From 2001-04, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won three Super Bowls while establishing a dynasty. The Super Bowl they didn't win during that span? That one was won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who wiped away nearly three decades of irrelevance by whitewashing the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Tampa Bay's 48-21 win over the Raiders also ended the narrative that those Buccaneers couldn't win the "big one," a narrative that was born from previous playoff failures. Three years earlier, the Buccaneers suffered a five-point loss to the eventual champion Rams in the NFC Championship Game. They then suffered consecutive playoff losses to Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles by a combined score of 52-12.
Despite his success in bringing a winning culture to Tampa, Tony Dungy was fired after the 2001 season. To get his successor, the Buccaneers traded two first and two second-round draft picks to the Raiders for Jon Gruden, who was coming off of a controversial playoff loss to Brady and the Patriots. Gruden set an early tone in Tampa, as he gleefully challenged his defense during summer practice sessions. During one practice, Gruden caught his defense off-guard after running a quarterback bootleg during a power running drill.
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"I looked at [Gruden] right in the eye and I said, 'If you're scared, say you're scared,'" former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp said several years later. "He looked back at me and said, 'Well, it looks like they've been running boot on you for the last three years, so now what?' And that's where the challenge started."
Gruden was also tough on his offense, a unit that didn't always carry its weight under Dungy. While Gruden's offense took time to develop, quarterback Brad Johnson enjoyed a breakthrough performance in Week 9, throwing five touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the Vikings. Johnson earned a Pro Bowl selection that season along with fullback Mike Alstott, whose devastating run in a Week 6 win over the Browns exemplified the '02 Buccaneers' rallying cry: "Pound the rock."
"The rock is the opponent basically," Gruden said. "You've got to visualize yourself holding on to a hammer and taking the best swings you can at that rock, trying to crack your opponent."
Besides Gruden's quick success in Tampa, another main storyline during the 2002 season was the meteoric rise of Michael Vick, whose Falcons traveled to Tampa in Week 14 with the NFC South division title up for grabs. To neutralize Vick, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin instructed middle linebacker Derrick Brooks to shadow the electric first-year starter. Brooks helped hold Vick to just 15 yards rushing, as Tampa Bay completed its season sweep of Atlanta while clinching the South.
Waiting for Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship was the Eagles, who had gotten the better of the Buccaneers in Week 7. On the team bus following the team's 20-10 loss in Philadelphia, Gruden told Sapp that he had figured out how to crack the Eagles' defensive code. Trailing 7-3 and in need of a spark, Gruden called a slant pass to Joe Jurevicius, whose 71-yard catch-and-carry set up the Buccaneers' go-ahead score.
"We tried to get Jurevicius a one-on-one option route against their inside linebacker," Gruden said. "In certain coverages, you've got a chance to hit the lottery.
"I've never seen Jurevicius run like that. He was flying."
"Tampa Bay changed the complexion of the game with one play"— AllThingsBucs (@AllThingsTBbucs) October 11, 2018
Who remembers former #Bucs WR Joe Jurevicius slice up the Eagles-Defense in the 2002 NFC Championship Game? He ultimately helped the Buccaneers secure the W & advance to the Super Bowl🔥#TBT | #GoBucs | @nflthrowback pic.twitter.com/giTtqsbp0w
Ahead 20-10, the Buccaneers appeared to be on their heels after Donovan McNabb willed his team deep inside Tampa Bay territory. But just when it appeared that an Eagles comeback was brewing, Ronde Barber ended such thoughts when he intercepted McNabb and ran untouched for a 92-yard, game-clinching touchdown. In defeating their nemesis, the Buccaneers also closed down Veterans Stadium, the Eagles' hallowed home for over 30 years.
"They had everything there to help with their celebration," Gruden said, "and nobody got to celebrate. It was eery. It was awesome."
The Buccaneers had only a week to prepare for Super Bowl XXXVII. Making their preparation significantly easier was the fact that Gruden was facing his former team, the Raiders, who punched their ticket to the Super Bowl after defeating the Tennessee Titans. Gruden not only instructed his defense on how to properly defend Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, the 39-year-old coach took it a step further.
"At some point during that week, I was going to be Rich Gannon and simulate the Raiders' offense against the greatest defense in football," Gruden said. "That was a film I will never, ever, lose. I was great that day."
Gruden instructed his defense not to bite on Gannon's play-action. The result was a record five interceptions off of the league's MVP. Dexter Jackson's two early interceptions helped him win the Super Bowl MVP award. Dwight Smith's 44-yard pick-six gave the Buccaneers a commanding 34-3 lead with less than 20 minutes remaining.
The Raiders made a run, with a special teams touchdown sandwiched between two Gannon touchdown passes. Gannon's second touchdown pass, a 48-yard bomb to the immortal Jerry Rice, made it a 13-point game with 6:06 left. Tampa Bay's defense took control from there, as Brooks' 44-yard pick-six with 1:18 left gave the Buccaneers an insurmountable lead. With just seconds remaining, Smith's second pick-six of the game capped off Tampa Bay's first championship.
January 26th 2003! On this day 18 years ago the @Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII defeating the Raiders 48-21!! #GoBucs @DBrooks55 @WarrenSapp @rondebarber @simeon_rice @DJackson_MVP @JohnLynch49ers 💪🏈 About time we won another one! #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/Z9zcBmFyPI— Adam (@Taggsy79) January 26, 2021
After an 0-26 start as a franchise, with 14 consecutive losing seasons and three gut-wrenching playoff defeats, the Buccaneers were Super Bowl champions. They did it behind a dominant defense, an efficient offense and a coach who donned the nickname Chucky.
"The way we had done it, going from the Yucks, as Sapp says, turning a third-world country into the Taj Mahal," said former Buccaneers safety John Lynch. "It just teaches you how difficult it is to obtain one of those."
"No matter what anybody says, I was there for this," said Gruden, who at the time was the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl. "Sometimes, I kinda wear (my Super Bowl ring) around my house when no one is there. It's an awesome game. An awesome, awesome game."