Monday, September 22, 2003

Hide the remote: it's Broncos-Raiders on Monday

By John Marshall
The Associated Press

DENVER - Arms will get stepped on, heads slapped and a few punches might get thrown. Hits will be late, questionable and possibly below the belt. Insults will be traded after almost every snap.

Add in eye-gouging and a little biting, and the networks might have to scroll a violence disclaimer across the screen. Throw in a microphone and some smackdown between quarters, and the WWE might want it for pay-per-view.

Be prepared. The Nastiest Show on Turf resumes Monday night when the Raiders meet the Broncos.

"It doesn't matter if it was played on Tuesday, it's going to be a dogfight. It always is," Broncos receiver Rod Smith said.

Rivalries need antagonists and this one certainly has not gone lacking.

Oakland's noted nasties include the likes of John Matuzak, the headhunting duo of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson, and Ted Hendricks, who didn't earn the nickname "Mad Stork" just because he's tall.

The Broncos have rarely had the renegade types, but there have been players like Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith, who hit hard enough to make receivers forget their mother's name. Defensive lineman Lyle Alzado was as nasty as they come, but he wore silver and black for the final years of his career.

Then there's linebacker Bill Romanowski.

He spent six seasons on the Broncos' side of the rivalry before jumping the fence to the Raiders before last season. Romanowski is so bad it has not mattered which side he's on. He's hated either way - even by teammates.

"You loved that he worked hard, you loved that he was always punctual, he always did the things it takes to get him ready to play football," said Denver's Shannon Sharpe, who played four seasons with Romo. "But it's the extra stuff that, even when you're his teammate, you're like, 'Why are you doing that?' I think that was the biggest problem I had with him."

During his 16-year career, which includes stops in San Francisco and Philadelphia, Romanowski has used head slaps, face mask tugs or an extra shove at the end of a play to set an opponent off.

Saliva is also a part of Romanowski's arsenal: television cameras caught him spitting in the face of San Francisco receiver J.J. Stokes during a game in 1998.

A history like that has the Broncos wondering whether their former teammate will target quarterback Jake Plummer, who's nursing a sore throwing shoulder.

"Your job on defense is to get to the quarterback any way you can and hit him as hard as you can," Romanowski said. "To think you're going to change your game plan or do anything different because someone has a bad shoulder, a concussion or bad this or bad that, you really can't do that."

But the Broncos are still wary. They know Romanowski has not gotten any softer as he gets older.

In the first game against Denver last season, Romanowski latched onto Sharpe's right arm and dislocated his elbow. For an encore, he essentially ended Brian Griese's career in Denver by spraining his knee in the penultimate game of the season.

The 37-year-old Romanowski started off this season by breaking teammate Marcus Williams' eye socket during a fight in training camp.

"I think everybody knows the stuff," Sharpe said. "All the things that have been documented makes you wonder how many things he's done that's not documented. Everybody says you want this guy on your team and in your locker room, but at some point in time he becomes more of a distraction than a help."

But the Broncos would be gunning for Oakland even without Romanowski. After what happened last year, who can blame them?

Denver was 6-2 and atop the AFC West headed into the first game in early November, but Rich Gannon completed just about every pass he threw in an embarrassing 34-10 loss in front of a national audience.

The Broncos still had a chance to win the division title in the second meeting, but Griese was horrible even before Romanowski's hit, and they couldn't overcome his mistakes. Oakland won 28-16 to clinch the division title, while Denver's season was all but over.

"We are not going to be naive and think that we can walk in there and expect that we are going to have the same performance we did a year ago," Gannon said. "It's going to be a fist fight."

Tonight's game

OAKLAND (1-1) At DENVER (2-0)

TV - 9 p.m., ABC (Ch. 9,2)

SERIES RECORD - Raiders lead 53-32-2.

LAST MEETING - Raiders beat Broncos 28-16 on Dec. 22, 2002 at Oakland.

LAST WEEK - Raiders beat Bengals 23-20. Broncos beat Chargers 37-13.





KEY MATCHUP - Raiders QB Rich Gannon vs. Broncos LB Ian Gold. High-flying Raiders from 2002 have been grounded in 2003. Gannon, who set several records last year, has only 367 yards passing in two games, although he has not thrown any INTs. Gold has two INTs and has recorded sack in past three games against Raiders. Raiders got by Bengals last week, but will need to be sharp to beat Broncos.

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES - Fourteenth time Raiders and Broncos have played on Monday Night Football, most between any two teams. ... Broncos RB Clinton Portis has rushed for 249 yards in 2002, second in AFC. ... Last year in Denver, Gannon set NFL record by completing 21 consecutive passes. ... Broncos' Jason Elam is tied for NFL lead among kickers with 25 points. ... Raiders RB Charlie Garner leads team with 85 yards rushing in two games, and 13 receptions for 151 yards.

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