Long strange trip
Opposing quarterbacks have overcome bumps in the road
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Trent Dilfer put it nicely.
"I'm not the best quarterback around, but I certainly don't think I'm the worst," the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback said. Until this season, the same might have been said about Rich Gannon, his counterpart for the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's AFC title game.
To borrow a Bay Area phrase, it's been a long, strange trip for both of them, more so for Gannon -- the Oakland quarterback, who at 35 finished fourth in the MVP voting this season but almost eschewed an NFL career to go to law school.
That was in 1987, when he was drafted out of Delaware by New England in the fourth round -- as a defensive back. Gannon told the Patriots he was a quarterback, he was going to law school and two weeks later, he was traded to Minnesota.
From the Vikings, he went to Washington, sat out the 1994 season after shoulder surgery, landed in Kansas City and finally in Oakland, where he became a starter last season and an MVP candidate in 2000.
"I learned to be humble early," said Gannon, who grew up in Philadelphia. "I thought I was a hot shot until I learned that Penn State and Notre Dame weren't interested and wound up at Delaware."
Dilfer had a similar experience.
Growing up 70 miles south of Oakland in coastal Santa Cruz, Dilfer was recruited primarily as a linebacker, so he went to Fresno State to play quarterback. He did well enough there to be a first-round draft pick of Tampa Bay in 1994, the sixth choice overall.
But he never quite lived up to expectations and last season was benched late in the season for rookie Shaun King, who got the Bucs to last season's NFC title game.
So on to Baltimore this year with the reverse scenario.
He started the season behind Tony Banks, who had led the Ravens to a 5-2 finish last season that left them at 8-8 and set the stage for this season's 12-4 regular-season record.
But after the Ravens went five games without a touchdown -- although they won two, Dilfer replaced Banks. The Ravens lost his first start, but have won nine in a row, although he was just 5-of-16 for 119 yards last week in the 24-10 victory against Tennessee that got the Ravens into the title game.
That game was won by defense and special teams, which blocked two of Al Del Greco's field-goal attempts and returned one of them for a touchdown.
That could be an omen: during the past few years, Dilfer and Del Greco have been considered the two best golfers in the NFL.
So Dilfer was asked Friday if Del Greco's bad luck last week might extend to him this week.
"No," he replied. "I've got three kids now and I don't think I'm as good a golfer."