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Updated: Monday, January 20, 2003 1:09 AM EST
NFL RECAP
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Oakland 41, Tennessee 24
TENNESSEE TITANS
Tennessee Titans
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OAKLAND RAIDERS
Oakland Raiders
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OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Rich Gannon turned his career around with the Oakland Raiders . Now he's taking them to their first Super Bowl in 19 years.

Gannon threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Raiders to a 41-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game.

Ironically, Gannon and the Raiders (13-5) will meet up with their former coach Jon Gruden next Sunday when they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.

Gruden was instrumental in convincing Raiders owner Al Davis to sign Gannon in 1999 and it turned out to be another case where the franchise benefitted from a veteran who was believed to be in the twilight of his career.

Gannon earned NFL Most Valuable Players honors this season at age 37 and is now heading to the Super Bowl for the first time.

"We have some unfinished business and hopefully we'll play our best game next week," said Gannon, who completed 29-of-41 passes and scrambled eight times for 41 yards.

But he isn't the only Raider with a tinge of gray to help the Silver and Black get back to the Super Bowl.

The team has four other players who are 36 or older - receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown , linebacker Bill Romanowski and safety Rod Woodson . While Rice, Romanowski and Woodson have been to past Super Bowls, Brown will be playing in football's premier event for the first time.

Playing his entire 15-year career with the Raiders, Brown was a major factor in Sunday's win, catching nine passes for 73 yards.

"I've been looking at the (Super Bowl) game for 14 years, now I'm on my way and it's a great feeling," Brown said.

But Gannon's touchdown passes went to Jerry Porter , running back Charlie Garner and rookie tight end Doug Jolley in the first half. Gannon also hurt the Titans (12-6) with his legs, running for a two-yard score in the fourth quarter.

Playing in their 11th conference championship game, the Raiders have won three Super Bowl titles and an AFL championship under the 73-year-old Davis. But they last reached the NFL's premier event following the 1983 season when they defeated the Washington Redskins , 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII.

Known for slogans such as "Commitment to Excellence" and "Just Win, Baby," Davis elevated assistant Bill Callahan, who had never been a head coach in high school, college or the pros, after he extracted four draft picks and $8 million from the Buccaneers in an unprecedented trade.

The deal ended up working out for both teams and now Callahan, who worked as an assistant under Gruden in Oakland for four years, will try to become only the third rookie coach to win a Super Bowl.

"It is a credit to the team with everything that transpired throughout this season and by these players and this staff," Callahan said. "It was an incredible journey and we still have one more game left."

Without Gruden, the offense didn't skip a beat, thanks to Gannon, who had more weapons to work with than Tennessee's Steve McNair .

Facing a defense that ranked second against the run and 25th against the pass, Callahan called for just one running play through three quarters.

The Titans were trying to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in four years, but were unable to stop Oakland's high-powered offense and committed two turnovers late in the first half that led to 10 points for the Raiders.

McNair, who did not get selected for the Pro Bowl despite being third in the MVP voting, completed 21-of-36 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 53 yards and two scores.

"I don't think I have to say much about him (McNair)," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He battled through injuries all year to get us to this point."

McNair took plenty of hard hits from the Raiders, who lived up to their renegade reputation on defense with 14 penalties for 127 yards.

Afterwards, Romanowski, a four-time Super Bowl champion with San Francisco and Denver, paid tribute to McNair.

"McNair was a one-man band tonight," Romanowski said. "I tell you what, he was tough. When there was nothing there, no one to throw the ball to, he just took it and ran. He hurt us numerous times."

McNair and Gannon were involved in a shootout in the first half and the Titans held a 17-14 advantage after McNair scored on a nine-yard run with 2:47 left before intermission.

The Raiders went three-and-out on their next possession and it appeared Tennessee would hold the lead until halftime. But on a 2nd-and-5 play from the Tennessee 16, Titans back Robert Holcombe fumbled after being hit by linebacker Eric Barton and former Titan safety Anthony Dorsett recovered for the Raiders at the 16 with 1:28 remaining.

On the next play, Gannon fired a 15-yard pass over the middle to Rice, who had the ball jarred loose by rookie safety Tank Williams but recovered his own fumble at the 1. Then Gannon faked a handoff to Zack Crockett , rolled to his right and lofted a one-yard touchdown to Jolley, giving the Raiders a 21-17 lead with a minute left in the half.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Titans committed another key turnover when rookie returner John Simon fumbled after being hit by Tim Johnson and Alvis Whitted recovered for the Raiders at the Tennessee 39.

Gannon scrambled for 14 yards on the next play to set up a 43-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski , giving the Raiders a 24-17 halftime lead.

"You cannot turn the ball over against a team like this," Fisher said. "It is hard enough to stop Oakland without turnovers and we had two big ones at the end of the half."

The Titans drove to the Oakland 22 to open the second half as Eddie George ran three times for 33 yards and caught a nine-yard pass. But on a 3rd-and-8 at the 22, McNair was sacked for an 11-yard loss by defensive tackle John Parrella .

With regular kicker Joe Nedney suffering a hyperextended left knee late in the second quarter and unavailable for the second half, the Titans were forced to punt.

Later in the quarter, Hentrich was abandoned by his line on an attempted punt. After taking the snap, Hentrich saw two Raiders running right at him and was tackled for a six-yard loss by Johnson at the Tennessee 19.

That led to a 32-yard field goal by Janikowski, increasing Oakland's lead to 27-17 with 4:29 left in the quarter.

But McNair continued to battle, completing 4-of-5 passes for 41 yards before scoring on a 13-yard run to pull the Titans within 27-24 with 31 seconds remaining in the quarter.

"He (McNair) had no quit in him, no die in him and he continued to make plays and we couldn't get him off the field at times," Callahan said. "And to our defense's credit, we made some key turnovers. Special teams made some great plays and our offense continued to score."

But the Raiders held the ball for more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter as Gannon directed two touchdown drives.

On the first one, Rice drew a 14-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Samari Rolle on a 3rd-and-4 play and also caught a 14-yard pass to the Tennessee 11. Four plays later, Gannon raced around right end for a two-yard touchdown, giving Oakland a 34-24 lead 3:33 into the fourth quarter.

The 40-year-old Rice is in his second season with the Raiders after helping the San Francisco 49ers win three Super Bowl titles. He caught five passes for 79 yards.

"We fought all year together and it's great to get the big reward," said Rice, who caught five passes for 79 yards.

The NFL's all-time leading receiver, Rice was the Super Bowl MVP 14 years ago.

"This is what, Jerry Rice 's 75th Super Bowl?" said Porter, who caught a three-yard TD pass in the first quarter.

Oakland essentially sealed the win with a 10-play, 69-yard drive which consumed 6 1/2 minutes and resulted in a seven-yard TD run by Crockett with 3:25 left.

Gannon was 15-of-21 for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He was 5-of-5 for 64 yards on Oakland's first drive, capped by Porter's TD catch 4:01 into the game.

McNair responded by going 5-for-5 for 67 yards on Tennessee's opening drive, capping it with a 33-yard touchdown down the right sideline to Drew Bennett with 5:59 left in the first quarter.

Gannon answered by going 5-for-5 for 78 yards on Oakland's second possession, including a 31-yard pass to Porter. Garner started the 85-yard drive with a 17-yard catch and capped it with a 12-yard TD with 2:47 remaining in the quarter.

Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal 2:21 into the second quarter before hyperextending his knee trying to make a tackle on a kick return.


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