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Gannon Doesn't Run and Doesn't Hide

January 27, 2003|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — There was no place to hide for Rich Gannon, National Football League most valuable player.

The biggest actor on the biggest stage in the most important performance of his career had blown his lines. The decorated field general had led his troops into an ambush. The famous public speaker with the flair for the dramatic had been at a loss for words.

And so the Raider quarterback, responsible for a statistical line that will be painfully burned in his consciousness and that of Raider fans forever, kept his head high, hands on hips along the Oakland sideline, staring into the distance.

Five interceptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns.

As the clocked ticked down on Tampa Bay's surprisingly dominant 48-21 win in Super Bowl XXXVII, Buccaneer veteran John Lynch picked up his son and carried him among his celebrating teammates. Jon Gruden, the fiery young coach who had had so much to do with building the foundation that made Gannon an MVP, hugged team owner Malcolm Glazier.

When the game and the Raiders' agony finally ended, many of Gannon's teammates headed for the exits. Not Gannon. He waded into the mess of players, cameras and confetti.

"I went looking for Brad Johnson to congratulate him," Gannon said of the Tampa Bay quarterback.

"And I wanted to see Jon Gruden."

That he would want to see Gruden is obvious. The Buccaneer coach had been the one to finally place full trust in an aging pro journeyman from Delaware. It had been a good match, and many Raider fans are convinced that they were within one obscure "tuck rule" of having Gruden and Gannon in last year's Super Bowl. Even after Gruden moved on to the Tampa Bay coaching job after last season, Gannon flourished.

That is, until Sunday, when the genius of Gruden outfoxed the guile of Gannon, when the 39-year-old coach became the youngest to win a Super Bowl and his 37-year-old former student started to look older than his years.

Gannon said he congratulated Gruden and Gruden told him to "hang in there." So few words for so much history, so much water under the bridge.

"I wanted to find some other people, people I knew pretty well, but it was a real mob scene out there," Gannon said.

That he had even tried, rather than run for shelter, said a lot. So did the way he conducted himself afterward.

"It was a very, very long night for the Raiders," he said. "A nightmarish night."

Everything else he said was a version of that. He said he made lots of bad decisions on passes, and that neither he, nor his team, ever got into the kind of rhythm or sync they need to be effective.

He said that none of what he did, or his teammates did, was the result of lack of effort.

"I'm not going to beat myself up forever," he said, looking like somebody who would do exactly that. "We just weren't good enough and it wasn't for lack of trying. This organization and team remain committed to winning this."

The waves of questioners kept coming at Gannon. He used the words "frustrating" and "disappointed" several dozens times each. But he stayed the course, chin held high, hurt in his eyes, defiance in his posture.

But there was one moment in which he either was being a philosopher or being self-effacing, and a curious moment it was.

He said, not really in response to a specific question: "There is a saying that you take a great quarterback and knock him down and you make him into a good quarterback. You take a good quarterback and knock him down and you make him into an average quarterback. You take an average quarterback and knock him down and you make him into a poor quarterback. That's what happened here tonight."

Does Rich Gannon believe the Buccaneers knocked him down into being an average quarterback? A poor one?

Nobody followed up. Nobody quite understood how to.

Eventually, the interviews ended and Gannon could finally go hide, alone with his nightmares and visions of red-clad Buccaneers dashing down the sidelines with interceptions. And with whatever scars and insecurities that come with that.

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