January 24, 2003
Bill Carollo:
The NFL's pick for Super Bowl ref surely hopes that no one knows his name on Monday.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
SUPER.  SUNDAY.

Are you burned out yet from Super Bowl hype? Stay focused: It's the last chance of the work week to make unaccountable projections to your co-workers and friends:

The Storylines
Memorized 'em yet? Bucs coach Jon Gruden takes on his old team ... Raiders offense vs. Bucs defense ... the Middleton-Sapp talk war ... Jerry Rice in his fourth SB, Tim Brown in his first ... both QBs take winding road to prominence ... Joe Jurevicius' family concerns ... and about 50 more. Expect radical revisions Monday; so much talk, and history doesn't even bother remembering the build-up.

Prediction: Sticking with Monday's pick, the Bucs win 27-24 thanks to defense, a spindly kicker, just enough long pass plays, one officiating dispute and the whim of a tossed coin. That's right, you've seen this debacle coming: game goes to OT! Bucs quickly hit a long field goal to win; Raiders never get a chance on offense; forever known as "Coin-Flip Super Bowl"; NFL humiliated into changing the preposterous OT policy.

The MVP
If Oakland's O gets it done against that Tampa D, the spread-it-around philosophy will leave all the MVP Riches for Gannon. If Tampa wins, why wouldn't MVP go to someone on the dominant D (like Richard Dent in XX or Ray Lewis two years ago)? Players on neglected sides (Raiders D, Bucs O) have no mojo. Keep in mind that fans account for 20 percent of MVP balloting -- so be sure to vote.

Prediction: Top three contenders for Raiders: 1) Rich Gannon (stats assured); 2) Jerry Rice (nostalgia vote); 3) Jerry Porter (big-play potential); Bucs: 1) Derrick Brooks (LB might even score); 2) Brad Johnson (only if mistake-free); 3) Anyone but Keyshawn (voter bias).

The Ads
As usual, animals will be a dominant force. So will celebrities; look for the Osbournes, Jackie Chan, Willie

"WORTH OBSESSING OVER 'TIL SUNDAY" EDITION
CONVERSATION TOPICS THAT ARE IN PLAY:
1. THE Match-Up: Say it again -- Oak 'O' vs. Tampa 'D'
2. Coverage: Lynch, Rice to be miked up on-field. Cool!
3. Entertainment: Shania, Stefani, Beyonce
CONVERSATION TOPICS THAT ARE SO OVER:
1. Keyshawn: Says he's done talking to media; we'll see ...
2. Speculation: That Raiders owner Al Davis is retiring
3. Picks: Easily made, but where's the accountability?
 
Nelson, new endorsement star Yao Ming and the inimitable Florence Henderson. The dot-com ad count is down to three, unsurprisingly. (Alas, there appears to be no sequel to the "Catfight" beer ad.)

Prediction: There will be a ton of buzz from one beer company's lead commercial, featuring a ref played by an actual zebra. And a soda brand is picking up the E-Trade "primates-are-always-funny" ball and supposedly delivers with baboons. Stay focused: A lot of the ads are running longer than the usual 30 seconds.

The Entertainment
How can the NFL top U2's brilliant halftime performance from last year? They can't, so manage your expectations from Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting. The pregame show includes the Goo Goo Dolls, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Michelle Branch and Beyonce. Throw in patriotic singers Celine ("Canada ... oops, America the Beautiful") Dion and the Dixie Chicks singing the national anthem, and it's like the producers figure everyone loves VH-1.

Prediction: Uh, did someone say "Beyonce?" Meanwhile, Shania and No Doubt eye candy Gwen Stefani are nice, but who else misses Britney?

The Party
Biggest problem attending an SB party: Too many guests who not only don't care about the game, but squeal about how they "love the commercials!" ...during the commercials. Mitigate your risk of missing anything: Arrive early and stake out "the good chair" and make nice with whoever asserts themselves as "Lord of the Remote-Control Volume Button," then passive-aggressively drown out squealers.

Prediction: Burned out on chips by kickoff, overstuffed with Foreman burgers by the end of the first quarter, bloated on, uh, beverages by halftime. Second-wind in the fourth quarter, however.

Creighton:
After a 74-66 loss to Evansville last night, the wheels have fallen off the Blue Jays' bandwagon. For those jumping, watch your ankles!
 
 
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Vote at SportsNation

Today on ESPN.com
P2: Chat roundtable
NFL: SB Blitz
IN: SB Tip Sheet
 

Now giving the Jags credit: Hiring Ravens personnel guru James Harris as VP/Football Ops is a great move ...

Vince Carter should help his team in games that count, not risk further injury in an All-Star exhibition. Sit out, get replaced by MJ ...

The NFL Players' Association supports changing the OT policy ensuring fair-ups for both teams ...

Must-see TV: Pregame intros for MJ's last game in Chicago tonight ...

No more Yankee-stacking: MLB will have bigger say in naming of All-Star reserves ...

Little Earl Boykins deserves a spot as NBA All-Star reserve ...
Jerry Springer is considering a run for U.S. Senate in Ohio. Next week's episode: "Fading Celebrities and the People Who Vote for Them" ...

Drop by to chat at 1:30 p.m. ET ...


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