It seems the Barber brothers have colluded.
You see, Donovan McNabb was about to become a Philadelphia legend. He was driving the Eagles downfield for what looked to be a sure touchdown, one that would have pulled Philly within a field goal of the Buccaneers. He had just completed a sick scramble-and-throw in which he seemed to toss the ball 14 yards while his body was parallel to the turf. With just over three minutes left in the game and holding three timeouts with which to stop the clock, it looked as though the Eagles had a chance to break Tampa’s hearts again.
But then those pesky Barbers exercised some brotherly love in the city that made fraternization famous.
Fox’s cameras showed Tiki on the sidelines: “C’mon bro, let’s beat these birds.”
Then Ronde on defense: “If Visa can’t tell us apart, then I don’t see why Eagle fans should be able to.”
And then, before McNabb had time to ask for some I.D., Ronde picked off McNabb’s pass intended for Antonio Freeman and torched down the sideline in Tiki-esque fashion for the game-clinching 92-yard TD.
Who’s the happiest in Philly? Well, perhaps Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers, who are going to the Super Bowl. But a close second goes to Tiki: “See Ronde? Nothing feels better than beating Philly! Nothing!”
So the Bucs have done it. After 27 years of trying, 21 of which were spent in the league’s worst uniforms, Tampa Bay is going to “The Big Game,” as advertisers call it now to avoid royalty fees. And to be quite honest, they deserve it. Philadelphia came out fired up, scored an early touchdown, and yet Gruden’s troops kept their cool. Or their warm, considering they managed to win for only the second time in sub-40 degree temperature. Sure, they got some help from Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who decided to give Brad Johnson all day to throw the ball, despite living and dying by the blitz throughout the year.
Nonetheless, one must give credit to chin-less Brad. (Has anybody else noticed that his chin-strap appears to be smooshed up against what might be mistaken for his Adam’s apple?) He was able to give Keyshawn the damn ball enough to make Philly’s vaunted secondary fall back on its heels. Not to mention the inspiring performance of the alliterative Joe Jurevicius, who played despite a family crisis and made his one catch the biggest of the game outside of Barber’s. The end result was an immense amount of Pewter Power on the offensive side of the ball, something that proves that the Bucs made the right decision in firing Tony Dungy and going with Jon Gruden.
Now Tampa will meet Gruden’s old team, the Raiders, in San Diego. With a lot of passing and just enough defense, Oakland toppled Tennessee, much to the delight of the howling Black Hole. The win was a surprising one, not only because the Raiders were able to halt the Titan’s seemingly predestined roll to the Super Bowl, but because they were able to do it without running the ball until garbage time.
Being from the locale for which it is named, I’ve seen a lot of the West Coast Offense, but never like this Raiders’ attack. Someone forgot to tell Bill Callahan when he got the head coaching job at the beginning of this year that you MUST run the ball to succeed in the NFL. Even John Gruden, the ultimate disciple of the West Coast offense and the man who built the Raiders, ran the ball first.
Somehow missing the memo, Callahan has turned the passing game into the running game. With a scat-back like no other in Charlie Garner, and the most accurate passer since Joe Montana (with apologies to Kurt Warner) in Rich Gannon, passing plays ARE running plays in this Silver and Black offense. No West Coast offense, not even the 49ers, let their quarterback be their leading rusher in a playoff victory. But the Raiders did, and they did it with style, propelling themselves down the California coast to San Diego.
So it has come to pass that the Raiders and Buccaneers will meet in Super Bowl XXXVII. And while players prepare, media swarms, security tightens, and fans celebrate, somewhere a twin is on the phone: “Chad? Tiki here. Know anything about the Oakland Raiders?”