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On This Date in Sports January 26, 2003: Buccaneers Sink Raiders

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The loss is especially biting for the Raiders, as the Buccaneers are coached by Jon Gruden, who was traded by Oakland a year earlier. The Tampa defense dominated the game with five interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns as Dexter Jackson is named the game’s MVP.

A year after the heartbreaking loss in the Tuck Rule Game, the Oakland Raiders finally returned to the Super Bowl, ending a nearly two-decade wait. After the loss to the New England Patriots, the Raiders lost coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, receiving a pair of first and second-round draft picks along with $8 million in return. Gruden’s replacement in Oakland was Bill Callahan, who had previously served as the team’s offensive coordinator. Despite a midseason four-game losing streak, the Raiders had the best record in the AFC at 11-5 as quarterback Rich Gannon was named NFL MVP. In the playoffs, the Raiders beat the New York Jets 30-10 and the Tennessee Titans 41-24 on their way to the Super Bowl.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the move to snatch Jon Gruden away from the Raiders after dismissing Tony Dungy, who was responsible for turning around the team’s fortunes in the late 90s. After a long stretch of losing, Dungy made the Buccaneers into a contender, but they continued to fail in the playoffs leading to a chance following the 2001 season. In Gruden’s first season in Tampa, the Buccaneers finished with a record of 12-4, winning the AFC South in the first year after NFL realignment. In the playoffs, the Buccaneers beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-6 in the Divisional Round. In the NFC Championship, the Buccaneers upset the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the final game played at Veterans Stadium, highlighted by Ronde Barber’s game-sealing 92-yard interception return.

Not surprisingly, Jon Gruden was the storyline in San Diego, as the Raiders were four-point favorites. During the week, Gruden himself played the role of Rich Gannon for the scout team, as he had drawn up much of the Raiders playbook, which was essentially unchanged during the regular season. Knowing this, Raiders coach Bill Callahan attempted to make some last-minute changes. This proved too much for center Barrett Robbins to handle. Robbins, who had suffered from bipolar disorder, disappeared the day before the game as he spent the night partying in Tijuana, Mexico. Forced to start Adam Treu, the Raiders reverted to their regular audible, which the Buccaneers had practiced for all week.

The Dixie Chicks performed the National Anthem, as Celine Dione sang Gold Bless America. It was the first and only time the song was sung at the Super Bowl. Members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins were on hand for the coin toss, as both teams were introduced as a unit instead of individually following the lead of the Patriots from the previous Super Bowl. The Raiders made the first big play in Super Bowl XXXVII as Charles Woodson intercepted Brad Johnson, setting up Oakland at the Tampa 36 just over a minute into the game. The Raiders would settle for a 40-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski as they could not move the ball against the Buccaneers defense.  After the first series, Bucs safety Jon Lynch went to Gruden and told him how all the signals and calls were the same that they had played against in practice. The Buccaneers would drive down and tie the game on a 31-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica. Neither team would score again in the first quarter, though the Buccaneers set themselves up late as Rich Gannon threw the first of his record five interceptions to Dexter Jackson. 

The Buccaneers would take the early in the second quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Gramatica. Jackson would intercept Gannon again on the next series. While Tampa did not add to their 6-3 lead, the field began to shift heavily against the Raiders. Karl Williams would take advantage of the shift returning a Shane Lechler punt 25 yards to the Oakland 27. Tampa would score four players later on a two-yard run by Mike Alstott. Late in the second quarter, the Buccaneers would extend the lead to 20-3 on a five-yard pass from Brad Johnson to Kennan McCardell.

Halftime was highlighted by performances from Sting and Shania Twain, as the stunned Raiders getting the ball first hoped to get their offense on track. The Raiders still could not solve the Tampa defense, as the Buccaneers had an answer for every play they made. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, had no issue tearing apart the Raiders, defense as they continued to dominate the game with an 89-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. The drive was completed by an eight-yard touchdown reception from Johnson to McCardell, which made the score 27-3 in favor of the Buccaneers. Less than a minute later, it was suddenly 34-3 as Dwight Smith returned a pass intended for Jerry Rice 44-yards for a touchdown, seemingly sealing the win for Tampa. 

As the Buccaneers celebrated, the Raiders finally were able to move the ball as Rich Gannon found Jerry Porter in the back of the end zone on a 39-yard pass play that was called a touchdown after a lengthy review. The Raiders, trying to get back in the game, would fail on their two-point try, as the Bucs held a 34-9 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Raiders would cut Tampa’s lead further in the fourth quarter as Tim Johnson blocked a punt by Tom Tupa, which Eric Johnson returned for a touchdown. Once again, the Raiders failed at the two-point try, keeping the score at 34-15. The Buccaneers tried to answer, but Tupa miss handled a snap on a chip shot field goal attempt, helping to give Oakland a slight glimmer of hope. A hope that remained alive as Jerry Rice reeled in a 48-yard touchdown catch from Gannon, but the Raiders failed to get the two-point try. 

The Buccaneers could not extend the lead any further as the Raiders, with momentum, got the ball back with 2:44 left, trailing by two touchdowns. The Buccaneers, who seemed to celebrate too early, went back to their defense to put the final nail in the Raiders' coffin as Warren Sapp sacked Rich Gannon for a nine-yard loss on the last play before the two-minute warning. Out of the two-minute warning, Derrick Brooks made the game-clinching play for the Buccaneers, returning a Gannon interception 44 yards for a touchdown to make it 41-21. Jon Gruden was showered with Gatorade as the Buccaneers were savoring their first Lombardi Trophy, but they were not finished scoring. With the final seconds slipping away, Rich Gannon threw a fifth interception and a third pick-six, with Dwight Smith scoring a second touchdown from midfield to make the final score 48-21, with Jon Gruden following along the sideline to celebrate.

Despite Dwight Smith returning two interceptions for touchdowns, the vote for the Super Bowl MVP had already been tabulated, with Dexter Jackson, who had two picks in the second quarter, getting the honor. The NFL experimented with a postgame concert, having Bon Jovi perform just before and after the Lombardi Trophy presentation. This would be the final Super Bowl played in January, as all future Super Bowls were played in February.