Bucs in the Super Bowl? Just can't see it

Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 11:22 p.m.

Back when Super Bowls were boring, like three years ago, this was the Sunday everyone looked forward to. We all watched the Super Bowl, but we paid attention on Championship Sunday.

Championship Sunday isn't about the television commercials or betting pools or chicken wings. It's about the football.

And Sunday, I have a feeling we may be getting a pair of classics.

After all, the playoffs have already provided plenty of entertainment.

Now, I'm a college football guy. I can watch the Division II playoffs and care. It's only been since the college season ended and they quit showing replays of 15-year-old games on ESPN Classic that I've gotten back on the treadmill.

But even I have to admit the NFL has been fun to watch this year.

You know why? The Spurrier factor.

And it's not just because Steve Spurrier is in Washington. Remember how he came into a stodgy SEC and turned it into a pass-happy league?

Well, here's a stat for you - this season, Spurrier's first in the NFL, there were more passes thrown than ever in the history of the league. This season there was also the most points ever scored and most touchdowns.

Just not by the Redskins.

And it has continued into the playoffs. In eight games so far, nine teams have scored 30 or more points. And we have had three of the all-time best playoff games - Pittsburgh 36, Cleveland 33; San Francisco 39, New York 38; Tennessee 34, Pittsburgh 31.

And now that the dust of those prelims has settled, we have the four best teams in pro football ready to duel. Which means it's time to dust off the old Swami lid and tell you who will be in the Super Bowl.

  • TAMPA BAY AT PHILADELPHIA: I think Bucs fans have gotten carried away by the easy win over San Francisco. The 49ers had no secondary and no pass rush. No wonder it was easy for Brad Johnson to look like Joe Montana.

    It'll be different this week. The Eagles have a great secondary and an excellent pass rush. And the Bucs still have a mediocre offensive line.

    Plus, the game is at the Vet, the last game ever played in that dump. Veterans Stadium smells like rotten cheese steak sandwiches and includes the most inebriated and most rude fans in the league.

    "It's dirty, it's nasty," Eagles defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "I think of it like a ghetto. Nobody wants to walk into the ghetto. But this is our ghetto."

    Of course, the Bucs will tell you that they're tired of hearing how they can't win in Philly, how they can't get to the Super Bowl, how they can't win in the cold. This is a different team, they'll tell you, with a different coach.

    There is no question the Bucs are better than the last two teams that went to Philadelphia, but this year's team has also been there and lost.

    One thing about Philadelphia - the Eagles have followed a familiar path that could lead them to the Super Bowl. Two years ago, they won their wild-card game before losing in round two. Last year, they made it to the NFC Championship Game before losing to the Rams. The progression seems obvious.

    But isn't it time for the Bucs? Isn't this the year they shake off the shackles of Philadelphia dominance?

    Well, I thought the same thing about the Texas Longhorns this year and they ended up in the Cotton Bowl.

    Some teams aren't supposed to play on the biggest stage.

    And, by the way, Philadelphia is pretty good. The Eagles showed they were the best team in the league when they won without Donovan McNabb.

    Philadelphia 24, Tampa Bay 17.

  • TENNESSEE AT OAKLAND: Sportswriters are supposed to be unbiased. We're not supposed to root for teams. But I do find myself rooting for Steve McNair.

    The Titans quarterback is the ultimate warrior. He doesn't need to practice or be healthy to be a difference-maker. If he had to, he could probably will the Titans to victory throwing left-handed.

    But when you see the licking the Raiders put on the NFL's hottest team - the Jets - last week, it's difficult to see Tennessee winning in Oakland.

    Raiders coach Bill Callahan was smart to make sure his geriatric team was well-rested for the playoffs and it paid off against the Jets. It didn't hurt that New York quarterback Chad Pennington, who had been compared to Joe Namath, looked for a day as if he was as big a fraud as Joe Millionaire.

    Really, all signs point to an Oakland win. The Raiders are at home, have the experience edge, are still on a mission after getting hosed in the playoffs last year and Tennessee has to travel across the country to play the game.

    But there is something about McNair.

    Tennessee 27, Oakland 21.

    You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can see Pat on "Sports Showdown" with Larry Vettel on WGFL-CBS 4 Fridays at 11 p.m. and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m.

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