Buccaneers: Remembering Super Bowl XXXVII with Michael Pittman – Part I

Dec 27, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers pirate ship during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers pirate ship during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

I had the very fortunate opportunity to speak with former Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman about Super Bowl XXXVII as we approach the 15th anniversary.

Michael Pittman, as I’ve said before, was part of the key tripod of offensive acquisitions for the Buccaneers in the off-season leading up to the 2002 season. Along with Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, Pittman helped coach Jon Gruden shape the offense into a strong compliment to a defense that was already regarded as one of if not the best defense in football.

Pittman took some time out of his schedule to speak with me about that season as well as his sons (which will be a feature to look out for in the coming days) and the great memories – and not so great ones – he has of that championship run.

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You signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent in 2002. What was is about the Bucs that lured you to the team? 

"Well, it was mainly coach Gruden and his offense. Just, the way he used Charlie Garner while he was in Oakland and when I was in Arizona, I caught a lot of balls coming out of the backfield, that sort of thing, and once I found out coach Gruden was in Tampa and they was interested and I was a free agent, it was almost like a no brainer to go down there. I knew how Gruden liked using his backs out of the backfield and catching the ball was a big part of my game. That was the biggest reason I ended up going to Tampa."

Now, you had a former Cardinals teammate in Simeon Rice that had already joined the Bucs. Was he kind of instrumental in recruiting you? Did you talk to him much or was it more you saw the trade they made for Gruden and you were already sold?

"Well, once they made the trade for coach Gruden, I kinda already wanted to go there, to Tampa. But, at that time, I didn’t know if they had any interest. Once I found out they had interest through my agency, then I did, I contacted Simeon and stuff like that. He was probably the first one that got word that I might be headed to Tampa because I called him. Nobody else knew -except maybe some of the media that heard that I was coming into town for a visit or something like that – and, you know, Simeon gave me the rundown of how it was out there.He told me the facility was garbage at the time, because at that time they had those bungalows out there, but he said ‘Pitt, man the facility is garbage but you’ll love it out here. They got great fans.’ Because in Arizona, when I was there, the fan base wasn’t as big as it is now. So, Simeon ok’d everything about Tampa before I came out there and like I said, Jon Gruden was the biggest reason why I ended up going to Tampa so it all worked out. It all worked out. I had a good career over there."

Oh absolutely. It’s hard to say that winning a Super Bowl ring that it didn’t work out. 

"Yeah, well at first it was a very frustrating year. I mean, as you may know, going into camp that year I hurt my ankle severely. High ankle sprain the very first day of camp. Very first day. And it nagged me through the whole year. Y’know, I finally got back on the football field and I think it was – I don’t know, I can’t remember what game it was – I finally got back and I re-aggravated it, man.  It was just a very tough year because I planned on coming in to Tampa that year and make a big splash, you know? I was one of the top free agent running backs that year and it was just one of those things where I was running, but I really wasn’t being myself.The last game I finally just told the doctors to shoot up my ankle, you know, the Super Bowl, so I can’t feel it. It was just a game, you know, but a lot of people didn’t know that I was suffering through the ankle injury throughout the whole entire year. Sometimes I’d wear a boot cast, you know, not at practice but at home and stuff like that.It was very frustrating for me because I wanted to do a lot more but I was limited throughout the season because of my ankle, but like I said, once the Super Bowl came around I knew it was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I told the doctors to shoot up my ankle. They didn’t want to do it at first but it was almost like I demanded them to. And that’s the game – that’s like the only game that year where I can say I had a great game that year, so, it was fun. It was fun, but definitely a frustrating year for me leading up to the Super Bowl."

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And you had a hell of a game in the Super Bowl. It’s funny, I mentioned to my son that I was going to be interviewing you and he says, ‘the guy with the huge arms?!’ I said yeah, the guy with the huge arms. 

"*Laughs* Right?"

Yeah, he still watches that DVD of the Super Bowl, he just turned eight years old, and he watches that DVD at least once a week, so he’s familiar with you and Simeon and (Derrick) Brooks and (Warren) Sapp and the whole bunch. So, was there a time that you remember looking at this team – whether it was minicamp, training camp, a certain moment in a game – where you thought to yourself, ‘you know what? We really have a chance to go all the way.’ Is there a moment in time that really sticks out where you realized this is a championship caliber team?

"Yeah, I’d say when I first arrived there. During out first OTAs. I was used to the Arizona Cardinals at that time, and I’m not talking bad about the Arizona Cardinals because they’re a different franchise now, but back in the day with the Arizona Cardinals you’d get great players there and they’d give them the high tender or something like that and let them go. They really wasn’t trying to build a franchise to win a Super Bowl. I felt like when I saw Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, those guys, Ronde Barber, I said ‘man, this defense got some playmakers on it,’ so our strength was our defense, you know? We had a great offense, you know, but at the same time coach Gruden, he brought in a bunch of different players from different organizations so we had to gel as a unit, as an offense.What carried us all year was our defense. Our defense was very strong – I believe they were number one in the league – I knew from day one. Going against those guys every single week. There were so many captains on that defense, man, and just the way they practiced. The way they practiced, the way they hustled, the leadership they had man, I just knew from the get-go that we had a really good chance of going far with this team."

