© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- Jeremy Brigham got to the Super Bowl on Wednesday, and what a strange trip it was -- Oakland by way of Tampa.
Released by the Raiders following a training camp knee injury, the five-year veteran had been waiting for another opportunity.
Two weeks ago, he got the call -- from the Bucs. He went to Tampa for a workout, did the Gruden-and-Glazer lunch thing, and was offered a one-year contract for next season.
He liked the situation, particularly playing for coach Jon Gruden, but something inside told him to wait. "I was hoping for this year; they wanted to sign me for next year, so I said, 'What's the rush?' " Brigham said. "It was something I liked, but I just didn't know."
Monday, his hesitation paid off. With rookie tight end Marcus Williams out with a sore ankle, the Raiders called to see if Brigham was interested in signing and coming to play in the Super Bowl.
"It was a great decision," Brigham said. "It's weird, looking over on TV and they show Gruden, and I was there two weeks ago. Now I'm here, with the team I've always been with, and the guys I've always been with. To me it's not even like the Super Bowl. I'm doing what I've done, going to meeting with the guys. But it's also weird to see Gruden on the other side.
"Strange events, man."
The Raiders also activated kick returner/quarterback Ronald Curry, who did a fair job playing the role of Keyshawn Johnson during drills.
GRUDEN FACTOR: So, the reporter from a Japanese television network wanted to know, how much of a factor would Gruden be in the game.
"I don't know that he's going to play, at least we hope not," Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon replied. "Or maybe we hope he could line up at quarterback. That might help us."
PRACTICE REPORT: The Raiders went through a crisp 2-hour and 2-minute practice on Wednesday at the Chargers facility. "There was good tempo and good quality work," coach Bill Callahan said.
All-Pro center Barret Robbins (sore foot) and cornerback Charles Woodson (bruised leg) did not practice and linebacker Eric Barton (left calf strain) was limited to individual work.
Security was very tight, with eight uniformed officers stationed around the perimeter of the practice fields and others in an adjacent canyon. NFL officials had previously checked nearby office buildings that offered a view of the field.
O-LINE: The Raiders had the league's top-rated offense for a number of reasons, one being its oversized offensive line.
Oakland's front six -- tackles Barry Sims and Lincoln Kennedy, guards Frank Middleton and Mo Collins, center Barret Robbins and tight end Doug Jolley -- average 6-5, 310 pounds.
"I think it's a great advantage for us because we can lay on them for the whole game and they'll eventually wear down," Collins said. "We use our size to grind and grind. Eventually we hit a big running play or give Rich (Gannon) the time to hit the big one."
TURNAROUND: When the Bucs used their first-round pick in the 1996 draft on him, Regan Upshaw wasn't exactly thrilled.
Tampa Bay had had a losing record for 13 consecutive seasons.
"I didn't want to go to Tampa," said Upshaw, the Raiders' starting defensive end who started 47 of the 48 games he played for the Bucs from 1996-1999. "I didn't know where Tampa was and I didn't like the color of the old uniforms, the orange and white. I thought it was ugly."
His perception began changing as the seasons progressed. The Bucs had two winning seasons while he was there.
"The reputation is gone," Upshaw said.
THE SAME, BUT NOT: Wednesday's interview session with players had most sitting at tables at hotels, with bigger players on "risers" around the room. Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman was half-jokingly disappointed that he wasn't famous enough to warrant a riser, and when told that Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp got his own podium, Coleman was in disbelief.
"Sapp got a podium?" he asked. "I've got more sacks than he does."
Coleman, indeed, had 11 sacks this season, which is more than Sapp's 7.5. He fondly recalled the Raiders' 45-0 shutout of Tampa Bay in December 1999, the worst defeat in Bucs history.
That game was Coleman's NFL debut (he didn't make any tackles) and he said the current Raiders defense is "almost the same people" as the '99 defense. Actually, only five defensive players on the current Raiders' two-deep depth chart were even with Oakland that season, and only two started against the Bucs.
Tampa Bay was held to 137 yards in that game, and the Bucs haven't been shut out since. And despite the addition of Gruden and 10 new starters on offense since that game, Coleman believes the Bucs haven't changed much either.
"They're the same team, no different," Coleman said.
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks had a different opinion on the changes on both teams' rosters in the three years since.
"The team that played in Oakland and the team that is playing in the Super Bowl are two different teams," Brooks said. "There is no comparison in my mind. I'm quite sure they know that, too."