Jan 28, 2003 6:44 AM

Did y’all enjoy the Gruden Bowl? What better way for this wild, wacky NFL season to conclude than for Commitment to Failure beating Commitment to Excellence in a less than scintillating Super Bowl.

But, then did you really expect anything different?

"I wasn’t so surprised the game was so one-sided," said John Avello, race and sports director at Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas. "Most of these games are."

How true.

Defense does win Super Bowls, as the endless mass of media mouths will shout at you just in case there are doubters. Raider Nation can complain about losing All-Pro center Barrett Robbins and what a distraction it was. And, they can now lament that Jon Gruden knew more about the Silver Black than they knew about the Bucs.

Last week, we commented on how the early 8-1 odds on Tampa Bay to win the 2004 Super Bowl seemed to underestimate how good the Bucs were. Now, that the Bucs showed the world the power of a relentless defense and a passionate coach, those odds only went down to 7-1.

Wiseguys who were certainly smart enough to play the Bucs on the money line all over Las Vegas, should jump over all this gift. The Raiders are actually 7-1, meaning that they may catch up with Gruden’s knowledge given 365 days. One wonders, though, whether Jerry Rice, Rich Gannon and Tim Brown can survive another NFL grind. Heck, Al Davis could barely get off the plane with multiple assistance.

"I was surprised the Raider money did not come as expected," said Jack Frost, race and sports manager at Harrah’s. "The handle was off compared to prior years only because there was just a one week gap between the league championship game and Super Bowl instead of two."

The two-week break returns next year for Super Bowl XXXVIII at Houston’s spanking new Reliant Stadium. Expect more Bucs fans to attend that game, since Houston is a lot closer to Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Breaking down this Super Bowl turned out to be fairly simple. Gruden did his homework and worked out a plan with his coaching staff that made the Raiders seem slow. It was as if the Tampa Bay defense was one step ahead of every play Gannon called.

As for Gannon, five of his 15 interceptions this season came in the Super Bowl. Three were returned for touchdowns, including the fifth of the year for All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks, a staggering accomplishment for a non-defensive back. Dwight Smith returned two picks for touchdowns and Dexter Jackson had two others in picking up his MVP trophy.

That honor should have gone to Bucs tailback Michael Pittman, who silenced his critics that wished for Warrick Dunn’s return by gaining over 120 yards. The unexpected success of the Tampa Bay ground game opened the passing lanes for Brad Johnson, who saved his best football for the playoffs.

"I thought Tampa had momentum off the Philadelphia win," said Don Williams, race and sports director at Orleans. "When they blitzed the Eagles, I thought they would win."

So did the 30 of the 43 oddsmakers that kindly sent in their selections to GamingToday throughout the NFL campaign. With Tampa Bay as the underdog, this opened the floodgates to money line wagers and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tampa Bay has flaws. A sickly special teams unit needs upgrading. Punter and holder Tom Tupa needs to be moved somewhere else. But, the Bucs have so much room for improvement outside of that devastating defense that another Super Bowl title seems more than probable.

My advice: Make that 7-1 bet right now before someone realizes what’s going on.