Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Mystique vs. misery: Raiders have big edge in image
By Barry Wilner
The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO - So what if this is the NFL's big show. The Oakland Raiders clearly have their own schedule. And if it's their desire to add to their mystique this week, they are off to a pretty good start.
The Raiders missed their appointed interview time with hordes of reporters and broadcasters by 50 minutes at the league's media day extravaganza Tuesday. That's practically unheard of considering everything this week is micromanaged to the second.
But these are the Raiders and this media day was different.
The reason for the holdup: veteran receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice were late for a team picture, and blamed it all on ABC for keeping them too long for interviews.
"Hey, don't blame us," Brown said. "It was ABC. It wasn't Geritol or anything."
Owner Al Davis attended a ceremony honoring the late sports editor, Jack Murphy, outside Qualcomm Stadium, where Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be played. But he stayed away from the mass interviews inside.
As the statue of Murphy was unveiled, Davis quipped, "I wish he was giving me another Super Bowl trophy."
To hear his players tell it, that's the plan.
They paid homage to a man who enjoys suing the NFL almost as much as he enjoys winning games. Those players not only credit Davis for guiding the franchise back to prominence, but for re-establishing the aura that surrounded them when they were winning championships three decades ago.
"Al has done everything he can here," Brown said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised to see Davis retire if the Raiders win the championship. "This would be another feather in his cap and show he knows the game better than you do.
"What he's created here is a situation where anybody would want to play for the Raiders."
Such as veteran free agents Bill Romanowski and Rod Woodson, both already possessing Super Bowl rings when they arrived. They believed in the Raiders' mystique even before they got to Oakland this season.
"It's real," said Romanowski, who won two Super Bowls with the 49ers and two with the Broncos, one of Oakland's most bitter rivals. "Did they lose their mystique? I don't think they lost it, but if so, it's definitely back.
"The Raiders are an organization that had won three Super Bowls and have proven they can get the job done. It might be 19 years, but they'd still done it. It could have been 100 years ago, but they've won world championships three times and there's a lot of teams that wish they'd done half that."
Added Woodson, an All-Pro safety who won his title two years ago with Baltimore: "I think as a player you know the mystique before you get here. Al is the black sheep of the league. He kind of likes that image and I think everybody here likes it."
The Buccaneers, on the other hand, had an image problem - they hated it. And it was understandable. They were losers from the get-go, dropping all 14 games in their debut season, then the first 12 of the next season. They had a stretch where losing 10 games was a given, and until they beat Philadelphia for the NFC championship last weekend, they had never made it this far.
To many NFL fans, the Bucs were the guys in the ugly orange jerseys and a pirate with a feather in his mouth on their logo. You always wanted them on your schedule.
Now, they wear red, the buccaneer on their helmet looks fierce, and they play some hellacious defense. Nobody looks forward to facing Tampa Bay.
"They once called us the `Yucks.' We were ticked about that," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL's top defensive player in 2002. "I was the first one to say something to Warren (Sapp) that this has got to stop. There ain't no way ...
"Warren said, `You're right. We've got to get this turned around."
Led by their All-Pro defenders and then-coach Tony Dungy, who was hired in 1996, the Bucs did, indeed, become a force in the NFC. They just couldn't go all the way, and when Dungy was fired a year ago, the team paid a heavy price - $8 million and four high draft choices - to the Raiders to pry away Jon Gruden.
Gruden's chore: Change the perception of the Bucs even more by turning them into champions.
"I give Jon a lot of credit," said Bucs general manager Rich McKay, "because he came into a situation that wasn't the easiest and he made it as smooth as it could be."
Sure, it is a great irony that the final obstacle for Tampa Bay is the Raiders. Many Buccaneers believe that, despite all they have done to erase the memories of awful football, a loss on Sunday will be a huge step backward.
"I've seen a lot of players get to this point in their career and not win, and then you hear stuff about them being losers," Keyshawn Johnson said. "Getting here, yeah, that's all good, but if you don't win it, it feels like it does not mean anything."
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