What The Pirate Bowl Can Teach Us About This Year's Super Bowl
By Daniel Calzone
The last time the No.1 offense squared off against the No. 1 defense in the Super Bowl was in the 37th rendition, The Pirate Bowl: the Oakland Raiders vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2002 season. The Raiders’ offense was big time, with Rich Gannon throwing for 4,689 yards to the likes of Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The Bucs improved on a 9-7 season the year before with a dominant display on defense that led to a 12-4 mark. Tampa was an exciting team with a stellar defense that rallied behind its head coach, Jon Gruden. Gruden was previously the Raiders coach, and many analysts attribute his prior knowledge of Gannon and that Oakland offense to the Bucs’ success in the bowl. Coincidentally, Al Davis had shipped out Gruden from Oakland to Tampa Bay for a few draft picks in what seemed like a somewhat desperate maneuver at the time.
The Bucs obliterated the Raiders, picking off Rich Gannon a Super Bowl record five times on their way to a 48-21 victory. Three of those five interceptions were returned for TD’s, and safety Dexter Jackson was named MVP in the Bucs’ first, and only, Super Bowl victory in franchise history. (Defensive players don’t usually win Super Bowl MVP’s, but if Richard Sherman happened to take the honor this year, it would be safe to assume that the Internet would malfunction and explode.)
Bucs-Raiders was classic offense vs. defense. The Raiders could score points in bunches, and the Bucs could prevent them and cause havoc in the form of sacks and forced turnovers. Tampa’s passing-TD-allowed-to-interception-ratio was 10:31 in 2002. Tampa Bay’s defense led by Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber has to be the best defense I have ever seen. I think if Earl Thomas (notice I didn’t say Richard Sherman) and this Seattle defense put the clamps on Peyton Manning and the Denver aerial attack, I might have to replace that Bucs team in my mental hierarchy as the best defense I have ever witnessed. Yes, the 2002 Raiders had the best offense in the league that year, but they didn’t have the greatest offense of all time.
Enter Manning. It is hard to picture this guy doing anything but playing quarterback, but his post-football days seem to be at least somewhat in the near future. I think he has built on his epic, undeniable work ethic this season and taken his dedication to the game to an even higher level. He is using the end of his career as inspiration, and that is part of what I believe has pushed his level of play to new, uncharted heights. (The talent surrounding him doesn’t hurt, either.) This is undeniably the greatest clash of offense vs. defense in Super Bowl history. Both of these teams are special on one side of the ball, and that is the reason many people pegged this as a probable Super Bowl matchup as early as the preseason.
Midway through this season I was watching Thursday Night Football, and in his pregame commentary, Warren Sapp said “Defense doesn’t win championships anymore, offense wins championships now!” That came from the same guy who was a part of that superb Bucs defense, and a guy who is one of the greatest defensive players to ever step onto the field. This had me thinking, if Warren Sapp, a defensive legend, is saying this, then it must truly hold some merit. The NFL has changed a lot since the early 2000s, and passing games are putting up yards at historic clips. So that begs the following questions “Can Seattle stop Denver?” Is an era of dominant defenses dictating the eventual recipient of the Lombardi Trophy over?
This Super Bowl signifies way more than just a football game. This Super Bowl is a definitive landmark in the landscape of how football has changed recently. It’s hard to put the onus of something that important on one game, but in a metaphorical and somewhat literal way, this game is that important. Seattle is fighting for the defenses, and fighting for the way teams used to win championships. To be as dominant as Seattle has been in the midst of this offensive era is quite remarkable, but it’s something we might start to see less and less of down the road.
More than ever, NFL front offices are focusing on compiling a dominant offense these days. This isn’t a league-wide consensus, but rather a very strong trend. Can you blame them? It seems that passing the ball all over the field isn’t only exciting, but successful. The outcome of Sunday’s game could potentially affect the way future offseasons are handled and managed. An emphatic win either way would generate a ripple effect on the entire National Football League.
If the Pirate Bowl can teach us anything about Broncos-Seahawks, it’s that great defenses usually defeat great offenses. It’s an age-old expression that is undeniably true. The Bucs’ defense put on a ball-hawking clinic in what was one of the most dominant defensive games in Super Bowl history. It has been the “golden era of quarterbacks” for most of the years since, but if Manning caps off this immaculate season with a trip to Disney World, that “golden era” will officially be entrenched as an NFL staple more than it ever was before. I have a hard time imagining a world where Manning is denied his second Super Bowl victory, but at the same time, I know this Seattle defense is vicious, and it will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening.