Outlook: not so good
Raiders may have tough time returning to Super BowlPosted: Tuesday January 28, 2003 2:27 AM
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The short-term plan failed -- and the long-term troubles are just beginning for the Oakland Raiders.
While desperately pursuing their first championship in 19 years, the Raiders didn't think far into the future beyond Super Bowl Sunday. They stocked their roster with talented veterans, and pushed the limits of their salary cap for years to come with lucrative contracts.
After the Raiders endured a crushing 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and former head coach Jon Gruden, the future arrived -- and it isn't promising for an aging, expensive team that's almost certain to get major changes before next season.
"We had a great shot this year," guard Frank Middleton said. "Who knows what the future holds? None of us have any idea what's going to happen to us next year."
As they packed up and headed home on Monday, most of the Raiders were disconsolate at their failure.
They wanted to win for Tim Brown, the longest-serving player in team history who was in his first Super Bowl. They wanted to win for 73-year-old owner Al Davis, who inspires incredible loyalty in most of his players. They wanted to win for a city that could use the good news -- and not the shameful rioting that followed their loss.
"It's more disappointing than I ever thought it could be," Pro Bowl tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "I can't put it into words. I thought this was our year."
All-Pro center Barret Robbins didn't even wait until the Super Bowl to begin the scattering of the Raiders. He disappeared on Friday night and didn't resurface for nearly 24 hours, after which the Raiders kicked him out of the team hotel.
His teammates heard wild rumors about the reasons for Robbins' departure -- but Robbins spent game day in a hospital, where he was expected to remain until at least Tuesday.
After the game, Oakland head coach Bill Callahan promised he would reveal all when the team returned home -- but in typical Raiders style, the team then decided to stay off-limits to reporters on Monday.
Robbins' bizarre weekend distracted from the Raiders' dismal performance in the Super Bowl -- the game on which they had focused all of their efforts this season. Even without Robbins, Oakland wasn't nearly up to the challenge posed by the Buccaneers.
A team built on veteran maturity seemed wholly unprepared to deal with Tampa Bay's swarming defense, which bullied the Raiders' offensive line and reduced their vaunted receiving corps to a bunch of spectators for nearly three quarters.
The NFL's best passing game was in ruins. Rich Gannon didn't throw a pass near Jerry Rice in the first half, and Brown caught just one pass for 9 yards on the Raiders' first drive. Three of Gannon's career-high five interceptions were returned for touchdowns -- and with each one, the Raiders' title hopes were further flattened.
"It's a tough one to swallow, because we've thrown the ball so well this season," Rice said. "I'm not sure what went wrong. We weren't clicking from the start, and it just never got going. I can't make excuses, because I can't even think of any."
Two men standing on the winners' podium at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday night couldn't have been happier Davis wasn't there.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would have had to give the Lombardi Trophy to a man who has relentlessly criticized him while pursuing in a $1.2 billion conspiracy suit against the NFL. Gruden, who bolted Davis' regime after four years, returned to California to crush his old team with his younger, faster new team.
And while Gruden's future looks bright with the Buccaneers, Callahan and Davis face an uphill battle to return the Raiders to the form that has earned three straight division titles and two trips to the conference title game.
It's a given that several key veterans from this season's team will be gone. Defensive tackle Sam Adams, signed to a six-year deal in training camp, said he expects to be released, while others already sense their fates.
Even if the Raiders use enough salary cap alchemy to keep much of their roster together, an old team will be one year older. Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski, Trace Armstrong, Gannon, Rice and Brown all are past 35.
"We definitely don't have a cap problem," Brown said earlier in the week. "If you know anything about football, the only time you have a cap problem is when you have players you're paying, but don't want to keep. So hopefully we have enough of these players back again to help us try to do this thing again."