In many ways it’s fitting that Raymond James Stadium will be the site of this year’s Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl participants have earned their shot at the Lombardi trophy through stout defensive play and will now square off at a place where defense has shone.
Moreover, with the stands, concession areas and other parts of the field all following a pirate theme Raymond James Stadium is a place where games are rarely ‘stolen’ by any undeserving, motley crew.
The New Sombrero, as it’s sometimes called, is no stranger to the big game. It played host to Super Bowl XXXV just eight years ago.
The score may have said that the Baltimore Ravens blew out the New York Giants 34-7.
But the actual game was a tight affair until the third quarter where the plethora of mistakes by the Giants – caused by an unrelenting Ravens defense – ultimately sealed their fate.
The fact is that game was as gutsy and hard-fought as the teams and players that have come and gone from the stadium since then.
In college football the University of South Florida put itself on the map in a big way. In September 2007 the school pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport in beating the fifth best team in the country at the time in West Virginia 21-13.
Over the years the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who call the stadium home, have been a perennial contender.
Led in large part by a strong defense the Bucs have been part of many epic playoff matches at Raymond James.
Two of the biggest were a defensive struggle of a game back in 2000 when Tampa Bay beat Washington 14-13 in the divisional playoffs and their empathic 31-6 beating of San Francisco in 2003 on their way to the Super Bowl.
It’s hard to say exactly what inspires so many battles at Ray Jay.
Some say it’s the dominating presence of the huge replica pirate ship in the stands – complete with sails and cannons – that creates a hunger for smash-mouth football on and off the field.
Others might point to features that enhance the playing and watching of the game from the natural grass surface (once thought of as the best field in the NFL) to the large video screens in each end-zone that make missing a play impossible.
Either way, the stadium seems to bring out the best in teams – in particular their defense – in big games and this year’s Super Bowl should be no different.
From the NFC comes the remarkable NFC West champs Arizona Cardinals. Known as a ‘soft’ squad up until now, they’re finally in the title game after showing astounding defensive pressure and backbone in their three playoff games.
Marching in from the AFC is the newest version of the ‘Steel Curtain’ in the Pittsburgh Steelers who showed trademark grit in getting back to the NFL’s biggest stage after a three year hiatus by standing firm against two of the league’s deadliest clubs.
Bear in mind this year’s Steelers are similar to that dominant Ravens team of eight years ago in that it too comes into the Super Bowl with the league’s best overall defense.
If the history of big matches played at the stadium is any indication this year’s Super Bowl should be decided by defense.
Hard-nosed football is primed to take the spotlight with a sea of bloodthirsty fans ready to take in every bone-crunching tackle at a sporting facility that has always has a wind in its sails come what may on the field.
Ultimately, this year’s Super Bowl will be one of the biggest and most physical spectacles in sports. Therefore it’s only appropriate then that it takes place at one of football’s roughest venues.