The date was January 26, 2003. The stadium was rocking as we all awaited the kickoff at Qualcomm Stadium. The Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders were getting ready to square off in what should have been an instant classic. The Raiders were the favorite heading into the game all week due to the Buccaneers lack of offense. What should have been a dog fight was over before halftime.
The Raiders were led by veteran quarterback, Rich Gannon. They lit up the NFL that year as one of the most efficient offenses. The Buccaneers were led by quarterback, Brad Johnson. The Buccaneers trademark of that season was their dominating defense. They dominated people from the opening whistle all year. The Raiders came into the game with a record of 13-6 and the Buccaneers 15-4. Did I mention that the Buccaneers traded for former Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden, as well?
The first quarter started like every Super Bowl; slow. Both teams seemingly trying to calm the nerves and establish themselves early. Oakland would open the scoring up with a Sebastian Janikowski 40-yard field goal, but not too long after the Buccaneers would tie it with a Martin Gramatica 31-yard field goal. This would be the last time the game was close for Oakland Raider fans.
The second quarter saw the Buccaneers put the Raiders in a sleeper hold that they would never wake up from in 2003. Gramatica made the game 6-3 with another field goal. Mike Alstott would destroy people at the goal line like he normally does to make the game 13-3 at the 6:24 mark. Brad Johnson would hit veteran wide receiver Keenan McCardell with a 5-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left in the half to make the score 20-3. The Oakland Raiders and their fan base couldn’t believe they were being steamrolled by the Buccaneers at the half. The defense was flying over the field, as though there were 24 guys out on the field for the Buccaneers.
After the halftime show, Tampa Bay would receive to start the third quarter. Again veteran quarterback, Brad Johnson would find Keenan McCardell with an 8-yard touchdown pass. This would make the score 27-3. The offense was putting on a show that most Buccaneers fans were not accustomed to seeing, but now it was time for the defense to showcase their talents. As I close my eyes, I can see Gannon dropping back, he lets the ball go, and BOOM interception by Dwight Smith. He would return it 44-yards for the touchdown. The Buccaneers were crushing the Raiders 34-3. With 2:14 seconds left and the game seemingly over Gannon would hit Jerry Porter with a 39-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 34-9.
In the fourth quarter and the champagne on ice, the Buccaneers just needed to hold their lead. The Raiders wouldn’t go quietly though. Eric Johnson would block a punt for a touchdown. Gannon found the ageless wonder Jerry Rice for a 48-yard touchdown. The score was now 34-21. Now was the time, the Buccaneers defense needed to slam the door shut on the Oakland Raiders. Derrick Brooks would return a 44-yard interception for a touchdown with 1:18 seconds left and with 2 seconds left Super Bowl MVP Dwight Smith would return a 50-yard interception back for a touchdown. This would end the game with a final score of 48-21.
The Buccaneers dominated the Oakland Raiders from the opening coin flip, and Super Bowl XXXVII would go down as one of the most dominating performances by a defense in the history of the NFL. It’s been a long time since the Buccaneers have been back to the playoffs, but hopefully, this trip down memory lane will help fans remember why we became fans in the first place. The time will come again when we raise the flag in victory for the Buccaneers. Don’t give up hope and let’s see what the future holds at One Bucs Place.