We’re back on NFL Thursday with our second miniseries on Super Bowl MVPs (15-for-36) and Rookies of the Year (26-for-45). Clearly, the voters have done better with first-year players than they have done with the Big Game stars. Perhaps it’s the challenge of thinking in the moment? Entirely possible, as hindsight gives us a lot of benefits when it comes to retroactive analyses!
Super Bowl XXXVII MVP: Dexter Jackson, S, Tampa Bay (original); Michael Pittman, RB, Tampa Bay (revised)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first Super Bowl with a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders, 48-21. Already leading 27-3 in the third quarter, the Bucs added three (!) interception returns for touchdowns to get to the final score, while the Raiders added some garbage-time scoring via passing like it was going out of fashion. This will be a hard challenge here to identify an MVP.
Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson won the vote at the time, with two INTs (neither returned for scores), 1 PD, and 1 overall tackle. That seems underwhelming to us, but the timing of his two INTs is key here: the first when it was a tie game (3-3) and the second when the Bucs were up 6-3. So, on consecutive possessions early in the game, Jackson came up big and helped Tampa Bay establish itself bigtime.
The second Jackson INT helped the Bucs to a 13-3 lead, which they extended to 20-3 right before halftime. So, his plays had impact. But … defensive end Simeon Rice had 5 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Overall, there were just too many defensive players having an impact to single out Jackson: Oakland gained just 19 yards on 11 carries, for example. It was a team defensive effort.
Offensively, Tampa was led by running back Michael Pittman (29 carries, 124 yards) and wide receiver Keenan McCardell (two TD receptions). But those were McCardell’s only 2 catches, one right before halftime and one in the third quarter—when the game was already in hand. We like Pittman’s effort as being the most consistent in moving the chains on offense.
Interesting note: The final INT TD return, and the second by defensive back Dwight Smith, came with 2 seconds left in the game, after Jackson had already been named the MVP. Go figure. Maybe Smith would have won the vote if it had been taken after the game officially over. Either way, we see Pittman as the real MVP—and a very unsung hero—for the Bucs in this game.
2002 NFL ROTY: Clinton Portis, RB, Denver & Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina (original); Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis (revised)
The Denver Broncos (9-7) and the Carolina Panthers (7-9) both missed the playoffs, so we have to look for more candidates here. Are there any? Yes, two, exactly: Indianapolis Colts DE Dwight Freeney (20 TFLs, 13 sacks, and 9 FFs) and New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey (74 receptions for 894 yards and 2 TDs). Both helped their respective teams reach the postseason.
We’re not sure why Freeney didn’t win the vote, in truth, as he had more sacks and tackles than Peppers did—and he led the league in forced fumbles, too. Throw in the postseason element, and we’re giving this award to Freeney, even though Shockey obviously had a solid season, too.