By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 17, 2003
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Guard Frank Middleton said he'd love to face his former Tampa Bay teammates, and his ex-Oakland coach, Jon Gruden, in the Super Bowl.
But even better, he said Thursday, would be to see the Bucs lose Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
"If I get there and Tampa Bay is there, that's like a welcome plus," Middleton said. "It would not satisfy me more than to play against a team that thought they had "to go a different direction' to get there. I'd love to see that.
"On the other hand, I would love to watch them fail on Sunday and not make it. I don't want them to go all the way."
The Bucs let Middleton leave as a free agent after the 2000 season and, as happy as he claims to be as a Raider, he clearly is still bothered by their decision.
"I don't think the GM (Rich McKay) liked me so he never told me anything," Middleton said. "Tony Dungy called and said he wanted me to stay but other people in the organization had other plans, so they let me go."
Middleton also took a shot at Gruden, claiming his interests in other jobs last season created a distraction for the Raiders.
"It was hard to concentrate on football last year because every week someone had a different story about Gruden -- he's going here, he's going there," Middleton said. "He tried to downplay it a little bit, but you can kind of tell in people's eyes when they're looking forward to something. It kind of made it hard."
The speculation, Middleton said, eventually affected their preparation.
"When you're preparing for games and you have people talking about something else that really doesn't have anything to do with the team, it kind of takes away from the game plan and you kind of worry about it. You worry if everything is what it should be and if everyone is on the same page. So that took a little bit from us."
This year under Bill Callahan, Middleton said they have no such problems.
"We had no distractions," he said. "We know Coach wants to be here and he's going to be here."
AND FURTHERMORE: Gruden also took a hit from receiver Tim Brown, who blasted the Raiders' approach in the 2001 AFC Championship Game they lost to Baltimore.
"I think we had the wrong game plan," Brown said. "We tried to run the ball against (Tony) Siragusa and Sam (Adams) and those guys. That was just insanity at that particular time because of how those guys were playing. We would on first and second down run the ball, then try and throw the ball on third down. That was just insanity."
IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: For everyone who thought the game will be decided Sunday, Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, who tends to be a little intense, has some news for you.
"This game is going to be won during the week," he said. "It's going to be won in practice -- how well we practice, how well we take care of details, how well we take care of little things. You win the game on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Sunday is where you go out and have fun."
MEDICAL MATTERS: With heavy snow forcing the Titans to work out indoors, quarterback Steve McNair was held out of drills to keep him off the hard artificial surface. McNair, who injured his right thumb last weekend, threw "with velocity" and reported diminishing soreness, coach Jeff Fisher said. ... The Titans plan to keep defensive end Jevon Kearse out of practice all week to reduce the pain in his left foot, which he fractured in the season opener. ... Oakland tight end Roland Williams (toe, knee) didn't practice.
MISCELLANY: Weather permitting, the Titans will fly west today, and they'll be packed for the Super Bowl, planning to go straight from Oakland to San Diego. ... This is the 11th time since the process began in 1975 the AFC's top seeds will meet for the championship. The home team has won six.