I feel for the fans of the Carolina Panthers. They watched their team lose on the greatest stage in all of sports. Hopefully they can cope with their teams loss much better than I have. I am still coming to grips with my Oakland Raiders losing Super Bowl XXXVII. Maybe putting my experience on paper will help me finally overcome my grief…maybe not. What follows is my personal reflection on losing the big game.One year and six months later and I am still tormented by a simple football game. It may have been the biggest spectacle in all of sports, but on the scale of life it is only a game. Then why do I agonize over something so trivial? Why do I continue to let the hostility of one football game fester inside me? The simple answer; because I am a fan. Not just any fan, but a true denizen of the Raider Nation. I witnessed the carnage known as Super Bowl XXXVII first hand and have yet to fully recover.
A little background before we jump to that fateful day in January of 2003. The Oakland Raiders had just clinched their third straight AFC West title and had earned home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Anything less than a Super Bowl appearance would have been a disappointment. The Raiders disappointed no one as they blitzed the New York Jets 30-10 in the divisional playoff and out scored the Tennessee Titans 41-24 for the AFC crown.
I witnessed the Oakland victories first hand as a valued season ticket holder. What could beat the thrill of watching my favorite team hoisting the Lamar Hunt Trophy and celebrating their coronation as AFC champions? The only scenario that could trump this, would be watching my boys from Oakland winning the whole damn thing a week later. The Super Bowl just happened to be in San Diego this year, but my hopes of attending were minimal. Throwing down $1,500 for a ticket on E-Bay wasn’t exactly pocket change for me.
I had planned on watching the game in Oakland with my Raider brethren when destiny took over. My good friend, who attended all the games with me, had just won the lottery for season ticket holders. Two tickets to the big dance in San Diego were his. A mere nine hour drive down the Pacific coastline was all that stood between us and our date with Raider destiny. Our incredible luck had landed us a first hand view to a possible Super Bowl celebration for our beloved team. Any thoughts of a Raider loss were pushed to the back of our minds, the entire notion was unfathomable.
The headlines leading up to the big game on January 26, 2003 were plentiful. The opponent was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who owned the leagues best defense. Oakland just happened to operate the NFL’s most lethal offense. It would be Oakland’s superior offensive live pitted against the dominating D-line for the Bucs. The NFL MVP, quarterback Rich Gannon, would be up against defensive studs Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch. To top it all off, the Bucs coach Jon Gruden had been Oakland’s coach only one year earlier before being traded to Tampa for multiple draft picks and a barrel of money.
When head coach Jon Gruden was hired by the Raiders in 1998, he instantly won the fans over with his intensity and sideline demeanor. Oakland was in desperate need of a winner and Gruden helped lead the Raiders back to prominence. However not all was perfect between Gruden and owner Al Davis. Contract negotiations stalled and Gruden wanted out from the infamous owner’s shadow. Davis obliged and shipped him off to Tampa for a pirate’s ransom.
Now it’s one year later and both men find their teams in the ultimate game against each other. The media played the meeting up as a showdown between the pupil and student, a battle between good versus evil. The Raiders were the evil empire, led by their own Darth Vader in Davis, ready to take revenge on their prodigal son Jon Gruden. Gruden fit the Luke Skywalker role perfectly with his feathery blond hair and baby blues. In my mind, Gruden had abandoned his former players on the Raiders and I wanted nothing more than to see his new team taught a lesson in defeat. Maybe I should have guessed the outcome of the game, having seen Return of the Jedi enough times.
The stage was set for the showdown between the Raiders and Buccaneers and I would be there to witness it all. Never in my life did I expect to attend a Super Bowl and now here I was standing outside Qualcomm Stadium getting primed for the big dance. Qualcomm isn’t the most picturesque of football arenas; it’s basically a huge, concrete bowl, but the game could have been played in a dirt field and I would have been ecstatic.
We milled around the parking lot for a while just soaking in the entire Super Bowl experience. Concession stands of all kinds littered the parking lot and swarms of black and orange jerseys were everywhere. Looking to get inside the stadium well before kickoff, we battled thorough the many security checkpoints until we reached the main gate. Once we were inside, the reality of being at a game of this magnitude slapped us in the face.
