Raiders eye a crowning moment

High-powered offense has Gannon talking big

November 02, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Rich Gannon, the flinty, 35-year-old quarterback of the Oakland Raiders, draws inspiration from the past two Super Bowl champions.

Five-year programs are as dated as leather helmets; in the NFL, this is the era of instant gratification.

"When you go back and look at the past couple of Super Bowl winners, you realize that it does not take much to make a run," Gannon said. "Look at Baltimore. They came out of nowhere [to win last season's Super Bowl]. The [St. Louis] Rams came out of nowhere [to win in 1999]. It doesn't take much to establish yourself as a powerful, championship football team.

"We feel like we have been on the verge of building something special the last few years, and we got close last year. Hopefully this year, if we can stay healthy and continue to play at that high level with some consistency, we have a chance to do something special."

In a season with precious little consistency, the Raiders are the exception rather than the rule. Going into Monday night's prime-time game against the Denver Broncos, the Raiders have a 5-1 record, a four-game winning streak and an offense that has generated fewer than 300 total yards only once this year.

Because of that offense, they pose perhaps the greatest threat to the Ravens' reign in the AFC.

Since losing to the Ravens, 16-3, in last year's AFC championship game, the Raiders added the NFL's all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice, and a versatile, 5-foot-10 running back, Charlie Garner, who comes up big in the passing game.

The additions diversify an offense built around wide receiver Tim Brown and running back Tyrone Wheatley a year ago.

"I think Charlie Garner is an exceptional player," Gannon said. "Not only is he a great runner, but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays after the catch is huge.

"When you add Jerry Rice into the mix ... aside from the fact that it keeps defenses guessing and off balance, he is still one of the best in the game. You can say he's lost a step or you can say that he's not the same Jerry Rice he was 10 years ago. I don't really know, I don't really care. I just know he's as good as I've seen at that position in a long time, and you add him and Tim Brown together, and that puts defenses in a real jam sometimes."

Versatility is the keynote. Brown leads the Raiders with 31 catches, and Rice has 27. Garner is next with 22 catches, and he leads a platoon of running backs that includes Wheatley, Randy Jordan and Terry Kirby.

That's more weapons than Gannon has had access to in a career that spans four teams and 13 NFL seasons. A first-time Pro Bowl selection last season, Gannon is a master at running coach Jon Gruden's West Coast offense, distributing the ball with 60 percent precision over his three Raiders seasons.

Gannon's arrival in Oakland as a free agent in 1999 created a new attitude in the Raiders' locker room. It didn't take long before he put his imprint on the team.

"There were some problems here," he said. "I came from a different organization, a different system and a different philosophy of beliefs, and I just saw some things here that I didn't think were right. I voiced my opinion and some of those things were addressed and some people made a big issue out of it.

"Others realized it was probably the right thing. But regardless, I think I need to be true to who I am. And I think we have developed a certain toughness, a certain sense of belief in ourselves that we can go out and compete with anybody."

Gannon is 25-13 as a starter in Oakland, throwing for 58 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions in 38 regular-season starts. He passed through Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City before finding a football home with the Raiders.

"More than anything, I just needed an opportunity to really get with an organization, with a coaching staff, that believed in me and was going to give me a chance to play each week," he said of his success. "I felt like when I played in Kansas City, I played well, we won. I just wanted to be able to play every week and not half the season. Fortunately, I finally got that opportunity here in Oakland."

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