Completing the puzzle: Raiders found veterans, Bucs went for coach

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- The Oakland Raiders found a missing ingredient in guys like Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski, Sam Adams and Jerry Rice -- all owners of NFL championship rings.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed fire and flare and got it from their coach, Jon Gruden.

Two franchises that made regular visits to the playoffs in recent years were smart enough to recognize their deficiencies and then set about fixing them with vastly different approaches.

''I think whoever makes the personnel decisions for the Raiders did a great job,'' Romanowski said Wednesday. ''We have the right chemistry on this team.

''I think people feed off guys that make plays, when your action talks. This is a great group of football players that feeds off what we all do on the field.''

Romanowski has done enough to win four Super Bowls with, oddly, two of the Raiders' most-hated rivals, San Francisco and Denver. His experience and leadership made him a prime candidate to help Oakland over the hump.

So the outside linebacker now in his 15th NFL season was signed as a free agent.

So was Woodson, who had another All-Pro season at free safety. So was Adams, who along with Woodson won the Super Bowl two years ago with Baltimore.

They joined Rice, who came aboard in 2001 after 16 superior seasons in San Francisco where he helped the 49ers win three titles.

Together, that quartet has lent an air of achievement to the Raiders, who made the playoffs the last two seasons, but haven't been to the big game in nearly 20 years.

''They bring stability to the younger guys,'' said rookie linebacker Napoleon Harris, a starter as a rookie. He believes the addition of Woodson, Romanowski and Adams, a tackle, to the defense established the unit's combative personality. ''They bring a lot of experience and knowledge. They've played in the big game and won it. They know the answers.''

It might not be the young players who have benefitted most from the presence of so many Super Bowl winners. Tim Brown, like Romanowski now in his 15th season, thinks many of the veterans learned some new lessons, as well. That group includes Rich Gannon, the league's most valuable player, Charlie Garner and Lincoln Kennedy.

''Because of our age and maturity, we are able to stick together,'' Brown said. ''When we lost four in a row, those were some of the guys who made sure we didn't fall apart. They all said, 'Let's just go ahead, forget all this other stuff, and win a championship.' ''

Gruden never has won a championship as a coach or coordinator in the NFL. Still, when the Buccaneers fired Tony Dungy and couldn't convince Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winner, to come aboard, they pursued him. And they got exactly what they wanted.

Gruden's intensity and up-front style directly contrasts with Dungy's laid-back, cerebral demeanor. But while all of Tampa Bay's players pay tribute to Dungy at every opportunity -- as does Gruden -- they also make it clear why Gruden has made enough of a difference that the Bucs are playing for the championship.

''Jon came in and put his stamp on this team,'' defensive player of the year Derrick Brooks said. ''He put his stamp on the offense and they got better as the season went along. He let the defense do what it has always done.

''Jon came in with a presence. He came in with an attack mode. From the first minicamp, he came out attacking, kind of making a statement about himself and the kind of product he was trying to put together.''

What he has put together is a team similar to the Ravens who won the Super Bowl in 2001: overpowering defense, efficient-enough offense, fiery leadership. The formula worked in Baltimore, which knocked off Oakland to get to the Super Bowl two years ago. Gruden saw it firsthand as coach of the Raiders.

Now he is trying to implement a replica in Tampa Bay. Whether the formula works on Sunday, both teams found the correct course to the big game.

''Anytime you leave,'' Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said, ''you can't make everyone happy. I don't know if there is a right way to leave.

''We got our guy, they got their guy and we are both in the Super Bowl. It's pretty simple, really.''



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