This wasn’t just a football game. This was the Super Bowl, which is now on par with any national holiday in our country. We saw Earvin “Magic” Johnson ordering a hot dog before disappearing behind a side door. Former New York Giants coach Jim Fassell was chatting on his cell phone. The Dixie Chicks were signing autographs for a throng of people near the sidelines. An impromptu meeting between Al Davis and Jerry Jones took place near the elevators with hoards of fans trying to snap pictures of the famous owners. We headed to our seats with nervous anticipation. The day was perfect and would be forever…if the Raiders could pull out the victory.
We took our seats among the sea of black representing the Raider Nation. Directly across the stadium from us was a similar sight, only they were clad in Buccaneer orange. The time was now to decide the NFL champion of the 2002 season. I was a bundle of nervous energy at the games start. If only we could have strapped on some pads and gone at it with the opposing crowd opposite of us. I was that ready.
On Tampa Bay’s first offensive possession the Raiders defense made the first play. Bucs QB Brad Johnson felt the Raider’s pass rush and tossed a wounded duck of a ball towards the sideline. The ball failed to land out of bounce and instead was picked off by CB Charles Woodson, who returned the ball into Tampa territory. Groups of black throughout the stadium exploded into a smattering of hugs and high fives. I screeched a shout out to my man CWood and nearly ruptured my vocal cords. The Raiders had struck first and I was elated.
How could I know this would be the high point of the entire game for the Raiders? What followed after that initial interception was an onslaught I could never had imagined. Oakland managed a field goal after the Tampa turnover and enjoyed their only lead of the day. The rest of the half was myriad of errors on Oakland’s part and a suffocating defensive performance by Tampa. When the Bucs scored to make it 20-3 going into the half, part of me knew the game had just been put out of reach.
There I was at halftime of the Super Bowl, running every possible scenario through my head in search of a Raider comeback. Coming back from seventeen down is nowhere near impossible, but against this Tampa defense? In the Super Bowl no less? I was not confident, but I had to convince myself that some hope remained. The beginning of the second half was only a continuation of the nightmare first half.
The Raiders offense started by going three and out once again. Not a good sign. The Buccaneers then went on a ten minute touchdown drive that sucked a bit of hope out of me with every yard gained. This was really no good. Then it absolutely came crashing down when CB Dwight Smith intercepted a Rich Gannon pass and scored to make it 34-3 with only minutes left in the third quarter. Please gut me and take me out of my misery.
I recall sitting in the stands with my head in my hands reeling in disbelief. Images of the Buffalo Bills 51-3 drubbing in the 1990 AFC Championship game bounced around in my head. Is this really happening? Have my Raiders joined the likes of the 2000 New York Giants and 1985 New England Patriots as Super Bowl teams utterly dismantled by superb defenses? The answer flashed before me on the scoreboard, 34-3.
I watched the rest of the game in a haze. The Raiders put together a few touchdowns and actually made it 34-21 at one point. Part of me was rejuvenated as the Raiders continued the battle back, but deep down I knew it would take an extreme miracle for Oakland to finish regulation with more points on the scoreboard. When Derrick Brooks intercepted Gannon once again and sped towards the end zone, I didn’t even see him cross the goal line. Once he picked off that ball, I sat up and proceeded towards the exit. My teams hope for championship glory had been crushed by a defense for the ages.
The unending line of black jerseys exiting the stadium was a sight to behold. It was a funeral procession marching away from the death of everyone’s championship dreams. There was no Super Bowl happiness for the group exiting the stadium now. Only minds filled with what went wrong and could have been done to prevent it. As I walked away from the stadium I took one last glance at the screen showing the Buccaneer’s championship celebration. Coach Gruden held the Lombardi Trophy high in the air as his new team gathered all around in non stop celebration. The force is strong within that one.
It has been a year and a half since that January day and still the pain is not fully gone. In 2003 Oakland provided no Super Bowl redemption as they suffered through a 4-12 season. I look forward to the 2004 season not only for the pure football, but also to put that Super Bowl loss even further behind me. All fans know that winning is the only thing that can help ease the pain of crucial losses. For this particular fan it is going to take plenty of w’s to forget that dreadful day in January.
2 replies on “My Super Bowl Catharsis”
You wrote well enough, but you didn’t say anything I could debate or laugh at.
This seems a piece that will appeal mainly to other Raiders weenies. I’m not saying that’s wrong or bad. I’m only saying why it didn’t work for me.
Raider weenie…ouch Yes it probably only appeals to fans of the Raiders since it is basically me crying over the Super Bowl loss. I usually try to inject some humor in my articles, but there really was nothing funny about it, to me anyway. This was just a little something for the Raider Nation. Just Win Baby!