No matter which two teams make it to the big one the game is always a huge sporting occasion and as the days count down to the event the excitement and anticipation grows.

The NFL has never been shy about putting on a show. Every year the Super Bowl is celebrated in as flamboyant a manner as possible, with the half time show attracting so much attention and coverage some would be forgiven for overlooking the fact the stage show is taking place in the middle of a Football game.

Even by Super Bowl standards this year is special, because it is Super Bowl 50.  A great milestone that gives the NFL even more of a reason to increase the levels of publicity and the number of previews.  The game should be a really good one – the Denver Broncos play the Carolina Panthers.  They are both strong teams and it’s a classic match-up of old-school vs new-school at Quarterback with Peyton Manning going against Cam Newton.

With this season’s Super Bowl being the 50th, all kinds of pages and articles have been written detailing and listing previous Bowl games: ‘The Greatest Super Bowls Ever’…‘The Greatest Super Bowl Moments Ever’…‘The Biggest Super Bowl Upsets In History’.  In fact it feels like these sorts of things are produced every year and they do have real nostalgia value and give us the opportunity to look back at some brilliant games.

I realised I wanted to do something similar, but I couldn’t just list my choices for the best Super Bowls and it would be too easy to write about my favourite (that would be Super Bowl XLVIII a couple of years ago – GO HAWKS!).  I decided to use this blog entry to recall my first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl XXXVII between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders on 26th January 2003.

I have never been to a Super Bowl. When I say first, this was the first time I sat and watched one from beginning to end and the following notes about the game itself will come from memory, with a little help from some highlight film as a refresh. I was already a fan of the NFL as I had been able to watch the odd game or highlights show during the 90s. My understanding of the rules, teams, players and Champions wasn’t bad and I had bought the video game, so I was into the sport.  I remember in 2002 reading the New England Patriots had won the Super Bowl and a year before that reading the Baltimore Ravens were Champs, but this was my first opportunity to sit at home and watch the game in full.  Perhaps I could as this was the year it was back on terrestrial TV.

Prior to Super Bowl XXXVII I had kept up with the season and knew the Buccaneers and Raiders had made it through the playoffs, I thought it sounded cool that the two names were associated with pirates. Soon there was my first taste of how elaborately NFL pundits discuss the two sides pre-game.  The Raiders appeared to be favourites, mainly due to their strong offense as the TV show focused on veteran quarterback Rich Gannon and legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice.  They would be tested though as the Buccaneers boasted a fierce defense.

By kickoff time I was caught up in the atmosphere. Both teams looked like they meant business.  John Madden was commentating.  It felt special.  This was sure to be a good game and as I was a neutral fan I was going to enjoy the whole thing.

The Raiders scored within the first five minutes, albeit just a field goal, to go ahead.  But soon that Tampa Bay defense took over the game – in a big way – by getting to Rich Gannon and upsetting his rhythm, they stopped Oakland from scoring any more points in the entire first half while their offense put points on the board.  During the third quarter Gannon threw an interception, by this point his third of the game, which was returned for a touchdown and the lead had grown to 34-3.

Throughout the fourth quarter the Raiders mounted a comeback, reducing the deficit to 34-21 and they had the ball again.  This had become tense.  Gannon stepped back to throw and linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted the pass and returned it for a Tampa Bay touchdown.  The score was now 41-21, noticing there was just over a minute left I realised the game was definitely over.  As the clock ran down Oakland chose to keep passing, at which point came another interception returned for another touchdown.  It was definitely, definitely over!  Rich Gannon finished the match with five interceptions, three were returned for touchdowns. At the time I didn’t know just how bad that was, especially in a Super Bowl.

The final score was 48-21 to the Buccaneers.  That was a great team.  And it was a great game that helped to increase my interest in the NFL.  Not just the way the game is played; I also enjoyed the analysis from the commentators showing HOW the game is played using different systems and strategies.  I understood just how much goes into each contest.

Reading and viewing archives that document Super Bowls from the past is really cool, there are always stories that surround players and teams with each Super Bowl developing its own in-depth script and unique narrative. Super Bowl XXXVII was my first and I haven’t missed one since.  There have been some great Championship games in that time and it is nearly time for another.  Bring on Super Bowl 50.

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