The Buccaneers paid that hefty price to acquire coach Jon Gruden last offseason in a trade with the Raiders (who also made out like, um, bandits), but he put them over the hump after they stalled in the playoffs four of the last five years. Now Tampa Bay has wiggled out of the undistinguished group of franchises that have never advanced to the Super Bowl: Arizona, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Seattle. Considering only one of those teams, Cleveland, even made the playoffs this season, it's no stretch to say they'd all accept a similar deal.
Every franchise needs at least one magical year for its fans to latch onto. It's needed for the autograph signings, fantasy camps, anniversary celebrations, etc. Is there one memorable season in the history of the New Orleans Saints? Even the last 18 years of the Miami Dolphins have rolled into one, giant 10-6 early playoff exit. Pretty soon, people are going to get tired of honoring that '72 Miami club. No wait, that's already happened.
If all things were equal, teams would make the Super Bowl every 16 years. Well, ask the Jets about that. They were Super Bowl champs in 1968 and haven't been back — the longest return drought of any team. You bet they'd give up two No. 1's, two No. 2's and $8 mil to get back to the Super Bowl. (The NFL, however, has put the kibash on all trades that exchange coaches for draft picks.)
Does Defense Really Win Championships?
That's the prevailing thought in sports, of course. And plenty will point to the last two Super Bowl champions, New England and Baltimore, as proof. But remember that while last year's game pitted the NFL's third- and 24th-ranked defenses, it was the Rams, not the Patriots, who were among the league's elite defensive units. And they were coming off an NFC Championship game in which they picked off Brett Favre six times.
But the Patriots did a masterful job, and the Rams never found their rhythm. It would be a lot less surprising to see the Buccaneers pull of the same Sunday. That's not to say by any means that the Raiders' offense is not just as dominating, but it's easier for an offense to have a bad day than a defense. The reason is simple: both units must recognize formations and assignments to succeed, but there are more checkpoints subject to variable in order to execute an offense -- footing, passing, catching -- than there are to run somebody over on the other side of the ball.
Don't expect the Raiders to come in with a philosophy to take what the defense gives them, however. A quarterback once shared those sentiments with owner All Davis, who then made very clear that he didn't want to hear that again. The Raiders, he informed the young player, will take whatever they want.
Super Bowl History Notes:
Raiders QB Rich Gannon wears No. 12, as have 11 previous winning starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. No winning QB has worn Bucs counterpart Brad Johnson's No. 14... Ticket prices for Super Bowl I could be had for as little as $6. Thirty-three years later, an Illinois man ate a $100 bill as part of a ticket contest. Now that's inflation... Eight of the top 15 rated television shows of all-time are Super Bowls, as are all of the top 20 sporting events. Super Bowl XVI between the 49ers and Bengals drew a 49.1 rating, the highest ever for a live event... Dan Reeves holds the record for most Super Bowl appearances, nine, as a player and coach... Matt Millen is the only player to win championship rings with three different teams — the Raiders in XV, the 49ers in XXIV and the Redskins in XXVI... No active U.S. President ever saw the Super Bowl live, though three Vice-Presidents (Spirow Agnew, George Bush, Al Gore) have... Winning players of Super Bowl XXXVII will get a $63,000 bonus. The losers will have to make do on $35,000.
Have We a Got a Proposition for You
The most fun aspects of Super Bowl betting — aside from the post-game scrambling for mortgage payment money — are the various prop bets available to those who don't mind their check book balances predicated on which way an oblong ball bounces.
Here are the most intriguing of the prop bets:
First player to score a touchdown: Raiders RB Charlie Garner (11 TDs) is the favorite at 9/2, followed by Bucs FB Mike Alstott (7 TDs) at 6/1. What could be sweeter, though, than rooting for longtime Raiders WR Tim Brown (2 TDs) to score and net you 15/1?
Special spreads: None of the Bucs' four losses were decided by more than 10 points, but you'll have to pony up $400 to win $100 if you want to bump the Bucs' points from +3.5 to +11.5. The Raiders won 11 games by 12 points or more, and you can turn $100 to $300 if you give up 11.5 points to the Bucs.
Fun props: Will there be a score in the first 5:30 of the game (Yes/even, No/-120)? Who will have more receiving yards, Jerry Rice or Keyshawn Johnson (Rice, -3.5 yds)?
Props to not even consider: Tampa Bay to win by more than 37 points (60/1) and Raiders will score exactly 4 points (750/1).
Fun Super Bowl Links:
Sports Illustrated Super Bowl Covers Gallery — From Lombardi to Namath, from the perfect Dolphins to the near-perfect 49ers and Bears, a history of the big game on the cover of sports' premier magazine.
Super Bowl Commercials — View all of last year's spots at iFilm.com, and return Sunday night for this year's crop.
Grading the Super Bowls — Eric Neel finds that the biggest game in football has been surprisingly average