SAN DIEGO (Jan. 26, 2003) -- In Super Bowl XXX, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown stepped into the nation's consciousness and in front of two Neil O'Donnell passes to earn the game's Most Valuable Player award.
America, say hello to Dexter Jackson, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXVII. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ' free safety won the award after intercepting two Rich Gannon passes in the first half -- a Super Bowl record -- as the Buccaneers rolled to a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Jackson became just the third defensive back in Super Bowl history to win the MVP award, joining Brown and former Miami Dolphins safety Jake Scott (in Super Bowl VII). Ironically, coach Don Shula and several members of that 1972 Dolphins team participated in Sunday's ceremonial coin toss.
But that was only one premonition.
Jackson himself predicted that he had a good chance to be the game's MVP during the seemingly endless pregame buildup.
"My friends were watching ESPN and they were picking their MVPs," Jackson said. "I hadn't even played the game yet, and I figured that I could be the difference. I told somebody that I was going to be the Most Valuable Player.
"We knew that Gannon loves to throw the football, so we knew there was a chance to make some big plays."
Nickel back Dwight Smith had two interception returns for touchdowns and the defensive line continually harassed Gannon, who finished the game with a 48.9 passer rating. Linebacker Derrick Brooks also had an interception return for a touchdown, so the decision was a tough one for the voters.
"As far as I am concerned, the whole defense could have won the award," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said.
The interception returns by Smith and Brooks were merely icing on the cake for a game that quickly turned into a blowout, despite a desperate comeback attempt by the Raiders. It was Jackson's interceptions that really turned the game in the Buccaneers' favor.
"That was big," Smith said. "Any time you can make Rich Gannon make a mistake, it's big. Dexter's first two interceptions really helped the momentum. My interception just sealed the deal. That's usually what our defense does. We make the plays that seal the game."
Jackson's first interception came late in the first quarter. Darrien Gordon had given the Raiders good field position near midfield with a 17-yard punt return. On third down, Jackson intercepted Gannon's pass for tight end Doug Jolley, who seemed out of position on the play.
"They had three receivers on one side and one on the backside," Jackson said. "They tried to flood one side and get [Jolley] matched up with our safety. They were trying to get John Lynch , so I went over and picked it off."
Martin Gramatica's 43-yard field goal culminated the nine-play drive, which put the Buccaneers on top 6-3 -- a lead they would never relinquish.
On the very next possession, Jackson victimized Gannon again, and the Buccaneers roared to a 20-3 halftime lead. For Jackson, being named Most Valuable Player was validation for the secondary.
"We had the No. 1 defense and nobody gave us any credit," Jackson said. "We felt like we were one of the strong points of the team. We just didn't get any attention.
"I look at it like an expensive car. You appreciate the shiny outside exterior of the car, but you don't really appreciate the underneath stuff, like the spark plugs. I feel like I'm one of the spark plugs on this team."
When Jackson first came to the Buccaneers, he was affectionately nicknamed "Dirt Road" in honor of his rural hometown of Quincy, Fla. As Super Bowl MVP, he will take home the Cadillac of his choice -- spark plugs and all.
Jackson was a highly touted quarterback recruited to Florida State, looking to become the next Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a national championship. Jackson was a blue-chip quarterback listed with the likes of Donovan McNabb , Shaun King, and Daunte Culpepper , but switched to defensive back after looking at the competition, which included future NFL quarterback Danny Kanell.
"I thought I would be an offensive player, playing quarterback," Jackson said. "Coming out of high school, I got a lot of offers. I thought I would be one of the quarterbacks in the state of Florida, but I switched roles. I'm just quarterback of the defense now."
Jackson's college career ended on the wrong side of the Fiesta Bowl as Tennessee defeated Florida State to win the national championship. While he couldn't bring a national title to his home state, he has brought home a Lombardi Trophy, along with his MVP award.
"This is terrific," Jackson said. "It's unexplainable to be the Super Bowl MVP. It's a great time for the whole state of Florida."