This Super Matchup Is a Steal for the NFL
Argggh! Football’s most glamorous game has been affixed with an eye patch. Football’s most civilized stroll has turned into a walk on the plank.
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of bad metaphors, the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to the Super Bowl.
“It’s gonna be something, man,” said safety Eric “Crazy” Johnson, one of the more appropriately named Raiders. “It’s gonna go down in history.”
It’s gonna go down in something. Maybe history. Maybe infamy.
Or, judging from the expected yodeling and posing, maybe it will simply sink into the mud that caked both teams’ jerseys after their conference championship victories Sunday.
“Get your tickets now,” Raider guard Frank Middleton said. “I heard this thing is already going crazy on eBay. I wish I had some of that stock.”
The Buccaneers won early Sunday, flattening the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, for the NFC title.
Then the Raiders won here, rolling the Tennessee Titans, 41-24, for the AFC title.
After which, both winners looked in the mirror and begrudgingly saw each other.
The Buccaneers stole their coach from the Raiders.
The Raiders stole their team from Los Angeles.
The Buccaneers have stars who won’t shut up.
The Raiders have fans who won’t shut up, especially in San Diego, where they annually pillage the locals, once at the point of a knife.
The Buccaneers have the league’s top-ranked defense.
The Raiders have the league’s top-ranked offense.
“The best against the best,” Raider offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. “Just as it’s supposed to be.”
The story lines are as endless as the crowd of tattooed fans filing into Sunday’s game here, and as biting as the police horses who kept them in the stands.
There is Al Davis’ sneer versus Jon Gruden’s scowl.
Davis, the sneaky Raider owner who most closely resembles an actual pirate, allowed Gruden to leave here for Tampa last winter after their egos clashed.
Now that they will unbelievably meet for football’s championship less than a year later, it will be hard to talk about anything else.
Network Associates Coliseum erupted in boos when Gruden’s name was mentioned during the postgame trophy ceremony.
Kennedy needed all of about five minutes to bring it up again.
“Gruden’s not the head coach of our team, he jumped ship,” Kennedy said. “He might have built it, but Bill Callahan finished it.”
Then there’s the battle of a big-hearted quarterback named Rich Gannon versus a big-mouthed defensive tackle named Warren Sapp.
Said Middleton, charged with protecting Gannon: “Sapp is the Pro Bowler, he’s the best, I’m not, he probably can’t wait for Sunday, he’ll be so happy to see me.”
Said Gannon: “We have some unfinished business.”
Don’t forget the matchup of the best wide receiver in history, Jerry Rice, against a guy who just thinks he is, Keyshawn Johnson.
Rice, who is 40 going on 20, was brilliant Sunday both on the field (79 yards receiving) and later on the bench, where he pointedly hugged teammates while welcoming them to his fourth Super Bowl.
“Guys gave up their bodies today, it was worthwhile, it was for everything,” Rice said. “And here we go ... “
There they went indeed, emerging from a roaring black hole Sunday after allowing the Titans to fashion a pretty three-point lead near the end of the first half.
In a minute, it was over.
In the final minute of that first half, giving up their bodies, they turned a 17-14 deficit into a 24-17 lead.
Eric Barton stripped the ball from Robert Holcombe, causing a fumble that led to a Raider touchdown. Travian Smith whacked John Simon on the ensuing kickoff, leading to another fumble that led to a Raider field goal as time expired.
“It ain’t the ones you miss,” crowed Smith. “It’s the ones you hit.”
The Titans crowded behind the Raiders trying to get off the field and never caught up.
“We needed a momentum turner, and that was it,” safety Anthony Dorsett said.
By the time the game ended, that momentum had carried Rice and Jerry Porter into the stands, where they celebrated with arguably the most unusual -- if not obnoxious -- fans in all of sports.
“This is for the Raider nation,” Rice announced to the crowd, speaking into a microphone that perhaps carried his voice even to the barred-windowed police buses in the parking lot.
Said Kennedy: “Going to San Diego, we know how it’s going to be. Like a home game. I know people from East Oakland whose RVs are headed down there right now.”
The game ended, Tim Brown cried, sparkling silver confetti floated, heavy-metal music blared, and you know Tampa Bay was watching every minute of it.
“Damn the Bucs!” said Porter, kicking off the Super Bowl that just won’t wait.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com.