SAN DIEGO - Jon Gruden bobbed and weaved all week, dodging questions about his Oakland Raiders past and the high tariff the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid to get him.
Last night, he finally answered Al Davis and the skeptics. Not in words, but in results.
Yes, he was worth it.
Worth every penny of the $8 million, worth each of the four draft picks the Bucs surrendered last February to Davis, Oakland's managing general partner.
Gruden's underdog Bucs stung the Raiders for 34 straight points, then withstood a late Oakland charge to win Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21, at Qualcomm Stadium.
It was part validation, part vindication for the Bucs, who had been ridiculed as "paper champions" this season - a team that couldn't take the final step to a championship.
"There was a belief we could be champions," safety John Lynch said of the feeling going into this season. "Gruden came in and clearly communicated from the first day that we were about winning a world championship, and we never wavered from that."
Tampa Bay's swarming defense more than lived up to its reputation. The Bucs easily won the glitzy matchup of No. 1 defense against No. 1 offense, and staked a claim to their place in history in the process.
They intercepted Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon a Super Bowl-record five times and returned three of them for touchdowns, two by nickel back Dwight Smith.
"When you win a championship, it solidifies it," said Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "Right now we're in the same class [with the NFL's great defenses]; we won a championship."
How good was the Tampa Bay defense?
It limited the Raiders to 19 yards rushing, 269 total yards and just 11 first downs.
The Bucs (15-4) seemingly anticipated the Raiders' every move in the first half, when Oakland managed a paltry 62 yards in total offense, second lowest for an opening half in Super Bowl history.
They took playmaking running back Charlie Garner out of the equation, took away Gannon's pass protection and then took away his passing lanes.
"We have a great defense in Tampa," said Gruden, the youngest coach (39) to win a Super Bowl. "Not good, great. We rush the passer, we blitz, we disguise the looks, and that's what happened today."
The Bucs turned Gannon, the league's most prolific passer this season, into a harried, mistake-prone quarterback.
"We were just absolutely terrible," said Gannon, who hardly looked like the NFL's Most Valuable Player. "It was a nightmarish performance."
The Raiders' passing offense played right into the Bucs' hands. "Against the forward pass, they [Tampa defensive backs] say bring it on, because that's what they like to defend," Gruden said.
Gannon completed 24 of 44 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but his five interceptions and five sacks were more indicative of his game.
"It's just a matter of if you throw that many passes, we're going to get in the end zone on you," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "They came out one-dimensional. They didn't really try to run. That team put five defensive backs on the field for us, and that's where we make all the plays."
Smith's interception returns covered 44 and 50 yards, but two first-half interceptions by safety Dexter Jackson earned him the Most Valuable Player award. Jackson was announced just as Smith raced into the end zone with his second touchdown of the night with two seconds left, a circumstance that likely would have changed the ballot.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year this season, also cashed in an interception for a touchdown. His 44-yarder came with just 1:18 to play.
It wasn't just the defense that delivered for Tampa Bay, though.
Quarterback Brad Johnson overcame an early interception for the third straight playoff game to throw for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 18 of 34 passes.
"It's always one play at a time and let it go," Johnson said. "We went through this against San Francisco and in Philadelphia [in previous postseason wins]. We didn't panic, and we got better as the game went on."
Johnson's first-possession interception - he was hit by Regan Upshaw and his pass fluttered to cornerback Charles Woodson - led to an Oakland field goal and 3-0 lead.
The Bucs responded by scoring the next 34 points. Martin Gramatica field goals of 31 and 43 yards put Tampa in front 6-3. Then Johnson's short passes began to slice through Oakland's soft secondary, and eventually the Bucs found a running game as well.
Michael Pittman, a free-agent addition this season from Arizona, rushed for 124 yards.
The Bucs erupted for 17 points in the second quarter to take control. Field position turned with Jackson's second interception and a 25-yard punt return by Karl Williams to the Oakland 27.
Mike Alstott's 2-yard touchdown plunge made it 13-3 and a 77-yard drive to close the half made it 20-3. After hitting Joe Jurevicius for a 33-yard gain, Johnson found Keenan McCardell for a 5-yard scoring pass over the middle.