It was 12 years ago this week that safety Dexter Jackson earned MVP honors in the Bucs' Super Bowl win over the Raiders, and as dominating as Tampa Bay's defensive dominance was that day, he swears he saw it coming.
"I predicted what was going to happen. I saw it, clear as day," Jackson said by phone Thursday, recalling the Bucs' five interceptions -- three for touchdowns -- on the way to an easy 48-21 win against Oakland. "They always kept telling me: Prepare yourself for when the opportunity presents itself and be successful. The idea that 'preparation + opportunity = success' has always been instilled in my head."
Jackson, 37, played 10 years in the NFL -- six with Tampa Bay -- but that day in San Diego is what he's best known for. He had two interceptions of Rich Gannon passes in the first 20 minutes of the game, and the Bucs' lead was just 6-3 after the second, setting up three pick-sixes that would follow for Dwight Smith (twice) and Derrick Brooks. Jackson's favorite moments were in the celebration on the field after the game, but he also vividly remembers how much he enjoyed the spectacle of the event as he prepared before the game.
"It was priceless," he said. "You can't put it in words, watching the fans, the live entertainment. So much is thrown at you so fast and you still have to stay focused and prepare for the game. All the celebrities, all the stars, from the As to the Zs, they were all there."
Jackson signed a free-agent deal with Arizona the following spring, but wound up back in Tampa Bay for two more seasons, finishing his NFL career in Cincinnati in 2008. In 11 Super Bowls since the Bucs, only one player has had multiple interceptions in a game, something he and Smith did in San Diego. He's very aware how fortunate he was to not only make it to a Super Bowl, but to finish it as a champion as well.
"I love history, love looking at the history of the game, and there were guys there before me who weren't able to jump over that hurdle and get that championship," said Jackson, whose Twitter handle is @DJackson_MVP and now has the Dexter Jackson MVP Foundation. "Jim Kelly went four times and couldn't win, Thurman Thomas, guys like that. We went there once and won it."
Jackson had his first full-time coaching job this past season at Alabama State, coaching the defensive backs and helping safety Najee Bright earn first-team all-conference honors as a junior.
'"It was awesome. It's always been my passion to help the youth and give back and coach," said Jackson, who was not retained after a coaching change at Alabama State and is working to land another job to keep him in football coaching.
Tampa is still home for Jackson, who watched the Bucs this past season and is among those who believe the team can make a major step forward from a 2-14 record in Lovie Smith's first season as head coach.
"They are very close. They are much, much closer than people give them," Jackson said. "The more I watched their games, they're in game up unitl the third, maybe fourth quarter, and they find a way to lose. They may have one blown assignment and that's all it takes."
And as for the No. 1 pick, count the former FSU standout among those who would like to see quarterback Jameis Winston in a Bucs uniform, rather than Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
"I don't want to be biased, but look at guys in similar offenses (to Oregon) lately: the Johnny Manziels, the Robert Griffins, even Cam Newton, he's playing OK but not playing great. They all came out of those systems," he said. "I'm not saying (Mariota) will not be a great quarterback, just that he's not prepared to take that next step right away. "I think Winston's a great choice. Jimbo Fisher runs more of a pro-style offense. It's about being NFL-ready, and I feel like he's more ready."