Defense wins championships

Those words, which make up one of sport’s oldest mantras, never rang truer than they did on Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense absolutely devoured the Oakland Raiders’ offense en route to their 48-21 Super Bowl victory.

Whatever rationale Jon Gruden may have had for leaving Oakland to join the Buccaneers during the offseason, there is no doubt anymore that the best reason for doing so was the defense, which was overwhelming in San Diego. And though safety Dexter Jackson was awarded the MVP for his two key interceptions, the real heroes for Tampa were the members of their monstrous defensive line.Ê

Rushing only four players throughout the entire game, the Bucs were able to discombobulate NFL regular season MVP Rich Gannon so badly that he didn’t even get a chance to put on his trademarked sneer of disgust when his protection broke down. The Bucs’ Blitzkrieg not only clobbered Gannon, they forced the normally ultra-precise passer to throw five gruesome interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, evoking yet another old saying:

The best offense is a good defense.

To be fair, it wasn’t only Tampa’s defensive line that dominated. Their offensive line pushed the Raiders around like their gullible younger brothers, opening huge chasms for running back Michael Pittman to dance through. Not only that, but Brad Johnson got Oakland’s front four to jump offsides at will, perhaps no coincidence given Gruden’s intimate knowledge of the Oakland team.

And while that knowledge of the Raiders was certainly a help to the Buccaneers, Gruden’s greatest contribution was undoubtedly his offensive playcalling. He ran the ball with vigor, and passed it at just the right moments. Each time Tampa Bay needed a first down, he had the right call in his back pocket. The Bucs’ defense was built by Tony Dungy, a fact Gruden recognized during the post-game celebration, but the offense was his baby, and its improvement was crucial in earning the men in Pewter their much shinier rings.

But I digress from the true story of Super Bowl XXXVII, the Tampa Bay defense. Because of their three-touchdown contribution, I am tempted to argue that the Bucs’ defensive effort was the most impressive in Super Bowl history. Given the fact that the Raiders came back to score 18 points in the second half, that may seem a bit ridiculous. However, if you consider the fact that the Raiders were the number one offense in the land coming into the game, and that six of those 18 points came on special teams, the argument is much more feasible. Suffice it to say, the Bucs’ domination ranks right up there with the efforts of the Ravens and Bears in Super Bowls XXXV and XX, respectively.

With the win, the Buccaneers franchise ended two and a half decades of frustration. And the way I see it, you’ve got to feel good for them. Theirs is a franchise that was scarred by an 0-26 beginning, and some of the league’s worst uniforms. They were the league’s lovable losers for what seems like a lifetime, and now they reign supreme, allowing the city of Tampa to celebrate, and to forget, if just for a moment, about the existence of the Devil Rays.