3 Oakland Raiders The well-worn quarterback carousel spins the other way now, with style (Jeff George) having been replaced by substance (Rich Gannon)

August 29, 1999

He has won, and he has been well liked by his teammates wherever
he's played. Yet Rich Gannon has never been a model quarterback,
the kind you want to build your team around.

A former wing-T quarterback for the Division I-AA Delaware
Fighting Blue Hens, the 33-year-old, 12-year veteran is
accustomed to having his abilities questioned. There were the
pro scouts who said, after watching him throw at Delaware,
"O.K., Rich, now let's see you backpedal." There were the
Patriots, who picked him in the fourth round of the 1987 draft,
then traded him to the Vikings two weeks later after he refused
to switch to safety. In Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City,
Gannon won 31 of the 58 games he started from '87 through '98.
Not once, however, would a coach go out on a limb and
unequivocally proclaim Gannon as his starter.

Until now. Having given up on rifle-armed underachiever Jeff
George, Raiders president and general partner Al Davis decided
that Gannon, a free agent last winter, was the solution to his
team's quarterback woes and signed him to a four-year, $16
million deal. The contract raised eyebrows around the league. "I
like Rich Gannon," says one AFC coach, "but I don't like him
that much."

"He's been labeled a backup and a dink-and-dunk passer, but we
think he can play," says Raiders second-year coach Jon Gruden.
"The passion, the desire he has to succeed--it's an overpowering
feeling."

This is in no way to be confused with the quarterback play
Oakland got from George, Donald Hollas and Wade Wilson last
season, which more often than not produced an overpowering
smell. The team's final game, against the Chiefs, fittingly
brought down the curtain on that trio: Having exited early with
a pulled groin, starter Wilson was replaced by Hollas, who 11
snaps later pulled a groin and was relieved by George, who was
still getting over a groin pull he suffered in early October.
When the Raiders lost 31-24, they wound up with a 2-6 record in
the second half of the season and missed the playoffs for the
fifth straight year.

Gannon's strengths--aside from his healthy groin muscles--are
his exceptional mobility and a knack for salvaging a broken
play. That scrambling ability will come in handy as he zigs and
zags for dear life behind a line that yielded 67 sacks in '98,
the most in the NFL. "Unorthodox but very effective" is Raiders
cornerback Eric Allen's assessment of Gannon. "When he used to
play against us, we always said, 'You've got to stay with your
receiver, because he will scramble until that guy is open. Stay
with the play, because you know he's going to.'"

Gannon looked a trifle ragged early in training camp, throwing a
few interceptions and more than a few ugly balls. So what's new,
say those who know the Philadelphia native. Gannon will never be
aesthetically pleasing. He's had his greatest success as a
change-of-pace quarterback, coming into the game cold, running
around, making things happen, firing up his teammates. (When he
ran some smack past Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown in a game
last season, Brown asked him, "What is this, high school?")

That feistiness differentiates Gannon from George and endears
him to Gruden. "Rich isn't just a playmaker, he's a leader,"
says the coach. "There's a toughness to him. He's a Philly guy."

Still, the Philly guy's feelings are hurt whenever someone
questions his arm strength, as often happens. Will blazing
Oakland wideout James Jett outrun Gannon's passes? "Andre Rison
may not be as fast as James," says Gannon, referring to his
former go-to receiver with the Chiefs, "but I don't recall
underthrowing him when I was there."

Besides, as Gannon points out, "If you take a five-step drop and
throw a go route, the ball only has to travel 45 yards. This is a
game of rhythm, footwork, timing. It's not about throwing the
ball 70 yards in the air."

As for the homely passes Gannon uncorked early in camp, Jett was
willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Quarterbacks' arms
are like our legs," he says. "It takes them a little while to
warm up."

But the sometimes slow-starting Raiders won't have the luxury of
getting warmed up in '99. For their 8-8 record last season, they
were rewarded with the NFL's toughest schedule. (Opponents had a
combined winning percentage of .570 last year.) Oakland starts
with games at Green Bay and Minnesota and will be favored in no
more than three of its first eight outings.

Gannon scoffs at such grim predictions. He is cocksure,
confident and, above all, relieved not to be a reliever.

