Countdown to Super Bowl 50: A pirates life for me

What’s it like to root for a team that no one ever expects to win? An even better question is what is it like to root for that team on the day that they finally win? Wayniac Nation regular Mike Dunton has been a die hard Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan for quite some time. That January 26th night in 2003, Dunton was got his wish, as his Bucs hoisted the trophy.

Take a walk down Super Bowl Lane as Dunton recollects his greatest football moment.

A Pirates Life for Me

by Mike Dunton

Super Bowl XXXVII. The day that I waited a long time for. Just like the Wayniac himself, I grew up in the NY area and for years followed the Giants. Was I a huge fan? Probably not, but they were the only show in town I was interested in (sorry Jets). As I grew older I started to branch out of the NY market. Most of my sports allegiances are to teams way out the NY market. The NFL team that caught my eye had the flashy orange sherbert jerseys with Bucco Bruce on the helmet and a knack for losing. Perfect choice!

I believe Vinny Testaverde translates to Vinny Green Nuts (Photo cred: Getty Images).
I believe Vinny Testaverde translates to Vinny Green Nuts (Photo cred: Getty Images).

For years the Bucs and I suffered. And then it happened. They changed their uniforms — one of the best uniform changes in the history of sports — and the pewter attack was in full effect.

Their defense was built on years of great draft picks, many of them right from the state of Florida. We said goodbye to Tony Dungy in 2001 after getting spanked by the Eagles in the Wildcard round, and traded for a coach. Trading for a coach? Well this wasn’t just any coach, this was Gruden. He was going to take the reigns of a team that had a dominant defense and if he could somehow muster an offense to score just 20 points a game, we were set.

The Bucs finished the season 12-4, defeated the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs, and then Joe Jurevicius and Ronde Barber closed out Vets Stadium in style by defeating the Eagles. Tampa was heading to the Super Bowl and do you know who they had to play in their chance at Super Bowl glory? The Oakland Raiders.

The team that Gruden coached just a season earlier. A team led by MVP Rich Gannon and soon to be Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. This was the No. 1 offense in football, but the Bucs were the No. 1 defense led by their own Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Something had to give.

Super Bowl XXXVII was the last Super Bowl to be played in January and the last Super Bowl to not have a week off between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. Leading up to kickoff that week all people focused on was Gruden. If anyone was going to be able to crack this Raiders offense it was Gruden, after all this was the guy who built it. Gruden was leading the best defense in football against a team that he knew everything about.

The Bucs won the toss and went on offense first, a great way to slow down the Raiders. I remember vividly Brad Johnson dropping back on the third play of the game and throwing a pick to a young Charles Woodson, giving the Raiders the ball at the Tampa 36-yard line.

Great. 36 yards away from scoring a TD. Talk about putting your defense under pressure.

Well the D lived up to the No.1 ranking, and a Simeon Rice sack held the Raiders to a 40-yard field goal. 

Tampa responded with a long drive and a FG of their own and then later on in the 2nd quarter Dexter Jackson, a name that would be mentioned a lot that night in San Diego, intercepted Gannon and the Bucs drove the ball for another FG. This was Tampa Bay football at it’s finest. Force stops and kick field goals.

Once the Bucs went up 6-3 they never looked back.

The very next drive Dexter Jackson had another interception. The drive after that found the A Train (Mike Alstott) in the end zone and we were up 13-3. A 10 point lead for this defense is more than I could ask for, but guess what?

Right before the half the Bucs drove the ball 77 yards and Keenan McCardell tip toed in the end zone and we had a 17 point lead at half.

As the two teams came out for the second half I remember turning to my wife and saying, “we stop them here this game is over”. That may be the closest I will ever come to saying I was psychic. The Bucs forced the Raiders to punt on their first possession and then Brad Johnson led a methodical drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock ending in McCardell’s second touchdown. It’s now 27-3 and before I could finish celebrating that TD, Gannon threw his 3rd interception on the second play of the next drive that was taken to the house by Dwight Smith and it was 34-3.

We had scored 34 unanswered points. The Bucs scored 34 points. This was a team that averaged 21.6 points a game during the regular season. It was still the third quarter but the party in my house was well under way.

Yes the Raiders did cut the lead to 34-21 after some mishaps by the Bucs special teams (blocked punt for a TD, fumbled snap on a FG) but the game never seemed close.

And then it happened, what will go down as my favorite memory of that game. Gannon dropped back, rolled out and threw a pass right into number 55’s hands. I was running in my living room with Derrick Brooks — my favorite player on the team and a captain of our defense — scoring a TD. I knew we had it sealed.

02-Bucs

I wish Twitter existed at that moment because it would have been amazing to read the reactions of the Tampa Bay fans who had long been laughing stocks of the NFL.

Just in case Brooks’ TD wasn’t enough, Dwight Smith caught a tipped pass and returned it for his second TD of the game and simultaneously busted Super Bowl box numbers. I know it did for my mom because she called me to tell me that, “the idiot who just scored cost your mother $500!”. Sorry mom, I didn’t care — we just won the Super Bowl!

48-21, and the Bucs prove that defense does wins championships. The only question left was who was going to be named MVP. I am still convinced to this day that the voting was held prior to the last TD because Dexter Jackson won it with his two INTs. Dwight Smith, of course, had two pick sixes, which is still a record today.

The aftermath of Super Bowl XXXVII was just as intriguing to me. We got to listen to the Bucs defensive players talk about Gruden playing Gannon in practice and that the audible calls by Gannon were the same ones Gruden used. It makes me think that Bill Callahan grossly underprepared for this game.

Hey I’ll take it.

Gannon threw five interceptions that night. Watching NFL Films highlights of this game today and seeing John Lynch on the sidelines talking about how the calls were exactly what the Bucs were prepared for, you now know why. They knew what plays were coming. I guess the Raiders didn’t think Gruden would remember their offense, the one he built. Seriously?

Defense wins championships. This may not have been the 85 Bears Defense but man it was a fun one to watch and a worthy Super Bowl winning defense.

Neither team has seen the greatness of that year since. The Raiders have a longer storied franchise history, but for the Bucs, 2002-2003 is a season I’ll never forget.

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