Returns to Glory

Times Staff Writer

Pull back the Steel Curtain. The No-Name Defense shall remain nameless. The Purple People who?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved Sunday in Super Bowl XXXVII they have a defense for the ages, returning three of five interceptions for touchdowns, limiting the league's top-ranked offense to 11 first downs, and thoroughly embarrassing the Oakland Raiders with a 48-21 victory that gave the Florida franchise its first title.

So much for Oakland's experience carrying the day. It was Tampa Bay's defense -- and its suddenly strong running game -- that left the Raiders grasping for answers.

Call the Tampa Bay defense what you will -- Stompa Bay, the Here-Stop Bucs, or, if you're a fan of the 300-pounder in the middle, the Warren Commission -- but call it world class.

"No disrespect to the Ravens, but we played the No. 1 offense, they didn't," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, referring to the Baltimore defense that paved the way for a Super Bowl victory two years ago. "The '85 Bears, I don't think New England was the No. 1 offense when they won it. The Raiders came in tonight with what many people considered was one of the top five offenses of all time. We stepped up to the challenge."

And they stomped Oakland's designs on a fourth championship ring. It took 19 years for the Raiders to get back in the Super Bowl yet only a couple of quarters to get out of it. After falling behind, 3-0, the Buccaneers scored 34 unanswered points to turn what was supposed to be a tight game into a laugher.

"We were just absolutely terrible," said Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, the league's most valuable player who was sacked five times, matching his interception total. "It was a nightmarish performance."

The nightmare began long before the opening kickoff. Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins broke undisclosed team rules and was sent home to the Bay Area, leaving backup Adam Treu to square off against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Said Raider Coach Bill Callahan: "He was essentially dismissed."

The Buccaneer defense felt the same way -- dismissed, disregarded, disrespected by doubters who believed the Raiders would be able to use their massive offensive line to overpower Tampa Bay's smallish front four. The Raiders couldn't run, and Gannon couldn't hide.

"They couldn't get on a roll because they couldn't stand the pressure," said defensive end Simeon Rice, who had two sacks, including one on Oakland's opening drive when Gannon was dropping back on third down. "When you can't stand the pressure, you've got to get out of the kitchen."

Tampa Bay was tweaking its defenses like Rice was tweaking his cliches. Safety Dexter Jackson was named the game's MVP after intercepting a pair of passes and knocking down two others, but the award could just as easily have gone to Rice, or to Brooks or cornerback Dwight Smith, who scored touchdowns of 44 and 50 yards on interception returns.

The Raiders ran 11 times for 19 yards -- a feeble 1.7 yards per carry -- and, midway through the fourth quarter, future Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown had a combined three catches for 18 yards.

Jerry Rice streaked down the middle for a 48-yard touchdown reception with six minutes to play, though, trimming the lead to 34-21 and briefly giving the Raiders a flicker of hope. But Oakland's conversion pass failed -- the Raiders came up empty on three of those -- and the Buccaneers resumed their sideline shimmies.

No NFL franchise has endured more lows than Tampa Bay. From 1983 through '94, the Buccaneers set an NFL record with 12 consecutive seasons of 10 losses or more. They have been beaten so many times since their 1976 inception that, even if they went 16-0 in each of their next six seasons, they would still have a losing record.

"It's unbelievable," said Sapp, who arrived in 1995 when the Buccaneers were 7-9, then 6-10. "It's overwhelming that we came in here and did it. We had a focus and we had a goal and we got it done tonight."

It was a triumphant night for Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden, who bolted from the Raiders after last season, and for quarterback Brad Johnson, who was dumped by Washington after the 2000 season because Redskin owner Daniel Snyder preferred Jeff George.

Johnson completed 18 of 34 passes for 215 years with two touchdowns and an interception. It wasn't a John Elway-type performance, but Johnson made the throws when he had to, and much-maligned Michael Pittman burned a substantial amount of clock with 124 yards in 29 carries.

The Buccaneers had a commanding lead in time of possession, 37:14 to 22:46, keeping Oakland's offense off the field and wearing down an Oakland defense that featured starting cornerbacks playing on healing leg fractures.

By halftime, Tampa Bay players were already celebrating. Sapp careened toward the locker-room tunnel like a barnstorming airplane, his arms stuck out at his sides. Smith swirled an invisible lasso over his head. Raider tackle Lincoln Kennedy had to restrain teammate Frank Middleton from going after a Buccaneer.

A first half that held so much promise for the Raiders quickly turned miserable.

After Charles Woodson intercepted a pass on the third play of the game, and Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 40-yard field goal, the Raiders had five consecutive possessions of four plays or fewer and never ventured deeper into Tampa Bay territory than the 43.

Not only did the Buccaneers pick off two Gannon passes, but they derailed Oakland's first two drives by sacking him on third down.

The Raiders had only three first downs and 62 yards in the first half. Gannon had a 10.5 quarterback rating and had fewer first downs passing (one) than times sacked (three).

Despite falling behind early, Tampa Bay roared back with four scores in the first half -- a pair of field goals by Martin Gramatica, and touchdowns by Mike Alstott and Keenan McCardell.

"We had opportunities," Oakland safety Rod Woodson said. "I had an interception right in my hands in the first half and dropped it, and that was the whole first half.

"Everybody was dropping everything in the first half. They got a couple of turnovers, got in our end of the field, and we couldn't stop them."

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Buccaneers Go to D World

The Tampa Bay defense held the Oakland rushing attack in check, posting the third-best performance in Super Bowl history:

*--* SUPER BOWL DEFENSE RESULT OPP. ATT OPP. YARDS OPP. AVG XX Chicago Defeated New 11 7 0.6 England, 46-10 IX Pittsburgh Defeated 21 17 0.8 Minnesota, 16-6 XXXVII Tampa Bay Defeated 11 19 1.7 Oakland, 48-21 XXXV Tennessee Lost to St. 13 29 2.2 Louis, 23-16 XXVI Washington Defeated 18 43 2.4 Buffalo, 39-20

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SUPER BOWL XXXVII

*--* 1st 2nd 3rd 4th F OAKLAND 3 0 6 12 21 TAMPA BAY 3 17 14 14 48

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Pick and Roll

Interception returns for touchdowns by Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII:

*--* DWIGHT SMITH 44 YARDS at 10:13 of third quarter Score: Tampa Bay 34, Oakland 3 DERRICK BROOKS 44 YARDS at 13:42 of fourth quarter Score: Tampa Bay 41, Oakland 21 DWIGHT SMITH 50 YARDS at 14:58 of fourth quarter Score: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

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