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AFC

Raiders' Gannon delays his celebration

NFL MVP says his team has unfinished business, and he'll be happy when it is Super Bowl champion.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2003


OAKLAND -- Less than an hour after leading the Raiders to their first Super Bowl since 1984, Rich Gannon didn't seem nearly as happy as you might expect for a starting quarterback headed to his first championship game.

And with good reason.

The Raiders are the AFC champions, but for Gannon that's just not good enough.

He wants to be a Super Bowl champion.

Then, he said, you might see ecstatic.

"We're excited," he said following a 41-24 win over the Titans on Sunday night in Network Associates Coliseum. "It's a great opportunity. But we feel like we've got unfinished business. We've got another game to play."

Gannon made sure of that. Spreading the wealth among six receivers, Gannon was 29-of-41 for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

"He played great out there tonight," offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "He made some big-time plays. That's why he's the (league) MVP."

With the Titans sometimes rushing six and seven defenders, the Raiders threw much more than they had anticipated, something Gannon said must be corrected before the Raiders meet Tampa Bay.

"We felt like tonight we wanted to change the tempo and we felt like (throwing the ball) was our best approach," Gannon said. "They brought a lot of guys out of the box and made us throw the ball. We tried to do the best we could with what we had. But we're a team with balance and we've run well before. We will need to do a better job next week of having more balance, and I think we will."

Coach Bill Callahan echoed that sentiment, saying the Raiders took advantage of the situation.

"We really felt we wanted to utilize Rich's ability to throw, utilize the passing game," said Callahan, who is taking the Raiders to the Super Bowl in his first season as head coach. "We had a lot of weapons at our disposal, so we wanted to feature them and put some perimeter pressure on the Titans and continue to throw and try to create some matchups."

Along with a superb passing game, Gannon also rushed for 41 yards on eight carries, including a 2-yard touchdown. He joked that he didn't want to be upstaged by his counterpart, Titans quarterback Steve McNair.

"There were some opportunities to run, so I felt like I needed to do some things with my legs," he said. "I watched Steve McNair and I felt like he was showing me up a little bit."

Perhaps, but Gannon got the final curtain call. One well-deserved, even in opponents' eyes.

"He's the league's MVP," Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "He does what he's supposed to do and makes the other team adjust."

Gannon and receiver Tim Brown are among Raiders veterans making their first trip to the Super Bowl.

Veteran receiver Jerry Rice, who had five receptions for 79 yards, said he couldn't be happier for the two.

"I'm thrilled for them both because I know how it feels to be in your first one," Rice said. "I'm really happy for those guys."

Gannon will face former coach Jon Gruden when the Raiders meet the Bucs. He said he and the Raiders won't let the hype surrounding Gruden's return interfere with their preparation.

"This game is not about Jon and Bill (Callahan), it's about the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that's the way we're going to handle it."

For Gannon, the road to success hasn't always been easy. Now he's made it to the mountain, but he's still not at the top.

"I don't feel like I've finally made anything," he said. "I feel like I'm finally going to play in the big game. If we can't go out and have a big game next week, it's all for naught. The exciting thing about next week is the winner takes all."

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