With the Super Bowl on the horizon, I sat down with the intention of writing a story on some of the hot topics that emerged during the NFL season.
While doing a brief outline on that subject, I noticed a trend.
Nearly every interesting story line had a common thread - someone took a huge gamble and reaped giant rewards.
The two Super Bowl opponents are prime examples.
Tampa Bay: For years the Buccaneers had loads of talent, especially on defense, where they have ranked among the best in the NFL. Tampa Bay had tried to get the job done with defensive-minded coach Tony Dungy, but despite having some success, the Bucs could never get over the hump with Dungy at the helm.
After back-to-back playoff losses to Philadelphia, the Bucs let Dungy go, a move that surprised many people.
Why get rid of one of the most successful coaches in franchise history? That question was answered when the Bucs pursued Oakland head coach John Gruden.
Despite Gruden being the NFL's youngest head coach, Tampa Bay hired him and had to give up several draft picks and a truckload of cash to compensate the Raiders.
Gruden was an offensive guy, and Tampa Bay's ownership felt he could improve the offense enough to make the Buccaneers a championship team.
Now, one year later, the move has paid off, as Gruden has taken Tampa Bay to its first Super Bowl.
Oakland: The Raiders have a tremendous tradition of fielding winning football teams, but it's been nearly 20 years since Oakland has advanced to a Super Bowl.
Now the Raiders are back, thanks to several gambles taken by team owner Al Davis.
When Davis lost Gruden, he had enough confidence to promote Bill Callahan to head coach, although Callahan had no head coaching experience at any level.
After other teams had given up on Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski and Jerry Rice because of their age, Davis added the veterans to the Oakland roster. Those players brought something with them - a winning attitude and unbelievable work ethic - plus a little talent to boot.
Davis (with Gruden) also took a chance on NFL journeyman Rich Gannon to play quarterback and run the Raiders' high-octane offense.
All Gannon did was become one of the NFL's premier passers, win the league's Most Valuable Player Award, and, oh yeah - the 37-year-old has helped take Oakland to the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay and Oakland weren't the only risk takers to hit the jackpot this year.
The Atlanta Falcons infuriated many fans by trading Tim Dwight and a couple of draft picks for the rights to a raw, 20-year-old quarterback from Virginia Tech.
After a year of learning behind starter Chris Chandler, Michael Vick exploded onto the NFL landscape this fall.
Vick has the speed of Deion Sanders, the quick release of Dan Marino, and the elusiveness of Walter Payton.
In a couple of years, the Falcons' gamble on Vick could turn into a Super Bowl jackpot.
So, area coaches take note - whether it's personnel, scheme or philosophy, taking a risk every once in a while could pay off for you as well.
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