Super Bowl XXXVII was held on January 26, 2003, at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. This would be the final Super Bowl held in January, as from then on the game would be played in February. It was also the first game to put the top-ranked defense against the highest-rated offense.
This game also tells the story of one coach, Jon Gruden, who was the former coach of one team and the current coach of another team in this classic Super Bowl match-up. This game had a lot of firsts, including one of the largest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Jon Gruden had coached the Oakland Raiders from 1998 to 2001, when he was traded in favor of draft picks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and became head coach in 2002. This became the major talking point of the game as Gruden’s “new team” faced off against his “old team”. The game was nicknamed the “Gruden Bowl” due to this major storyline.
Both teams dominated their conferences during the regular season in their quest to the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay made their first Super Bowl appearance with a record of 12-4. Oakland finished an 11-5 season to make their fifth appearance in the big game.
The venue of the game was originally set for San Francisco, who was given the hosting bid in 1997. However, with the planned construction of a new stadium stalled in 1998 the bidding for a new host city was opened. San Diego was chosen as the new host for the 2003 game.
Jon Gruden had rebuilt the Oaklanders beginning in 1998. The team had slowly become a dominant force in the NFL, led by quarterback Rick Gannon. Sadly the Raiders would fall short in playoff games. With Gruden’s departure in 2002 many worried that the upward momentum of the Raiders may be lost.
New head coach Bill Callahan proved up to the task of filling Gruden’s shoes. He had a great team behind him with Gannon throwing 26 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions during the season. NFL all-time receiving record-holder Jerry Rice had a phenomenal regular season with 92 receptions and 7 touchdowns. The team also had receivers Tim Brown (81 receptions and 2 touchdowns) and Jerry Porter (51 receptions and 9 touchdowns). Running back Charlie Garner led the team with 962 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. The offensive line was held by standouts Lincoln Kennedy and Barrett Robbins.
The Raiders’ main weakness was their defense, which was ranked 25th in the league. However, safety Rod Woodson racked 8 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. They also had veteran linebacker Bill Romanowski, defensive tackle Rod Coleman, and defensive back Troy James who they hoped could stop and Tampa Bay advances.
In the first twenty years of their existence, the Buccaneers had a reputation as losers in the league. In their three previous Super Bowl appearances they had gone home empty-handed. Jon Gruden hoped to change that and build on what departing coach Tony Dungy had begun.
The Buccaneers offense struggled during the regular season to get in-sync each other. Even so, quarterback Brad Johnson completed 281 of 451 passes for 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Running back Michael Pittman rushed for 718 yards and one touchdown. Fullback Mike Alstott had 548 rushing yards as well as 35 receptions for 242 yards and 7 touchdowns. Wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Kennen McCardell scored 5 and 6 touchdowns, respectively.
The key to Tampa Bay’s success was their defense. The Raiders had shut down their opponents with total defense (252 yards per game), points allowed per game (12.3 points), and interceptions (31). With defensive players like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Simeon Rice leading the team they were a force to be reckoned with. The Tampa Bay defense racked up 9 touchdowns during the regular season and playoffs.
Super Bowl XXXVII was unique for several reasons. As mentioned, it would be the last Super Bowl played in the month of January. It was also the first Super Bowl where the top defensive and offensive teams would face each other.
Coach Jon Gruden had a chip on his shoulder with something to prove with his Tampa Bay team. His team faced the team that cut him loose the previous season and had built a losing team into one of the best in the league. The controversy with Gruden’s trade would cause the NFL to reconsider trades of coaches that involved draft choices.
On January 26, 2003, 67, 603 fans entered the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. Ticket prices saw a $50 increase from $400 to $450 from the previous year’s game. Those tickets would cost $636 today.
A point of controversy on game day was the disappearance of Raiders center Barret Robbins. He went missing the day before the game, and was later admitted to a local hospital on game day. He later went to the Betty Ford rehab clinic. He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had spent the day before in Mexico during a manic episode, believing the game had already been played.
The pre-game entertainment was titled “Santana and Friends”. The show included Carlos Santana being joined by Beyonce and Michelle Branch performing “Oye Como Va”, “The Game of Love”, and “Foo Foo”. Bonnie Raitt, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Micheal Buble also performed in a parking lot segment. Celine Dion then sang “God Bless America” followed by the Dixie Chicks singing “The Star Spangled Banner”.
