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Meet the opponent: Oakland Raiders

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2003

WHY THEY'RE HERE: The Raiders have one of the most versatile offensive attacks you've seen. They take an unusual pass-first approach, and QB Rich Gannon is a master at spreading the ball around to a deep group of talented receivers, including RB Charlie Garner. They don't throw deep much, preferring to dink and dunk their way down the field, and have a ridiculous number of formations. Their defensive line is big and strong, their linebackers are fast and their defensive backs can hit. Their kicking game is pretty good, too.

WHERE THEY'RE VULNERABLE: Teams have had success against the Raiders by getting to Gannon, putting a hand in his face or on his back and disrupting his timing. The secondary is banged up, so that's a good place to attack.

BEST PLAYERS: Where to start? The Raiders have at least four players -- WRs Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, LB Bill Romanowski and S Rod Woodson -- with a decent chance to end up in the Hall of Fame, and another half a dozen legitimate stars, including Gannon, the league MVP this season. Brown and Rice aren't the dominant forces they used to be, but both can make big plays. Woodson, a member of the league's 75th anniversary team, is a stabilizing force in the defensive backfield and tied the Bucs' Brian Kelly for the league lead with eight interceptions. Romanowski, who has four Super Bowl rings, brings an unmatched intensity to the field. Impressed yet? T Lincoln Kennedy is going to a third consecutive Pro Bowl, and he's taking C Barret Robbins with him. CB Charles Woodson, slowed by injuries this season, made the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. Gannon keeps cool under pressure and knows what to do with the ball.

STORYLINES FOR THE WEEK: Well, there's that little matter of the Raiders going up against their former coach, Jon Gruden. ... Brown finally is in the Super Bowl in his 15th season. ... How Gannon almost quit the game years ago. ... Former Bucs Frank Middleton and Regan Upshaw blasting their old team. ... How the Raiders went from a running team to a passing team. ... The massive size of their lines. ... How good Charles Woodson could be. ... K Sebastian Janikowski's past trouble with the law.

FUNNIEST PLAYER: Middleton. He capped a week of pregame jawing with Jets defensive tackle Josh Evans with this offer: "Tell Josh Evans I've got tickets for him if he wants to come to the championship game. Make sure you print that. I'll fly him down for the game, him and his family, first class. They can even stay at the (swanky) W hotel. Tell them to come on down and watch me play."

MOST BORING INTERVIEW: Gannon. You have to work hard to be as bland as he is.

UNSUNG HERO: Rookie TE Doug Jolley grew up watching Gannon, Rice and Brown play, but with Roland Williams hurt, his work over the middle has been a key to making the Oakland offense go.

POTENTIAL BIG PROBLEM: DT Sam Adams, a key member of Baltimore's 2000 championship team, is 6 feet 3 and conservatively estimated at 330 pounds. He does a pretty good job of clogging the middle.

BIG SHOES FILLED: Rookie Napoleon Harris, a first-round pick from Northwestern, replaced Greg Biekert at middle linebacker and made 83 tackles.

MOST QUOTABLE: Middleton. He loves the spotlight and will say just about anything to get a reaction.

MOST LIKELY TO CREATE A SCENE: WR Jerry Porter. He found a way to stir things up against the Jets and he tried hard to get in the middle of last week's exchanges between Brown and Lance Schulters.

NEXT MOST LIKELY TO CREATE A SCENE: Romanowski. Anyone wound as tightly as he is is bound to be a problem at some point. Runner-up: Janikowski. He'll be hard-pressed to stick with his "I'm really a good guy" story.

LUCKIEST TO BE GOING: LB Tim Johnson probably was happy just to be on the practice squad, having been let go by Baltimore and Chicago the two previous seasons. He was promoted in late November and has played on special teams.


HOW'D HE GET HERE?: Four years at Division II Nebraska-Omaha isn't usually enough to get a sniff from the NFL, but DE Chris Cooper was impressive enough to get an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, and the Raiders drafted him in the sixth round in 1991.

COACH'S PLAYING CAREER: Bill Callahan was a three-year starter at quarterback at Illinois Benedictine, an NAIA school. He went straight from college into coaching, taking a job at Oaklawn (Ill.) High.

FAMOUS NAMES FROM THEIR PAST: Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, Mike Haynes, Howie Long, Dave Casper, and that's just the Hall of Famers. Throw in Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, John Matuszak, Lyle Alzado, Lester Hayes, George Atkinson, Cliff Branch, Ray Guy, Todd Christensen, Phil Villapiano and John Madden, too.

SUPER BOWL HISTORY: The Raiders won three Super Bowls in a seven-year span (1977 over Minnesota, 1981 over Philadelphia, 1984 over Washington in Tampa), but haven't been back since. They lost Super Bowl II, in 1968, to Green Bay.

RELOCATION ISSUES: They moved from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, played 13 seasons without a permanent home, and moved back after the 1994 season. It might take another 13 years for all the litigation to be resolved.

HISTORY AGAINST BUCS: There isn't much here. The Raiders lead 4-1, but they've only played once in the past six years -- an ugly 45-0 Oakland win in the 1999 season:

1976 -- Raiders 49, Bucs 16; 1981 -- Raiders 18, Bucs 16; 1993 -- Raiders 27, Bucs 20; 1996 -- Bucs 20, Raiders 17; 1999 -- Raiders 45, Bucs 0.

EX-BUC ANGLE: It's going to be interesting to see who whines and complains more this week about how the Bucs did them wrong, Middleton or Regan Upshaw. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who was Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach in 1987, likely won't have the same complaints.

SUNSHINE BOYS (Florida products): Janikowski, FSU; S Derrick Gibson, FSU, Miami; FB Zack Crockett, FSU, Pompano Beach; G Mo Collins, UF.

PERSONALS: Adams' father played in the NFL for New England and New Orleans. ... Crockett's brother, Henri, plays linebacker for Minnesota. ... S Anthony Dorsett is the son of Heisman winner and Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. ... Gannon was part of a Philadelphia city champion crew squad. His wife, Shelly, was an All-America gymnast at the University of Minnesota and is the daughter of former Vikings RB Bill Brown. ... Janikowski had the opportunity to play pro soccer in South America.

-- Compiled by Marc Topkin.

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