For Raiders, all's quiet on Gruden front

All business, players offer little to say about facing their former coach

Bold talk is put aside for now

R. Woodson says team a far cry from '00 Ravens

Super Bowl: Raiders Vs. Bucs

January 21, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - The Oakland Raiders descended on Southern California with a hush rather than in a huff.

Heading into Super Bowl XXXVII - which is popularly being regarded as Gruden Bowl I - the AFC champions are putting a lid on any trash talking concerning their first meeting with their former coach. Whether it's veteran savvy or partially the truth, Oakland repeatedly declared no hostility toward Jon Gruden, who bolted from the Raiders to become coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago.

These aren't the same bold-talking, swaggering Raiders from yesteryear. They aren't even close to the brash Ravens from two years ago.

"We are a common sense team," said Raiders safety Rod Woodson, who was a leader on that Ravens' Super Bowl championship team. "We just don't say as much in the papers as the teams in the past. Whereas in Baltimore, we told everybody we were going to win, here we are humble. We let the other teams talk, and the Bucs have some good ones over there."

Nevertheless, the Raiders are going to have to address the Gruden issue over and over again. While Oakland is committed to a singular mission, the horde of media is obsessed with one question: What will it be like to play against Gruden?

"I know the NFL wishes they could push the game back a week so they could really hype this thing," said receiver Tim Brown, who will probably be pushed into rehashing his tales of his on-again, off-again relationship with Gruden. "There isn't going to be any way around it. So, we'll deal with it."

Many of the Raiders believe Gruden will be a nonfactor this week.

"I'm not worried about Jon Gruden at all," Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said. "Jon Gruden doesn't have to take a single snap."

Said offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy: "You don't understand. This is so much bigger than that. We know you'll make it Al [Davis, Raiders owner] against Gruden, but players don't look at it like that. It's more than coach vs. coach or coach vs. player. This is so much bigger, so I'm not even going there."

But there's more animosity than the Raiders are letting on.

Gruden coached the Raiders for four seasons, building them into a playoff team before making a quick exit for the Buccaneers. Even though Oakland was rewarded handsomely for trading away the final year of his contract - four high draft picks and $8 million in cash - many of his players spoke more candidly about their feelings toward him before their 41-24 win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game.

"A lot of the antics that happened when Gruden was here, and how they had to have a camera fixated on him during a game, to me was funny," Kennedy said last week. "He was like a little man who wanted to be a big man and wanted to rule the world. He had kind of a Napoleonic complex. It's things like that that Gruden carried himself the way he carried himself."

Those sound bites are rare in the Raiders' locker room these days.

But instead of harping on the negative, Oakland believes there was a positive result from Gruden's departure. That public divorce actually caused the Raiders to rally around their new - and more understated - head coach Bill Callahan, the offensive coordinator under Gruden.

"Gruden got this thing to the door and Callahan kicked the door open for us," left guard Frank Middleton said.

Porter was the most critical of Gruden after the AFC championship game. A second-round pick in 2000, Porter was used more as a decoy in the passing game with Gruden but has flourished as a scoring threat this season under Callahan.

"We're more confident and we're a better team [than last year]," Porter said. "Maybe we wouldn't have gotten as far with him [Gruden]. When he was here, did we get there? He might have been the thing that was holding us back."

Other Raiders remember the better days with Gruden. But any lingering personal feelings won't get in the way of them taking care of business.

"He was a great teacher," Middleton said. "He taught me a lot. He called me aside during practices to tell me things. But he didn't teach me everything."

At a glance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (13-5)

What:Super Bowl XXXVII

Site:Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When:Sunday, 6:18 p.m.

TV:Chs. 2, 7

Line:Raiders by 3 1/2

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