- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. They're still suing both the NFL and the city in which they play, the roster looks like a recruitment party for Leisure World and only in the last few weeks did they draw well enough so that home games could be televised.
One wide receiver is not much younger than the coach. The coach, in his first year, is seven years older than the man he replaced. The kicker used to spend more time making bail than making field goals. So many defensive backs were injured there even was an attempt to get Deion Sanders off CBS and into a uniform, as if the Washington Redskins wouldn't know better.
The Oakland Raiders, now and forever, do things in the Raiders manner, telling us it's all about a "Commitment to Excellence" or "Pride and Poise," as if either of those have to do with allowing Jon Gruden, the coach from 1998 through 2001, to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four draft picks and $8million.
Al Davis himself the person in charge, the man who popularized the vacuous slogan "just win, baby" then replaced Gruden with offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, your basic, anonymous assistant who until then, at age 45, had a better chance to be 46 than be in charge of a pro football team. As we've learned, the move smacked of pure genius.
Gruden grimaced and exhorted. He was television fodder. Callahan creates. And probably prays that his 37-year-old quarterback, Rich Gannon, merely the league MVP, and the other members of his geriatric crew Jerry Rice, 40; Rod Woodson, 37; Trace Armstrong, 37; Tim Brown, 36; and Bill Romanowski, 36 get to the Super Bowl before they get on Medicare.
Callahan was Gruden's offensive coordinator and line coach, and nobody suspected that when the more flamboyant Gruden departed, the bland, noncontroversial Callahan would take chances his predecessor never would.
An individual who shies from attention "it can be distracting," he said Callahan has employed an attack that craves attention. The Raiders this season became the first team in the 83-year history of the NFL to win games in the same season by throwing at least 60 times (64 against Pittsburgh) and by running at least 60 times (60 against Kansas City).
Gannon set two records, one for the most completions (418), the other for the most games with 300 yards passing or more (10). Brown joined Rice and Chris Carter as the only receivers with 1,000 catches. And for the first time since 1970 the days of the "Mad Bomber," Daryle Lamonica Oakland led the NFL in total yards, including 4,889 passing.
But success was as much due to the defense, full of broken legs and torn ligaments and after four straight defeats that followed four season-opening victories battered psyches. A season ago, the Raiders couldn't stop anybody on the other team who ran with the ball, ranking 22nd in rush defense. This season they were third.
Davis is 73, and as the Raiders faltered in the '90s, there was a feeling the guy who believed in vertical offense, and matchups as opposed to schemes, no longer understood pro football. He understands it. And understands personnel.
"We knew we had age," Davis said when someone noted the veterans, "but we didn't think we were old."
Old or young, they were good, winning seven of the final eight games and grabbing homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Sebastian Janikowski, the surprise first-round draft pick in 2001, no longer has DUIs getting in the way of his PATs. And the missed field goals that cost the Raiders down the stretch in 2001 are now the made field goals that helped the Raiders down the stretch in 2002.
A year ago, the Raiders were 1-3 in December, the previous two years 2-2. But this season they were 3-1. "You win in December," Callahan said. "That's when you prove yourself."
Callahan proved himself when the Raiders lost four in a row in October.
"We were all looking at Bill to see how he'd respond, how he'd react," Gannon said. "He didn't waver. He was just consistent."
It's a word that could be applied to the Raiders as they prepare to play the New York Jets tomorrow for the fourth time in 13 months and, they hope, prepare for a Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years.

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