--A.M.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER The Innovator A busted play isn't over until the scrambling Gannon has exhausted all his options. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS

SCHEDULE

Sept. 12 at Green Bay
19 at Minnesota
26 CHICAGO
Oct. 3 at Seattle
10 DENVER
17 at Buffalo
24 N.Y. JETS
31 MIAMI
Nov. 7 Open date
14 SAN DIEGO
22 at Denver (Mon.)
28 KANSAS CITY
Dec. 5 SEATTLE
9 at Tennessee (Thurs.)
19 TAMPA BAY
26 at San Diego
Jan. 2 at Kansas City

FAST FACTS

1998 Record 8-8 (2nd in AFC West)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 16/21/18; defense 15/4/5

1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 1 Opponents' 1998 winning
percentage: .570 Games against playoff teams: 7

CLAMPING DOWN

Hired as coach in Oakland largely because of his accomplishments
as an offensive assistant with the Eagles and Packers, Jon
Gruden last year oversaw the most dramatic improvement of an NFL
defense in 34 years. In 1997 the Raiders allowed a league-high
382.3 yards per game. Last year, under the supervision of Gruden
and new defensive coordinator Willie Shaw, Oakland allowed only
284.4 yards per game. That represents the fifth-largest
improvement from one season to the next in NFL history.

Avg. yds. The next Avg. yds.
Team Season allowed season allowed Decline

Redskins 1954 399.4 1955 265.8 -133.6
Cowboys 1963 380.4 1964 267.9 -112.5
Steelers 1954 364.2 1955 259.1 -105.1
Packers 1951 372.5 1952 272.4 -100.1
Raiders 1997 382.3 1998 284.4 -97.9

PLAYER TO WATCH

During drills at the Cowboys' training camp in El Paso two
summers ago, a Raiders rookie with a bowling ball build was
embarrassing some well-known Dallas veterans. "Who the f--- is
number 90?" shouted Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck.
He's Grady Jackson, the spherical defensive tackle whom Oakland
selected out of Knoxville College in the sixth round of the '97
draft. "Grady combines his strength with incredible quickness
and leverage--and he's got unbelievable get-off," Oakland
defensive line coach Mike Waufle says of his 6'2" 315-pounder.
"He's learning as he goes. Last season he didn't know what a
blocking scheme was."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS

Coach: Jon Gruden
Second season with Raiders (8-8 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Rich Gannon 77
354 att. 206 comp. 58.2% 2,305 yds. 10 TDs 6 int. 80.1 rtg.

RB Napoleon Kaufman 83
217 att. 921 yds. 4.2 avg. 25 rec. 191 yds. 7.6 avg. 2 TDs

RB Randy Jordan 277
47 att. 159 yds. 3.4 avg. 3 rec. 2 yds. 0.7 avg. 1 TD

FB Jon Ritchie 308
9 att. 23 yds. 2.6 avg. 29 rec. 225 yds. 7.8 avg. 0 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
[PVR]
WR Tim Brown 25 81 rec. 1,012 yds. 9 TDs
WR James Jett 93 45 rec. 882 yds. 6 TDs
WR Chris T. Jones[1][2] 208 5 rec. 73 yds. 0 TDs
TE Rickey Dudley 168 36 rec. 549 yds. 5 TDs
K Michael Husted[1] 197 29/30 XPs 21/28 FGs 92 pts.
PR Darrien Gordon[1] 335 34 ret. 11.1 avg. 0 TDs
KR Rodney Williams 341 4 ret. 15.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Mo Collins 6'4" 325 lbs. 16 games 11 starts
LG Steve Wisniewski 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Barret Robbins 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Gennaro DiNapoli[3] 6'3" 301 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RT Lincoln Kennedy 6'6" 330 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Ferric Collons[1] 26 tackles 0 sacks
LT Darrell Russell 64 tackles 10 sacks
RT Russell Maryland 48 tackles 2 sacks
RE Lance Johnstone 54 tackles 11 sacks
OLB James Folston 17 tackles 1 sack
MLB Greg Biekert 153 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Richard Harvey 89 tackles 4 sacks
CB Eric Allen 35 tackles 5 int.
SS Anthony Newman 45 tackles 2 int.
FS Eric Turner 38 tackles 3 int.
CB Charles Woodson 64 tackles 5 int.
P Leo Araguz 98 punts 43.4 avg.

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122) [2]1997
statistics [3]1997 college statistics

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)