Dwight Smith insists that he’s not bitter, although some might excuse him if he were.
Ten years ago in Super Bowl XXXVII, Smith, a former University of Akron cornerback, should have been the Most Valuable Player in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Smith intercepted two Rich Gannon passes and returned them both for touchdowns, still a Super Bowl record. But because his second came with two seconds remaining, the honor went to safety Dexter Jackson, who also notched two of the Bucs’ record five interceptions.
Jackson’s turnovers led to three points for the Buccaneers, Smith’s resulted in 12. That has prompted a few websites to list Jackson among the most undeserving MVP recipients.
But Smith, 34, who still lives in Tampa, Fla., does not feel that way.
“It’s something as a competitor you always think about, but it wasn’t something that lingered with me like I felt I should have won and I felt animosity,” Smith said by telephone Friday. “One of my good friends, Dexter Jackson, won it.
“I always say, ‘They give out the MVP every year. I own a record that can stand forever.’ ”
Only one player, Raiders outside linebacker Rod Martin, has turned in a three-interception performance in a Super Bowl. Martin’s came in a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Ron Jaworski after the 1980 season. (The MVP was Jim Plunkett, who threw three touchdown passes.) Eleven men have recorded two interceptions in a Super Bowl, but Smith is the only one who scored.
Because of deadline issues, members of the media who vote for MVP might turn in their choice with a few minutes remaining, although a league spokesman said there have been occasions where it wasn’t decided until the game ended.
“If my interception had come when Derrick Brooks’ interception came, then I would have won MVP,” Smith said.
Brooks made his big play with 1:18 to go.
Smith, a third-round pick of the Bucs in 2001, played cornerback and safety for eight years in the NFL, four with the Bucs. His career also included stops with the New Orleans Saints (2005), Minnesota Vikings (2006-07) and Detroit Lions (2008).
Smith doesn’t feel shortchanged by the MVP snub, even thought Jackson was selected to go to New York’s Radio City Music Hall to announce the Buccaneers’ second-round draft pick in 2012. Jackson still makes appearances for the Bucs, Smith said.
“That’s the only Super Bowl MVP in the history of the franchise,” Smith said.
Smith figures he got his reward in his future contracts. He signed a reported five-year, $15 million deal with the Saints that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. When he joined the Vikings in 2006, his three-year contract was reportedly worth $6.5 million. His Lions deal was reportedly two years for $5 million with a $350,000 signing bonus.
It was at his first Vikings training camp that Smith came face-to-face with Gannon for the first time since the Super Bowl. Gannon, who won the NFL’s MVP award in leading the Raiders in 2002, became a CBS Sports analyst in 2005.
“I thanked him. My grandparents were able to get a home. There were a lot of things that were able to happen because of that game,” Smith said. His grandparents, Robert and Ida Smith, live in Redford, Mich.
“Being a young guy, my second year in the league, it definitely helped me when contract time came around. When teams were looking for guys they wanted to sign that had Super Bowl experience, knowledge, that type stuff always weighs in your favor.”
That day, Smith might not have been as hard on Gannon as some might expect.
“Guys don’t take the games as serious as fans,” Smith said. “Guys understand that you’re going up against another guy who practices and works just as hard as you do. They’re going to make plays on you, just like you’re going to make plays against them. It’s the fans that take it out of control.”
With coach Jon Gruden in his first season with the Bucs after spending the previous four years directing the Raiders, Smith felt the Bucs had an advantage.
“It helped us a lot that Gruden had come from there the year before,” Smith said. “They had the same offensive system, so the whole week leading up to that game Gruden played Rich Gannon. We knew their checks, we knew everything they liked to do.”
With the weather keeping him in Florida instead of his native Detroit, Smith said he and two partners run a financial planning business. He took care of his two brothers for a time; they are now 20 and 21 years old. Son Dwight Jr., 13, lives in Oak Park, Mich. A cornerback/receiver, Smith said his namesake is 5-foot-8 and “real skinny.”
“He tries,” Smith said of his son’s football prowess.
Smith has not returned to UA, but he said a visit this year is possible. He hoped to attend the Zips’ 2012 spring game but couldn’t make it when his grandfather fell ill.
His former UA coach, Lee Owens, is now at Ashland University and finds it hard to keep in touch with Smith. But that doesn’t stop Owens from bragging on Smith’s accomplishments, especially his MVP-caliber performance in the Super Bowl.
“I thought he won it,” Owens said by phone recently. “That’s what I’ve been telling everybody. He should have been. What did he have, two interceptions?”
Told what Owens said, Smith chuckled. That myth had been snuffed, and Smith didn’t seem to mind.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.