The coin toss ceremony commemorated the 30th anniversary of the only undefeated team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Team members Don Shula, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Jim Langer, Nick Buoniconti, and Paul Warfield were on hand for the event. Tampa Bay would win the coin toss by calling tails.
Oakland looked to score an early touchdown with a Rod Woodsen interception during the 3rd play of the game. However, six plays later Simeon Rice sacked Rich Gannon forcing the Raiders to kick a field goal to lead the game 3-0. A Tampa Bay kick return appeared to end in a fumble and recover by Raider Eric Johnson. However, the call was overturned upon review and Tampa retained possession.
Brad Johnson began an impressive drive with passes to Joe Jurevicius and a rushing play to Micheal Pittman. Their momentum was stalled by the Raiders defense, and the Buccaneers kicked to tie the game 3-3. Rich Gannon would then throw an interception to Dexter Johnson who would take the ball mid-field to end the quarter.
Tampa Bay looked to capitalize on their good field position during the second quarter. After nine plays, kicker Martin Gramatica would have the Buccaneers the lead 6-3. Dexter Johnson was once again able to intercept the Raiders in their returning drive. Unfortunately his team was unable to capitalize on his second interception of the game and were forced to punt. Most of the remainder of the quarter was a back and forth between the teams as neither were able to get in scoring range.
This changed in the last three minutes of the quarter with the Tampa offense coming alive. Johnson completed a scoring drive with the help of Alstott and McCardell which gave the Buccaneers a commanding 20-3 lead going into halftime.
The Super Bowl XXXVII halftime show featured performances by Shania Twain, No Doubt, and Sting. Twain performed her hits “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “Up”. She was followed with No Doubt performing their hit song “Just a Girl.”
The third quarter saw a continued Tampa Bay domination of their opponents. After the Raiders were forced to punt during their opening drive, a McCardell touchdown increased the lead 27-3. Dwight Smith would then intercept a Gannon pass and return it 44-yards for a touchdown, widening the gap 34-3.
Oakland’s luck began to turn with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Porter. Unfortunately, the attempted two-point conversion failed, and the Raiders still trailed 34-9.
The touchdown appeared to renew the fire in the Oakland team. Their defense forced a punt in the Buccaneers' drive, which was deflected and linebacker Eric Johnson was able to score a 13-yard touchdown. Another failed two-point conversion closed the gap 34-15. A later 48-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice with six minutes left in the game at 34-21. The Raiders began to see some hope in winning the game with plenty of time remaining.
Tampa Bay enforced a strategy of running down the clock to protect their lead. On a third-down play, linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted a Gannon pass and returned it for a 44-yard touchdown to increase their lead 41-21 with 1:18 left to play. With the Raiders only playing for pride at this point, Dwight Smith intercepted a tipped pass and ran it back for a touchdown for the game-winning score of 48-21.
The Super Bowl XXXVII MVP award was given to Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson. Jackson’s defensive plays were key to his team’s success in winning the game.
He recorded 2 interceptions during the game. A deciding factor in his win of the award was the “fan vote” which was done via internet polls. Had it not been for this factor, Simeon Rice would have earned the award.
The game was presented by ABC with play-by-play and commentary by Al Michaels and John Madden. Melissa Stark and Lynn Swan provided additional commentary for the game. The game was watched by 88.8 million viewers with a Neilson rating of 40.7.
Several memorable commercials were broadcast during the Super Bowl. The game saw the first of the Reebok “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” commercials. Budweiser introduced their Zebra Referee ads as well. The overall favorite ad was voted FedEx’s Castaway commercial.
Going into the game, the Raiders were the odds-on favorite (4), with an over/under of 44. The Buccaneers demolished all expectations with their upset victory over the Raiders.
The champion Buccaneer’s roster received a $63,000 bonus while the Raiders were given $35,000 each.
Coach Gruden and his team went into this game with something to prove. Their upset victory over the Oakland Raiders would be their only Super Bowl win to date, and sadly were unable to achieve repeated success.
The game is also noted for the riots that took place in Oakland following the team’s loss. Twelve cars were set on fire and 400 police officers were called to restore order. In 2013, Tim Brown would accuse coach Callahan of throwing the game by not effectively utilizing his players. Callahan has denied these allegations, simply stating that Tampa Bay was the better team that day.