Teams remember deceased player
By MARC TOPKIN and ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001
OAKLAND, Calif. -- There will be a special presence at today's AFC Championship Game.
A team photograph of the Oakland Raiders is seen in the locker of Eric Turner in the Raiders' locker room.
The spirit of Eric Turner.
Turner, the two-time Pro Bowl safety, died in May of intestinal cancer at age 31.
He played for the Browns/Ravens from 1991-96 and the Raiders from 1997-99.
It has not been lost on anybody that his two former teams are meeting for the chance to go to the Super Bowl.
"I think his spirit is in the locker room," cornerback Eric Allen said, "and it's with us when we're playing."
TATTOO YOU: Oakland coach Jon Gruden pledged he would get a tattoo if the Raiders won the AFC West. People out here haven't forgotten. One of the newspapers, the Contra Costa Times, is inviting its readers to suggest what kind of tattoo Gruden should get -- and where he should have it.
EXTRA SPECIAL: For some players, special-teams work is something to do while waiting for offense or defense. But for the Raiders players, it's an adventure. "We have some guys who are really dynamic special-teams players who look forward to covering kicks and punts," Gruden said. "It's a real eager crowd we have in that room. The guys push each other and demand that the bar be raised every week."
IN OTHER WORDS: The Oakland fans who dress in bizarre costumes and turn each game into a weekendlong event do it for a reason, according to one of their leaders, Darth Raider. "The reason for our behavior is simple," Darth wrote in an e-mail. "The Raiders are not just a football team, they are the incarnation of independence. In reality, they represent the natural outlaw spirit in all of us."
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Call it the late-bloomer trend.
Look at the conference championships the last three years and you find eight of the 12 starting quarterbacks were veterans playing for their second, third, or in the case of Oakland's Rich Gannon, fourth team.
In today's game, three of the four quarterbacks can say they are enjoying renewed success after striking out with a previous employee: Gannon, Baltimore's Trent Dilfer and New York's Kerry Collins.
"I think that's kind of the trend of the future, so to speak," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The nature of the game is such -- while you can't put a specific finger on it -- ... (quarterbacks) are less successful in one area or one team or a couple of teams, by Rich in a certain area and what Trent has done for us."
FRIENDS: It's no surprise that Dilfer heard from a lot of old friends last week. He will play 55 miles from his hometown today and a number of acquaintances telephoned to wish him well and ask for tickets.
"I don't handle the ticket situation, my wife does," Dilfer said. "And the phone rang a lot this week. It's neat that any time you come home to play around people that you care about and have seen you grow up as a player and as a person.
"I think the funny part is I have a lot of friends that are Raiders fans, very close friends who left messages this week, saying: "Hey, Trent, we are rooting for you. But go Raiders.' "
Dilfer also said he's heard from friends in Tampa who want him to do well.
"People (in Tampa) have been very supportive," Dilfer said. "There was a portion in that football team that obviously did not want to see me go and they were very vocal about that and called me often and were supportive of me."
LEWIS LOOKING: Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis continues to be mentioned as a possible head-coaching candidate. With Buffalo hiring former Steelers general manager Tom Donohoe, Lewis is being mentioned as a possibility for the Bills' job because Donohoe and Lewis worked together in Pittsburgh.
Upon the recommendation of Billick, Lewis made a seven-minute video to sell himself to teams. Lewis, Billick and Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome all make comments on the video.
TOUGH ENOUGH: You're not likely to see a No. 8 jersey filling in for Ray Lewis today, but with Dilfer returning to his native California, it was noted by a local reporter that he was recruited as a linebacker out of high school. Dilfer said there were some distinct benefits to playing on the other side.
"I feel fortunate that I ... wasn't one of those blue chip All-Americans that comes in and has everything handed to him," Dilfer said. "I often times wish I could go play defense. I think it would be a lot more fun to hit people than to be hit."
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