock and culminated in a Johnson to McCardell 8 yard touchdown pass.
Two plays into the Raiders next drive, Dwight Smith stepped in front of Jerry Rice, picking off the pass and running 4 yards into the endzone to balloon the Bucs to a 34-3 edge.
To their credit, the Raiders didn't quit despite their long odds.
Gannon finally found some success against the Tampa Bay defense and hit Jerry Porter for a 39 yard touchdown. The play was originally ruled incomplete but instant replay confirmed that Porter did get both feet down in the endzone. The Raiders attempted a two point conversion but Simeon Rice sacked Gannon, ending the attempt.
On the Bucs next drive, they were forced to punt, but Tom Tupa's attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
The Bucs drove to the Oakland 9 yard line, but Tupa fumbled the hold for Martin Gramatica's field goal attempt leading to Gramatica picking up the football and having a Garo Yepremian moment before finally going down with the football.
The Raiders would capitalize, moving 78 yards in 8 plays as Gannon hit Jerry Rice on a 48 yard bomb. After another failed two point conversion, Tampa Bay saw it's lead cut to 34-21.
After yet another stalled drive by the Bucs, Oakland took over on their own 26 with 2:44 remaining.
After initially getting a first down, the Raiders found themselves 3rd and 18 at their own 29. Who else would seal a Super Bowl victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than Mr. Derrick Brooks?
Gannon forced a pass over the middle where Brooks stepped in front and took it back the other way. 44 yards later, the dagger was in. The Bucs were going to win the Super Bowl.
In the closing seconds of Super Bowl 37, Dwight Smith intercepted another pass from Gannon and took that one to the house, providing the final margin: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.
"I've never been a champion like this before, obviously, so the feeling is all new to me," Lynch said, "But when you consider where we've come from as an organization, I can't imagine anyone feeling any better than I do now. I remember when I first came into the league in 1993, I thought we could win a Super Bowl then. I look back now and I realize I was pretty naive. But that's one reason why this is so special now."
Sapp was asked if the Bucs defense was better than the 85 Bears, the Steel Curtain or the 2000 Ravens. "I don't know," he said. "But we possess a championship, so we deserve to be spoken in the same sentence. But those teams never had to do what we had to do. None of them had to come in here and try to beat the best offense in the league."
The victory was complete, the Bucs basked in their glory. For one shining moment, Tampa Bay was the center of the football universe. The Buccaneers were Kings of the World.