Thanks to my good friend Ira Kaufman, who likes to be called “The Coney Island Kid’’ when he’s on the basketball court, I was just reminded that today is a very significant anniversary in NFC South history.
It is the eighth anniversary of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory against Oakland in San Diego. Yes, on Jan. 26, 2003, the Buccaneers won their only Super Bowl title. That 2002 season was the first of the current division alignment and the first year of existence for the NFC South.
So, obviously, the Bucs were the first official NFC South team to win a Super Bowl. But none of the other NFC South franchises had a Super Bowl title in their history at that point. Carolina and Atlanta still don’t and New Orleans won its first Super Bowl last year.
I’ve written a story that will appear in this year’s official Super Bowl game program and part of my research included an interview with Derrick Brooks. The retired Tampa Bay linebacker was in his absolute prime during that Super Bowl season. Brooks was the face of the Buccaneers and, although Drew Brees keeps closing the gap, I still say Brooks is the best player in the history of the NFC South.
I’ll share an anecdote from the Brooks interview here because it was the signature moment of his career and perhaps the signature moment of Tampa Bay’s history.
With one minute and 18 seconds remaining, the Bucs held a 13-point lead, but the Raiders still had a shot at a comeback behind quarterback Rich Gannon. That’s when Brooks stepped up and made history.
“They came out in a third-and-long formation and I recognized exactly what they were going to do,” Brooks says. “I read Rich’s eyes, broke on ball, and he never saw me coming. When I got into the end zone, that’s when it really hit me emotionally. I looked up at the scoreboard and realized that touchdown put the nail in the coffin. I think the thought that ran through my head was, “We’re actually going to win the Super Bowl. Twenty-some years of losing is over".''
Brooks returned the interception 44 yards for a touchdown, in a scene that’s still fresh in the mind of any Tampa Bay fan. That allowed the Bucs to go on to a 48-21 victory.