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Callahan and Gruden skip press session


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- Even though he stayed in Tampa, Jon Gruden was a popular topic among the Raiders.

Because Gruden decided to spend Monday in his office working on the game plan, Oakland coach Bill Callahan skipped the opening press session, even though he only would have had to take the elevator to the lobby level of the Raiders hotel.

When asked if he thought it was right for Gruden to stay behind, Oakland offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy sneered, "There's nothing Gruden does surprises me anymore, believe me."

Kennedy later took a few more jabs.

Asked what credit Gruden should be given for the Raiders success, he made a backhanded reference to how the Raiders benefited by Gruden's departure.

"Gruden created this team," Kennedy said. "Over the last four years he was here -- and he had input in what we got as far as draft choices."

The Bucs gave the Raiders four draft choices and $8-million for the rights to hire Gruden.

And would the Raiders be in the Super Bowl if Gruden were still their coach?

"I don't know," he said. "I don't feel we were that far away from getting to this spot. I haven't given it that much thought. I'm happy to be here. This team worked incredibly hard. I don't know if we would have had the same mentality or the same philosophy on offense as we did. It was a lot more mixed. I don't know if Gruden would have taken a chance on fourth and1 in certain situations. It's a different person. I don't know."

Receiver Jerry Rice said Gruden was responsible for bringing him to Oakland and it will be odd facing him Sunday.

"The main reason I'm with the Raiders is because of Jon Gruden," Rice said. "I felt like I needed someone with a lot of intensity. He pretty much challenged me every day. It's going to be a little unusual going up against him. But we have to be professional. I'm sure he wants to win, and I want to win. It's going to be the ultimate matchup -- you've got the No. 1 offense (Raiders) against the No. 1 defense (Bucs)."

A CHALLENGE: Despite a 41-24 win over Tennessee, Oakland was penalized 14 times for 127 yards Sunday. Safety Charles Woodson was called for three of the infractions, including two for pass interference.

An upset Woodson said he has challenged himself to perform better this weekend.

"My play out there was unacceptable for the team, and it won't get it done for the Super Bowl," he said. "So (Sunday), I will be ready to play."

The Raiders said they look forward to the challenge of playing against the best defense.

"We know going in they have a great defense, but every week we see a lot of teams at their best, and we look forward to ... fighting Tampa, putting pressure against them," Raiders running back Charlie Garner said.

HOME SWEET HOME: When the Raiders play in San Diego during the regular season, they usually have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fans in the stands. Rice said he expects more of the same Sunday.

"It's almost like Raider Nation," Rice said. "I was so surprised we had so many fans here. You look up and see the silver and black. It's just like a home game."

THAT'S MR. RICE: With Callahan staying away, Rice was essentially the team spokesman at the press conference. "I've been around so long, I know how to deal with things," Rice said. "I can be political if I have to."

FAN FRENZY: Crowds in Oakland celebrating the win set a bonfire, threw bottles and rocks and smashed windows along several blocks a few miles from the Coliseum.

Police made about 20 arrests after the street violence broke out along International Boulevard. An auto repair shop was burned, and investigators were looking into that fire Monday.

Police closed some areas in an effort to control the violence and used rubber pellets to help disperse the crowd, which was broken up by 3 a.m.

AGE AND WISDOM: Much has been made about the age of the Raiders, with six starters older than 35.

It should come as no surprise it was the "old guys" with the greatest appreciation of Oakland's accomplishment.

"You never know how special it is when you play in this league," said cornerback Rod Woodson, in his third Super Bowl. "If you are a veteran, you appreciate it because you know how hard it is to get to."

At 40, receiver Rice is the oldest member, playing in his fourth Super Bowl.

"The old man is still running, and I'm just like fine wine and having a great time," Rice said.

IN IT TO WIN IT: Like the Bucs, the Raiders say they aren't just here for the thrill and are determined to leave as champions. "The idea isn't just to get here," running back Charlie Garner said. Said Kennedy: "Very rarely is second place remembered. We didn't come all this way, we didn't put in all the work that we did to come here and stand around."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think we let the other teams talk, and the Bucs have got some good ones over there, so I know they are going to say a lot of stuff this week. We might have some guys that step up to the plate and say some things. We'll see what happens." -- Rod Woodson on the trash talking he expects.

QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "My stomach just went right to my esophagus. It's happiness, pure joy." -- Raiders running back Tyrone Wheatley on the feeling he got after winning the AFC Championship Game.

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