Just one or two random thoughts

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2003

A few random thoughts about the National Football League and this Sunday’s Super Bowl:

First, and I know you were wondering about this, I batted .500 on my picks for last Sunday’s playoff games, getting it right on Oakland’s 41-24 elimination of Tennessee, but missing on Tampa Bay’s 27-10 decision over Philadelphia.

So, with the Buccaneers meeting the Raiders in the 37th Super Bowl, the Raiders are favored in the game at San Diego.

Nevertheless, I’m going with Tampa Bay.

The climate of southern California shouldn’t be a factor for either team, so the warm locale can be discounted.

Oakland will be playing closer to home and probably will have more support in the stands, so that edge goes to the Raiders.

That didn’t matter, though, when Tampa Bay overcame a raucous home crowd, plus cold weather, in Philadelphia.

These Bucs are on a roll after more than two decades, first of ineptness, and then of getting bounced out of recent playoffs.

Coach John Gruden has them believing in themselves &045; enough, I think, for them to put an end to all those years of frustration.

Tampa Bay also has the edge in youth and energy, meaning that if the game stays close going into its late stages, the Buccaneers ought to be able to out-last Oakland.

Rich Gannon of the Raiders is an excellent passer but the Buccaneers pretty well handled another fine quarterback in Donovan McNabb of the Eagles.

That Tampa Bay defense is anchored by giant Warren Sapp, hard-hitting Derrick Brooks and stick-like-glue pass defender Ronde Barber.

Also, the Bucs are better with the run, with bullish Mike Alstott bound to get his three or four yards a carry to keep the Raider defense honest enough for Brad Johnson to complete his passes to Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Jurevicius.

Another thought: Whatever happened to all those NFL dynasties &045; the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, the San Francisco Forty-Niners, for instance?

The NFL, with its draft formula and its scheduling format, has done its best to obtain parity, and has succeeded.

This season there appeared to be no really outstanding team; just a bunch of mediocre outfits from which Oakland and Tampa Bay emerged.

Another thought: Why is it that most NFL teams are identified by cities while outfits such as the Titans and the Cardinals need a state for identification?

Even worse, the Patriots have to go with an entire region, New England, for their locale.

A final thought: It is to the credit of the NFL that it has elevated the Super Bowl to such an extent that even churches, many of which in another day regarded Sunday evenings as sacrosanct, now either are canceling services or adapting them so that parishioners are able to watch the game.

The Super Bowl certainly has injected itself into the American psyche.

(Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. (e-mail: hharwell@bellsouth.net