- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

SAN DIEGO Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan calls it "character leadership" the element the club added this offseason when it signed respected veterans like Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson and John Parrella.
Its effect has been unmistakable to everyone in the organization. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan described the transformation he saw when a young player like rookie safety Keyon Nash would walk past the film room and see Woodson, one of history's best safeties, studying film.
"The next thing you see is Rod Woodson in there watching film and Keyon Nash is sitting behind him," Bresnahan said.
Coaches in all sports talk about the value of real professionals, players who never forget that the foundation of winning is working, studying, practicing and training hard. Though many players think they're too cool or talented or rich to give full effort, real pros keep battling like undrafted rookies.
And there's a transformation that takes place when a team gets a critical mass of real pros: Instead of thinking the point of being an NFL player is to chase women, breeze through VIP lines and compare Cadillac Escalades, the young players realize that the real goal is individual and team greatness.
"I don't know if one or two [real pros] is enough to capture the attention of the whole team," Bresnahan said. "But five or six or seven guys who really know what it takes I think that captures their attention."
It certainly did for these Raiders, who won the AFC title and a spot in Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland coaches and players believe newcomers like Romanowski (age 36), Woodson (37) and Parrella (33) teamed with holdovers like Jerry Rice (40), Tim Brown (36), Trace Armstrong (37) and Rich Gannon (37) to form that critical mass.
Brown didn't hesitate when asked why this Raiders team "got over the hump" after losing in the conference title game in 2000 and the AFC semifinals last year.
"More veteran leadership, no doubt," said Brown, a first-time Super Bowl participant despite a 15-year NFL career that will land him in the Hall of Fame. "You bring in guys who are used to winning, and winning at a very high level I think that's the difference this year."
Studying game tape is an oft-mentioned habit of a real pro. Woodson, for one, is renowned for identifying and exploiting opponents' tendencies.
"He'll take [the young] guys into the film room and tell them, 'When this guy does this, he's going to run this route,'" Brown said. "That's invaluable."
Bresnahan mentioned Parrella and fellow defensive tackle Sam Adams (a younger but very effective free agent addition during the offseason) end Armstrong (who was put on injured reserve last week) and linebacker Romanowski as those who "watch more tape than anybody."
"They take notes and talk through it themselves," Bresnahan said. "Then they bring it to the other guys on the team. So rather than having a guy here or there doing it, it's everyone."
Compare that to stories of NFL coaches who constantly must remind and sometimes force their players to get in the film room.
And on the practice field, young Raiders can't slack off while Rice is out there early, staying late and constantly trying to improve the nuances of his game.
Rice and Romanowski with seven Super Bowl rings between them are two players mentioned as real pros by Adams, who won Super Bowl XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens and teammates like Ray Lewis, Woodson and Tony Siragusa.
"I've seem some cats I thought were crazy with the way they prepare," Adams said of Rice, Romanowski and others.
Much of Romanowski's legend is built on his tackle box of performance supplements and nasty disposition, but to Callahan the linebacker's identity is when he arrives at the Raiders' complex each day at 7a.m. and when he leaves at 6 or 7p.m. "even on Friday, when players can get away early," the coach said.
"To me, it all comes down to focus, attention to detail," Romanowski said. "If you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves."
That mentality and the way it has spread through the locker room has led Bresnahan to turn around a traditional phrase.
"People always talk about one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch, but one good apple makes the whole bunch better," Bresnahan said. "It's a snowball effect."

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