Move for coach Jon Gruden pays off for Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' celebrates on the bench in the closing moments of the Bucs' 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego on Sunday. Pittman had 124 yards on 29 carries in the game.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 1:54 a.m.
SAN DIEGO-- First, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lured coach Jon Gruden away from Oakland. Then, Gruden led the Bucs to their first NFL title, with a convincing Super Bowl victory over his old team.
The Bucs used a great defense and an efficient offense to pull away early, then held off the Raiders for a 48-21 victory Sunday.
Gruden's sudden departure from Oakland and its renegade owner, Al Davis, was the plot line that dominated a riveting championship week. The game - especially the end - was almost as intriguing.
Simeon Rice sacked Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon twice, and Dwight Smith returned Gannon's third interception 44 yards for a touchdown and a 34-3 lead in the third quarter.
The Raiders answered with three straight touchdowns to cut the deficit to 34-21. But then, the Bucs put their signature on this game, returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns - including another one by Smith - to turn the game into a blowout again.
Instead, it was Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer who won the huge gamble in giving up four draft picks and $8 million for the rights to sign Gruden.
The 39-year-old coach - youngest in the league - was the difference this year.
He's the driven taskmaster with the wicked grin, known as "Coach Chucky" for his quirky resemblance to the horror movie doll.
He challenged the defense to score nine touchdowns this season, and with three in the biggest game of the year, that defense hit that goal exactly.
Largely on attitude, Gruden guided the talented Bucs - the only team in the league to make the playoffs the last four seasons - to their first Super Bowl and first championship in an unimpressive 27-year history.
The Raiders, always known for doing things their way, sent All-Pro starting center Barret Robbins home before the game for violating unspecified team rules.
It was an awkward, ill-timed move, but it was hardly the difference.
Gruden and the Bucs were just too good. Their maligned offense, ranked 24th in the league this year, was efficient.
Quarterback Brad Johnson threw for 215 yards. Running back Michael Pittman ran for 124 more. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell caught two touchdown passes, and the Bucs gained 365 yards.
It was sweet retribution for Gruden, who honed his skills coaching in Oakland for four years but chafed under the yoke of his micromanaging owner.
Gruden conceded he left a lot of good friends behind, even though Davis wasn't one of them.
"This has been a real strange week for me," Gruden said.
A crowd of 67,603 - more from the vaunted "Raider Nation" than Tampa - entered Qualcomm Stadium, the third time the venue hosted the Super Bowl.
Security, such a big issue for last year's game in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, wasn't as big a focus among the public. But the NFL and the city of San Diego still took it seriously.
Ticketholders waited 30 minutes or more in line to go through metal detectors.
When they entered, their every move was on camera, thanks to a state-of-the-art system that allows security personnel views of every corner of the stadium in real time.
Of course, it didn't take a ticket to be part of the experience.
More than 100 million people were expected to watch the Super Bowl on TV. By the end, they were likely to have paid more attention to the commercials than the game.
The most fitting ad came early - a Budweiser commercial that showed two cowboys mocking a zebra looking into an instant-replay monitor, the kind the NFL uses to make decisions on disputed plays.
When ABC returned to the game, there was a shot of referee Bill Carollo peering inside the box for the first instant replay decision of the game.
He made the right call there, then again in the third quarter when he determined Oakland's Jerry Porter had both feet in bounds for Oakland's first touchdown of the game.
Thus began a valiant Raiders rally, but it was too little, too late.
The day belonged to the Bucs, their new coach and a legion of Tampa Bay fans who waited more than a quarter-century for their team to be called the NFL's best.

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