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Revived Upshaw feels at home with Raiders

Former Bucs defensive end embraces his new start.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Regan Upshaw
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Fresh from a short practice and a long lunch, Regan Upshaw practically bounces out the door of the Raiders' practice facility. Life is good. Very good, he tells you.

The former Buccaneer is playing at home, he's playing well, and he's playing Sunday for the AFC Championship.

Only one thing could be better.

Going back to Tampa to play in the Super Bowl.

"That would be awesome," Upshaw said. "It was fun to play at Raymond James, and I'd love to go there and win the Super Bowl more than anything. That would be the highlight of my career. I could definitely say that. It don't get any better than that."

It has been about 15 months since the Bucs let him go, apparently giving up on a first-round draft pick who seemed to be playing well. Upshaw acknowledges there is lingering confusion about his frustrating banishment from the starting lineup to the bench to the trading block during the start of the 1999 season, but he insists there is no bitterness.

In fact, it sounds like "Thanks, Tony,' cards will be going out any day.

"I wouldn't want it to be any other way; it's turned out to be a blessing," Upshaw said.

"Even when I was going through it, I knew it was for the better. I just didn't know how long it was going to take for it to get good again. Definitely this is worth going through every second of that, of not playing and being traded. Going through those hard times allowed me to be able to learn how to enjoy playing football."

The 12th overall pick in the 1996 draft, Upshaw started all but one game during his first three seasons and appeared to be a key part of the Bucs' developing defense. But he seemed to fall out of favor going into the 1999 season and was traded to Jacksonville in October. He signed with the Raiders as a free agent in March.

What went wrong in Tampa? Upshaw is still not sure. "I think it was a lot, a combination of things," he said. "Let's just put it like this: In Oakland, I feel like I have a better chance of cultivating my skills. It seems like it's been a better move for me career-wise, on the field and off the field. So I'm very happy with the way things have turned out."

Upshaw grew up in Pittsburg, a small town about a half-hour east of Oakland. He played college ball at Cal, about a half-hour north. His family is here. His wife's family is here. His circle of lifelong friends is here.

His decision to sign with the Raiders, even at a low salary of $500,000, was pretty easy.

"This is what I've been used to my whole life as far as playing football at home," he said. "If I want to hang out on the weekend and go dirt bike racing in Pittsburg, that's what I'll do because that's what we do. I'm just back to being myself. It keeps me well-grounded being back home."

The Raiders are glad to have him. Upshaw took over as starting defensive end midway through the season, finishing with six sacks, second-most on the team. He has brought an energy and an attitude to the front line, although he has been fined twice, for an excessive hit on San Diego's Ryan Leaf and for spitting at Pittsburgh punter Josh Miller.

"He's come in and really given us a physical player at the point of attack, a guy who can rush the passer," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's got a great motor, and he's one of our leaders in terms of effort. I really like that part about him the best. I appreciate and admire his work ethic and his ability to finish plays, be it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday. That's contagious and I think it really helped our football team."

Upshaw said the feeling is mutual.

"I'm having the time of my life," he said. "As far as playing football, this is the most fun I've had probably since high school. I'm having a great time just being home with all my friends and my family."

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