Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Raiders’ good guys
trapped by tradition

SAN DIEGO >> This is heresy.

The Oakland Raiders with a clean image? Hard to imagine, but there was Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, the NFL's Most Valuable Player this year, up at the podium and opening yesterday's media session by asking, "How's everybody?"

Then the Pro Bowl-bound Gannon proceeded to toss answers in the same manner as he threw his way to No. 1 in the league in passing (4,689 yards), pass attempts (618) and completions (an NFL record 418). With ease and coolness under pressure.

What does he think of Tampa Bay?

"Tenacious front seven with impressive experience."

What happens when the No. 1 offense (Oakland) faces the No. 1 defense (Tampa Bay) in Super Bowl XXXVII here Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium?

"If a quarterback plays well, you always have a chance."

And what would Gannon say when a Japanese television crew, wanting a wasabi-hot sound bite, asked about the game being dubbed the Gruden Bowl, referring to the former Raiders coach who is now coaching Tampa Bay?

"I don't think Jon will be playing Sunday, but if he's the quarterback, it will be better for us."

There's something likable about Gannon, who hopes to win the Lombardi Trophy for his father-in-law Bill Brown, a 13-year NFL veteran with the Minnesota Vikings (1962-74).

"He just had a second hip-replacement surgery. I'd like to win it for him, since he never won the Super Bowl," said Gannon, the Pro Bowl MVP the past two games at Aloha Stadium.

If Gannon alone isn't enough to root for the Raiders, there's more:

>> One, Oakland believes that older players bring leadership and championship character. The Raiders have the oldest roster in the league, with seven players born in the 1960s and another six who are 30 or older.

>> Two, who could ever dislike Jerry Rice? The 40-year-old wide receiver will make his first Pro Bowl appearance next week as a Raider, his 13th overall.

The Hall of Fame lock and Super Bowl XXIII MVP is an inspiration to his younger teammates, arriving sometimes two hours early for practice.

"Jerry Rice is everything you hear about and more," said Oakland coach Bill Callahan, the fourth rookie coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. "Yes, we've done well signing free agents (Rice signed in 2001 after being let go by San Francisco). But I think Oakland attracts great players who want to be part of a championship program. You can see it with our legends who are still involved."

One only has to look at the first assistant listed for Oakland -- wide receivers coach Fred Biletnikoff -- to understand the commitment to excellence.

Regardless of the feeling toward the Black and Silver bad boys of the league, there's no disputing that the Raiders win ... and win.

Still, even having Waimanalo's Joe Wong (Kailua High 1994) on their practice roster is not enough for this diehard Chargers fan to pull for the AFC.

Go Bucs.

Cindy Luis' column appears periodically.
E-mail Cindy at

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