IN THE EARLY moments of the second quarter, with Tampa Bay holding a 6-3 lead, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon had already been intercepted once but still didn't have the ghost of an idea of what horrors awaited him. As he took the snap, he looked long and hard to his left, where wideout Jerry Rice was aligned. He pumped once.
"Sluggo seam! Sluggo seam!" Buccaneers linebacker coach Joe Barry and defensive backfield coach Mike Tomlin yelled in unison from the sideline. Their warning was unnecessary, because the same shout was going up in the Tampa Bay secondary. "Sluggo seam!"
"[Sluggo seam is] a slant-and-go to [Raiders wideout] Jerry Porter after Gannon has faked the slant on the other side," Tomlin explained later. "It's generated more big plays for them than anything else."
"Before the play, I had Porter in the slot," Bucs strong safety John Lynch added, "but then I saw what was coming, and I yelled to Dexter Jackson, our free safety, 'Cover me, Dex! It's Sluggo seam!' "
And after his pump fake to Rice, Gannon did throw to Porter, and Jackson made his second interception of the day and returned it 25 yards. Gannon would be intercepted three more times in the second half, with Tampa Bay returning all three for touchdowns.
"We changed our defenses on the go and stayed a jump ahead of them," said cornerback Ronde Barber. "We'd go from a two-deep zone to a three-deep before the snap. We'd mix in some man-to-man, some zone. We'd make double calls, waiting for Gannon's call [at the line] before we called our second defense. A few years ago, maybe we couldn't have done that. You have to be smart—and experienced."
"We do the same things over and over in practice," said Rod Marinelli, the defensive line coach. "Our coordinator, Monte Kiffin, always says, 'The issue is us. The opponent is a gray area.' We had a pass rush today. You rush and cover, break on the ball, get your pad level right and don't miss tackles. It's football at its finest. It's the way we are."
As expected there was talk in the Bucs' locker room about how their defense ranks against the greatest of all time. There have been better units—the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-1970s, for instance—but this was the best prepared that a team has ever been for a top-ranked offense with the stakes so high. The Bucs were in Gannon's head. They knew as much about him and his tendencies as his teammates did. "This goes back to the spring," Kiffin said. "In practice we were going against Jon Gruden's offense, which was a mirror of the Raiders' offense. So you could say we were getting ready for this game for almost nine months. Repetition, repetition, repetition—until you've got it down perfectly."
An hour after the game Kiffin, who had enjoyed his finest moment as a coordinator, studied the stat sheet. "The Raiders threw 11 picks in 18 games, then they throw five today," he said. "And we get five sacks and hold them to 19 yards rushing. Kind of unbelievable, isn't it?
"It starts with pressure, and we were getting it today," he added. "It ends with speed, the kind of speed someone can't see by looking at tapes of us. Our finest game ever? Yeah, I guess so, this and the NFC Championship against the Rams three years ago. Except that we lost that one. Now we're the Super Bowl champs."