Legwork keeps 2 Raiders in secondary

But Bucs figure to target C. Woodson, James, both on mend from fractures

Super Bowl notebook

Pro Football

January 26, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - The Oakland Raiders' weakness on defense has a touch of coincidence and perseverance.

Both of their cornerbacks - Charles Woodson and Tory James - broke their legs during the season and had protective plates inserted in their legs last month that allowed them to play all the way to today's Super Bowl.

Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely will try to attack them, the Raiders feel confident that Woodson and James can hold up in their matchups since the Buccaneers' Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell aren't the quickest receivers. Oakland plays man-to-man coverage about 85 percent of the time.

"There's only one game left, and I can find a way to get through it," Woodson said. "It's not like it's not hurt, but it's not enough to keep me from playing Sunday. I'm ready to give everything I've got. It is tough, but it's the Super Bowl, and that's where my focus is. I wasn't going to give up and go on [injured reserve] unless I broke both my legs."

James broke his leg Dec. 8 and had thought his season was over. Woodson did the same six days earlier and agreed to having the plate procedure after watching James return to the lineup in three weeks.

When Woodson is healthy, most opponents attack James' side of the field. But while Woodson still appears to be hobbling, James seems closer to full strength.

Woodson said he still feels pain, but James often forgets that the plate is even there.

"If I put my hand on the leg, where it is and press down, I can feel it. But on the field, no," James said. "I don't even think about it. It's pretty much healed. It's not even a question in my mind."

Title drives Bucs' defense

There has been a running debate this week over which is the better defense: this year's Buccaneers or the 2000 Ravens. Tampa Bay reached today's game because of its top-ranked defense, but if the Buccaneers don't win today, they admit there really can be no comparison.

"I think if you talk to our team and our defensive staff, making our mark in history is not our No. 1 priority," Buccaneers Pro Bowl safety John Lynch said. "Our priority is to win a world championship.

"I brought it to the attention of guys in a meeting that the 2000 Baltimore Ravens that won the Super Bowl were not the No. 1 defense in the league that year. Tennessee was. We have the opportunity to be real special, and to be the best, you have to win the Super Bowl. We're very driven by that opportunity."

`2 fat boys in the ring'

While the favorite story line has been Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden facing his former team, there will be another familiar showdown occurring.

Squaring off on the interior will be Oakland left guard Frank Middleton against Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Middleton played in Tampa Bay from 1997 to 2000.

"It's going to be a great matchup," Middleton said. "It's going to be like old friends just having fun outside. It's going to be two fat boys in the ring, and whoever wins gets to eat. "

Cushion for R. Woodson

Raiders free safety Rod Woodson will play in the Super Bowl for his third team. But he has an advantage he did not have with the Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I've never been with a great offense ever," Woodson said. "It's great to sit back and see 40 points on the board week in and week out. That's so nice. In the past, when a team scored 13 points, I thought we were in trouble."

Costume check

Qualcomm Stadium is expected to be overrun by the Raider Nation. But it may not be home sweet home for some Oakland fans.

Super Bowl security will be looking to confiscate anything resembling a weapon - real or fake. Those rules may make it difficult on some of the Raiders' fans who usually wear spiked shoulder pads and wave replica battle axes.

"Anything that's made out of hard plastic, metal or wood, or any such material that could be deemed to become a weapon, isn't going to get inside," said Dave Cohen, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department. "If it's clear that the costumes are made out of rubber, then there's not going to be a problem."

Foundation: Sapp, Brooks

The Buccaneers' turnaround from league laughingstock to Super Bowl participant started in 1995, when general manager Rich McKay used his two first-round picks to draft Sapp at No. 12 and linebacker Derrick Brooks at No. 28.

"I tell Rich all the time that me and Brooks dragged you into a winning record," Sapp said. "There are no Bucs that have been here over eight years and have a winning record."

End zone

A year after predicting the exact Super Bowl score and result, Xbox's NFL Fever 2003 is predicting the Raiders to win today, 28-17.

The simulated video game has correctly called the winner in 18 of 27 games on Monday night and in the playoffs, including the Falcons' upset victory in Green Bay.

Last season, NFL Fever had predicted the Patriots to beat the Rams, 20-17, in the Super Bowl.

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