(Above) Derrick Brooks sewed up Super Bowl XXXVII
for Tampa Bay with this interception return for a TD.
(Below) In Super Bowl XLIV, Jonathan Vilma won his
duel with Peyton Manning, so the Saints prevailed.
decade. Yet what happened next is what anyone
associated with the Super Bowl XXXVII team
(or even that 1996 team) will tell you was the
franchise’s turning point.
“Warren and I were just laying on our beds
listening to that,” Brooks says. “When they
finished talking about us, we turned to each
other and — I’m not making this up or exaggerating—said in unison, ‘This has got to stop.’”
Flash forward to that January night in
2003 when the Bucs won it all, 48-21 over the
Raiders. Their defense was never better, with
head coach Jon Gruden tipping off his players
to what Oakland was going to run and Sapp,
Brooks, and safety John Lynch dominating the
league’s top-ranked offense.
The signature moment of the game, and
for the Tampa Bay franchise, came with 1: 18
remaining. With the Bucs holding a 13-point
lead but with late momentum on the Raiders’
side, Brooks stepped in front of a Rich Gannon
pass, intercepted it, and raced 44 yards for a TD.
“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 the ball, and he never saw me coming.
When I got into the end zone, it really hit me
emotionally. I looked up at the scoreboard and
realized that touchdown put the nail in the
coffin. The thought that ran through my head
was, ‘We’re actually going to win the Super
Bowl. Twenty-some years of losing is over.’”
JONATHAN VILMA (SAINTS)
SUPER BOWL XLIV
In the final analysis, last year’s Super Bowl may
have been the best chess match in history.
Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Peyton
Manning were playing the roles of kings while
head coaches Sean Payton and Jim Caldwell
moved pieces all around the board, making
surprise use of pawns like Thomas Morstead
on a daring onside kick.
But when you really look at the Saints’
31-17 victory over the offensively dynamic
Indianapolis Colts and how it transpired, there
was only one guy yelling “checkmate.”
It was New Orleans middle linebacker
Jonathan Vilma. He called out checks all night
at Sun Life Stadium while turning in one of
the most focused efforts in Super Bowl history.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFC South for ESPN.com.
He previously covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
for the Tampa Tribune and the Carolina Panthers
for the Charlotte Observer.