Nothing special asked of Gannon

All Raiders want is poise, scrambling QB's shown all year

January 11, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - A classic 300-yard game is not what Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden expects out of quarterback Rich Gannon on Sunday when his team faces the Ravens at Network Associates Coliseum.

All Gruden wants is what Gannon has provided the past two seasons - timely scrambling, few mistakes, good management of the short-passing game and the occasional bomb.

"He's going to be ready to go from a preparation standpoint," Gruden said. "I want him to just go out there and play poised and do what he's done consistently for our team over the last couple of years, which is find a way to make enough plays for us to win."

Gannon signed with Oakland in February 1999, an average quarterback who had spent the previous four seasons with the Raiders' hated rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. He proceeded to get back at his former team in two ways - first by signing with the Raiders, then by bringing his game up to Pro Bowl level.

In two seasons, Gannon, 35, has thrown for nearly 7,300 yards and 54 touchdowns and been named to the past two Pro Bowls. For good measure, he led a game-winning drive in overtime in the final game of the season last year that knocked the Chiefs out of the playoffs.

Kansas City certainly did not forseee Gannon's rise to his status as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But, according to Gannon, the Raiders did.

"People who have watched me the last several years know that I can play," said Gannon, who threw for 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. "I think the Raiders knew that when they brought me in here two years ago. So I don't know if this is a huge surprise to very many people.

"I've had a pretty good year. I'm just trying to stay focused. I'm trying to put our team in position so that we have a chance to win."

And that usually means using his legs as much as his arm.

A drop-back, picture-perfect quarterback he is not. Gannon hurts teams by either running for first downs or buying time for his receivers to get open.

He did more of the former than the latter in last week's divisional game again Miami. He ran five times, but four were for first downs.

Said fullback Jon Ritchie: "He's always a threat, running and passing, and I think he's proven that all year."

It was not something Gannon proved during the first 11 seasons of his career.

He was with three other teams, including five years with the Minnesota Vikings. Ravens coach Brian Billick, then tight ends coach, worked with Gannon his last season there, in 1992.

"We worked very closely together," Gannon said. "Unfortunately, it was just for a year, but we did spend quite a big of time together."

After that, Gannon spent a forgettable year in Washington, a year out of football, and four sometimes tumultuous seasons in Kansas City.

The year out of football, in 1994, was the result of shoulder surgery. Still, no one chose to offer him a deal after his contract expired following the 1993 season until the Chiefs did in April 1995, almost 1 1/2 years later.

Gannon struggled to beat out Steve Bono, then Elvis Grbac with the Chiefs. His best season came in 1997, when he went 6-3 as a starter, including five straight wins down the stretch. But the Chiefs chose to go with Grbac in their 14-10 home playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos.

It was remarkably similar to Gannon's last season with the Vikings, when coach Dennis Green went with Sean Salisbury in a 24-7 playoff loss to Washington. Gannon was 8-4 that season as a starter.

Gruden is the first coach to trust Gannon with the starting role for the entire season.

"I think the whole fiasco that happened in Minnesota was certainly not good for my career," Gannon said. "It set me back. Then going to Washington and having shoulder surgery after that season, the combination of those two factors was very tough for me to rebound from just from the standpoint that I was out of the league for a year."

But he came back from all that to become one of the standout run-pass threats in the AFC. And the Raiders, who had not had a winning season since 1994 before going 12-4 this season, know they will need Gannon to manage the offense against a stingy Ravens defense in the same manner he has all year.

"This is the time for a Pro Bowl quarterback to step up. He knows that," Gruden said. "He also knows the challenge in front of him with this Ravens defense."

Last hurrahs

Rich Gannon is not the first well-traveled quarterback to lead a team into a conference title game at an advanced football age. Some of the others (No. indicates how many teams each had played for):

Team...Yr...Age...No.

Chris Chandler...Atl....'98...33...6

V. Testaverde...Jets...'98...35...3

Jim Plunkett...LARd...'83...36...3

Craig Morton...Den....'77...34...3

Billy Kilmer...Wash....'72...33...3

Earl Morrall...Balt....'68*...34...5

Tobin Rote...S.D....'64*...36...3

*-League championship games

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