And I’ve referred to you, Keenan McCardell, and Joe Jurevicius – whether it was on the podcast or in print – as the key trio of acquisitions that Jon Gruden brought in. There’s that mantra of some Bucs fans of ‘well, Gruden won with Dungy’s team,’ and that wasn’t really the case because key guys like yourself and Joe and Keenan took the offense to a different level that we hadn’t really seen in Tampa before. Was it the acquisition of the players combined with Gruden’s play calling style or his scheme? What made the three of you in addition to guys that were already here, what made the offense so special?

"Well, I heard the same thing that you said, that Gruden won the Super Bowl with Dungy’s team and I don’t necessarily feel like that’s fair to Gruden. Like you said, Gruden brought in me, he brought in Keenan, he brought in Joe Juervicius and a lot of us made big plays in that game. I believe Keenan had two touchdowns, I had over 100 some-odd yards rushing, and Joe made a couple big catches in the game. And I’m not saying without us three they would’ve won, I don’t know, but Gruden brought us in on the opposite side of the ball, y’know?You could probably say maybe that was Dungy’s defense because coach Kiffin coached with coach Dungy, but coach Gruden as head coach he won us that Super Bowl, he got us to that Super Bowl and you could say it was his play calling. I feel that coach Gruden – he’s an offensive genius. He studies the game. I mean, he’ll break out film from early 1980’s and stuff like that and he can analyze and break down the film like he just watched it last night. He memorized so much stuff, man, and it’s like crazy. He’s just super intelligent when it comes to knowing the game of football. He just, on the offensive side of the ball, he just put us in the right positions to succeed.We had so many audibles that game. At the same time, we knew what the Raiders were gonna call because it was the same offense. So his play calling was premiere at that time, during the Super Bowl. We put up I think 28 points on offense and the rest of the points the defense scored. He just called a great game that game."

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What was it like preparing for that game? There’s, like you said you kind of knew the offense because it was the same offense Gruden was running with you guys that he did run in Oakland. I mean, was there kind of a sense that this was going to be a little bit easier of a game than many though? You know, the number one offense versus the number one defense – you had Gannon and Rice and Tim Brown and Garner and just this explosive offense that, is a little more common nowadays, but back then it wasn’t. So in the preparation and the walkthroughs and everything, did you guys get the sense that you already had it in the bag because you knew every trick Oakland could bring?

"No, not really. I mean, when it comes down to preparing for a game, we know the other team is going to bring their max effort and, you know, it was the Super Bowl. So, we didn’t think Oakland was gonna go out there and just lay an egg, no. Absolutely not. We prepared and prepared hard and I know Oakland did the same thing. At the same time, we was kinda shocked as a team because they didn’t change their audibles. Jon Gruden, you know, he came from Oakland’s offense the previous year.I saw Rich Gannon out there call a smoke signal to Jerry Rice – a smoke is a quick slant – and at the same time our defense knew that. We prepared our defense on hand signals so we was kinda shocked that their offense didn’t change their hand signals, their audibles, which is why you saw we had a lot of interceptions that game.I remember watching the Super Bowl DVD where John turned to Dexter (Jackson) and say ‘watch the slug o-seam’. Rich Gannon looked out to Jerry and Tim and gave them the slug o-seam audible and they was able to jump on it, they was able to see it. I’m not saying, like I said we didn’t think we had it in the bag, we really thought Oakland would change their audibles maybe to help themselves out, like we did – we changed our audibles because coach Gruden thought Oakland would recognize them since they had the same ones. We went out there and dominated on both sides of the football and the rest is history."

Yeah, I still get goosebumps watching that part of the DVD where John Lynch is going crazy and he’s high-fiving Monte saying ‘I called it, Monte! I called it! I told him right before the snap,’ 

"Exactly. That’s exactly what it was, man. It was a hand signal. Rich looked out to Jerry or one of the receivers – I can’t remember who was out there it was such a long time ago – and we recognized it on the sidelines and obviously John Lynch recognized it from the film and he alerted Dexter, put Dexter in the right position to make the interception. We were on top of our game but we never, we never felt like we had in the bag until maybe about 30 seconds left in the game and, you know, we’re celebrating on the sideline.But we prepared hard, we wanted it. You say you want it worse than anybody and we went out there and we got it."

Next: DeSean Jackson Pays Tribute To Late Father

Tomorrow we will feature part two of the interview where Michael Pittman talks more about the Buccaneers Super Bowl victory as well as reminiscing on the 2002 season, Buccaneers Ring of Honor, and more.