CZAR: Weekend flashback

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Now, if the game is only half as good as the hype.

Super Bowl XXXVII, alias the Gruden Bowl, has the evil empire against one of the NFL's preferred nations, the Tampa Bay . Al Davis and his work in one of the league's worst stadiums while the Bucs generate more income from luxury suites than Oakland does in ticket sales. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue helped campaign for beautiful Raymond James Stadium while Davis obviously made a mistake in leaving Los Angeles for broken financial promises in Oakland.

Of course, Davis loves a good lawsuit as well as a good game. But in San Diego this Sunday, Davis is shooting for his fourth Super Bowl against a team coached by his former "boy coach," Jon Gruden. Davis had every intention last year of trying to extend Gruden's contract, but the Little General wanted out of Oakland because he thought Al cared more about lawsuits than personnel.

Davis proved him wrong this year. Rookie linebacker has been sensational for the released . Cornerback would have been a shoo-in on the all-rookie team if he hadn't broken his wrist. And tight end scored in the AFC Championship Game and is a solid underneath receiver in the ' grand scheme.

Granted, many were glad to see Gruden go because they tired of his "Chucky" attitude and his confrontational coaching style. didn't need to be motivated, plus he discovered later that Gruden's friendship was one-sided and phony.

"This is really unbelievable," center Barrett Robbins said of the season's final matchup. "I'm happy for him because I love Jon. But I'm happy for Cally (coach Bill Callahan), too. I'm happy for both organizations. Let's just play this one for the pirate ship."

McNABB'S BAD DAY: Give the NFL's richest player credit. admitted he stunk up The Vet on Sunday. In three quarters, he managed only 92 passing yards. He finished with a game quarterback rating of 58.5

"It all starts with the quarterback," McNabb said. "I had the opportunity to make plays and I didn't make them."

Instead, a lot of McNabb's errant throws seemed directed at groundhogs. The Vet has been known for cats and rats, but McNabb's trajectory on many throws were aimed into that awful turf.

Coach Andy Reid had a bad game and attempted to deflect the criticism from his quarterback. "This loss wasn't Donovan's loss," Reid said. "Blame me, I could have put him in better situations. I could have helped him out a lot more than I did."

But championship games are usually decided by quarterback play. McNabb is now 0-2 in championship games. The Bucs' played better and played smarter. Sometimes it's as simple as that.

GAME PLANS: The league excused Jon Gruden from last night's press conferences because he needed the time to work on his Super Bowl game plan. The better hope it isn't as delicious as it was on Sunday against the .

Gruden opted for mass protection by his offensive line and the strategy convinced defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to shelve his blitz packages. Johnson only called three blitzes on Tampa Bay's first 37 plays from scrimmage. When he altered strategy, the Bucs were in control of the game. Regardless, a team has to do what he does best and Johnson made a mistake dropping into coverage and abandoning the blitz in the first half.

Gruden was also able to expose MLB in pass coverage. Out of the cluster formation, beat Gardner on a crossing route and turned a short gain into a back-breaker. The 71-yard gain set up 's go-ahead touchdown run. Running back got away from Gardner for a 31-yard catch, a big run after the catch that set up the Bucs' second touchdown.

It was the first time in months that the looked like they really missed MLB . You can bet that the will be looking to upgrade this position next season. is a solid run-stuffer at 315 pounds, but he's a liability in coverage.

SUNDAY HIGHLIGHTS: I know Oakland's dropped a sure touchdown, but otherwise he was sensational against the . He made at least two spectacular catches and his speed fools many a secondary, especially when they are focused on the slower veterans, and .

Tennessee quarterback is more than simply a warrior, he's a damn good quarterback. He proved this season, especially in the last six weeks, that he's a top five quarterback in this league. , , Mike Vick, McNair and a healthy . Any coach would swap their starter for one of those five.

I voted for Bucs cornerback on my Associated Press all-pro team. A lot of writers ignored him because he only had two interceptions this season. What that statistic means is that teams feared him and attacked , the other cornerback. In the two playoff games, Barber has had two big interceptions. He's real smart and tough and made everyone in Tampa forget about .

Early in the season, Gannon was killing the by refusing to scramble out of trouble and even run for a first down. Well, he's changed his tune and suddenly he looks like the Gannon of yesteryear; he sure did when he swept to the flag for a critical second-half touchdown against the .

NOTES & THOUGHTS: When Cris Collinsworth gets the scoop on the ' offense next season, remember that one of his best friends is the team's new quarterback coach, Turk Schonert. ... John York, the ' boss, says that GM Terry Donahue will interview some African-Americans for their head coaching opening. Romeo Crennel (Patriots) and Ted Cottrell (Jets) are two defensive coordinators that should be considered. ... personnel man Phil Savage believed $500,000 was below his stature, but he should have remembered that he's only 37 and that working with Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville might have been a great stepping stone in his career. Money isn't the only method in rating a man's worth. ... Attention Hall of Fame voters: Terry Bradshaw will swear on his Bible that the toughest quarterback he ever competed against was Kenny Stabler. "Kenny was a great player and shouldn't be judged simply because he won only one Super Bowl," Bradshaw said. "Heck, we just had a better overall team than he did much of the 1970s."

Tagged: Packers, Titans, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Jets, Eagles, Buccaneers, Redskins, Ravens, Steelers, Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Kurt Warner, Barry Gardner, Donovan McNabb, Jeremiah Trotter, Joey Porter, Donnie Abraham, Phillip Buchanon, Doug Jolley, Napoleon Harris

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