St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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Super Bowl XXXV Tampa, Florida 2001
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    AFC Championship notebook

    FB Ritchie returns for the Raiders

    By MARC TOPKIN and JOHN ROMANO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001


    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The good news for the Raiders in Wednesday's rain-soaked workout was that fullback Jon Ritchie returned to action and should be able to play against the Ravens on Sunday after missing three games.

    "It feels like it's been an eternity," Ritchie said. "Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to go out there."

    Coach Jon Gruden said Zack Crockett likely will start at fullback but Ritchie likely will play, too. "His status seems to be improving," Gruden said.

    The news was not as good about running back Napolean Kaufman, who was unable to practice because of a right knee injury aggravated Saturday in the divisional win over the Dolphins. "His status looks doubtful to me," Gruden said.

    Defensive end Regan Upshaw (ankle) and cornerback Darrien Gordon (toe) were held out of practice but were expected to play. The Raiders listed receiver/returner David Dunn (ankle), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (shoulder), running back Randy Jordan (toe) and defensive end Josh Taves (knee) as questionable.

    photo
    [AP photo]
    Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Rob Burnett knocks the ball away from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kent Graham on Sept. 3, 2000.
    PEER PRESSURE: The Ravens defensive roster is littered with Pro Bowl players, but defensive end Rob Burnett said the sum is greater than the parts in Baltimore.

    With so much talent on defense -- six of the starters were first-round picks, including five top-10 picks -- Burnett said his teammates force each other to play at a high level to avoid embarrassment.

    "It's a highly energetic defense, almost to the point of a friendly competition between us all," Burnett said. "You can't shuffle your feet around here or you won't make any plays. You have to hustle every moment to make plays because four or five guys will be there ahead of you. We feed off that kind of competitive environment."

    The Ravens gave up 165 points this regular season, the fewest in NFL history for a 16-game schedule.

    OLD RIVALS: Baltimore defensive tackle Sam Adams is very familiar with the Raiders, having played them twice a season during his years in Seattle. He said he is not looking forward to facing Steve Wisniewski, and not just because the Oakland guard is a perennial Pro Bowl pick.

    "His breath is terrible," Adams said. "You have to play against him with a gas mask."

    Wisniewski's name usually is high on the list of the league's dirtiest players, but Adams said the reputation is undeserved.

    "He just has a competitive nature," Adams said. "He's not going to make dirty plays on purpose, but in the heat of the moment, he's going to do whatever he has to do to beat you."

    STADIUM PARTY: The Ravens will open PSINet Stadium for fans who want to watch the game on the video scoreboard. The first 5,000 tickets will be $10 for club seats and lounges. After that, tickets will cost $5. Proceeds will go to the team's charity foundation.

    RAINY DAYS: The Oakland area was besieged by gusting wind and potentially a record amount of rain Wednesday, but Gruden said that could be a good thing.

    "We've not had a chance to practice with a wet ball very much this year, but deep down I was somewhat pleased we had a chance to throw and catch in this type of weather," he said.

    ENOUGH'S ENOUGH: They knew it was coming, but the Raiders officially are sick of hearing about Baltimore's vaunted defense.

    "I've been answering a lot of questions about the Ravens defense. I just say to hell with their defense," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "It's all about what the Raiders are going to go out and do this weekend. We control our own destiny. If we go out there and play our game, we should win the game."

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