While clobbering people as an All-American offensive tackle at the University of Washington, Lincoln Kennedy’s nickname was “the Candidate” because he bore the names of two of America’s most famous presidents.
Now that he’s clobbering people as an All-Pro for the Oakland Raiders, however, Kennedy’s old college nickname is even more appropriate. For not only is his name presidential, but his mouth as well, spewing out as much false bravado as any well-established political figure. Just last week he referred to former Oakland, now Tampa Bay head coach John Gruden as a “Napoleon.” This week, he passed the yapping mantle on to guard Frank Middleton, who chose Tampa’s Warren Sapp as his target for smack talk. Sapp, in turn, fired back. After all, if Kennedy is the president of talking trash, Sapp is the divine monarch.
What does all this prattle add up to? A whole hill ‘o verbal garbage. But you can’t blame the players for all the noise pollution. After all, it is media week at the Super Bowl, a time when the buzzing swarm of sports reporters becomes so frenzied you’ve got to yell something outrageous just to be quoted. A week when the rabid dogs of media spend so much time sniffing each other’s butts for every possible reporting angle that the game is so hyped and mentally played-out its no wonder almost every Super Bowl is considered a disappointment. There are exceptions (see: Vinatieri’s kick), but the “epic” battles that are supposed to take place on Super Sunday rarely do.
That’s not to say that I don’t eat up every crumb of information that these media analysts drop, because I do. The point, or perhaps extra-point, of this reporting rant is to emphasize that I don’t think anyone truly has the answers. Sometimes it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the game than to try to predict what factors will contribute to the contest’s final outcome. Heck, the “factor” that wins the game could be what Rich Gannon has for lunch, or how well Ronde Barber ties his left shoe. The Swami isn’t real, Virginia, or at least he doesn’t deliver. Nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen, least of all me. But after 20 weeks of breathing NFL football, I’ve got to put in my two cents. So here they are.
Cent #1: Raiders’ winning game plan.
Everybody and their mother wants to know what Jon Gruden thinks about facing his old team. I want to know how Bill Callahan feels about facing his former boss. So I’ve been listening real hard, and at this point I’m wondering if I’m deaf. Bill Callahan isn’t talking. He’s hardly even whispering. The way I see it, he’s like the master sensei martial artist who meditates in the corner with his legs crossed while the other riff-raff gets in a fight. He just sits there, waiting for just the right moment. Then all of a sudden, for no particular reason, he starts breaking people.
In this case, he’ll need to break the Bucs defense, which is a pretty impressive fighter in its own right. And the way to do it, at least as far as I can tell, is by running the football. Yeah, I know the Raiders only ran it once before the fourth quarter while blowing out the Titans. But teams who beat the Bucs run the ball. That makes Charlie Garner the main man in the Raiders’ offense, if he wasn’t already. Unless he gets 200 total yards, I don’t see the Silver and Black doing too much. Tampa’s secondary is very physical, so it’ll be a tough day for Oakland’s old-thyme wideouts, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. If Garner gets going, however, they’ll get open, and that could spell curtains (S-H-O-O-T-O-U-T) for Tampa.
Cent #2: Buccaneers’ winning game plan.
Pewter’s Power lies in its defense, but the offense must score at least a few points, because even if the D does put up seven it will not be enough to win. The real key to scoring points for Tampa lies in protecting Brad Johnson. If the Raiders’ blitz can get to him — and if they learned anything from the Eagles, they’ll blitz — it could be tough going. If he has time in the pocket, however, expect Brad to connect with Keyshawn on at least one Johnson and Johnson touchdown.
The other key for Tampa also lies in protection, not upholding it, but breaking it down. The Raiders O-line has done a great job all year keeping the aged Rich Gannon from getting knocked around. If the Bucs can pressure Gannon and mess up his timing, Gruden will be smiling like Chucky on a particularly murderous night. The leader of the Bucs’ pass rush is Simeon Rice, so they’ll need him to have a big game.
Alright, so I’ve laid out my “keys to the game,” as it were. What do I really think will happen? Since I won’t get it right I might as well go out on a limb. The Tampa rush knocks Rich Gannon out of the game early with some kind of severe injury. In comes reserve QB Marques Tuiasosopo (collective “Huh?”), who leads the Raiders to an unlikely win and earns the MVP. Oakland 27, Tampa Bay 21.