Now, after stints with the Minnesota Vikings, the Washington Redskins and the Chiefs, Gannon has evolved from journeyman to foreman. When he arrived in Oakland, he chafed at what he considered the sloppy practice habits of some of his teammates and wasn't shy about voicing his criticism. "Guys would walk out to the field a couple of minutes after the whistle blew," he says. "To me, that was shocking."
Midway through last season, after throwing several incompletions during a red-zone drill, Gannon, upset that some receivers didn't know their assignments, hurled his helmet across the field. That earned him a trip to the coach's office, but Gruden could relate. Says Gannon, "We have a lot of similarities—we're competitive, stubborn, and we seek perfection."
Gruden, says Rison, "has the authority of a head coach, but at times seems more like a teammate." He lets players call him Gru—for comparison's sake, imagine a Jacksonville Jaguar addressing his coach as Cough—and has a sense of humor. "He's a coach you can relate to," Gordon says, "as opposed to those fossils who make you do everything their way and won't listen to players."
Following the Niners game, in which Janikowski, Oakland's first-round draft pick last spring, missed a pair of late field goals, Gru had plenty to say to Janikowski, who until Sunday had not made a kick from 40 yards or more. While reaffirming his faith in the strong-legged kicker from Poland, Gruden questioned his focus. After Janikowski was wide left from 47 and 59 yards on Sunday (the latter try, which came at the end of the first half, had plenty of distance), it looked as though Seabass might be cooked. But Janikowski settled down with a slower approach in the second half and connected from 47 and 43 yards.
Like his young kicker, Gruden made big progress on Sunday. "I only lost my wits about seven times," he said, laughing, "as opposed to my normal count of eight." His biggest tantrum was an expletive-filled rebuke of his wideouts in response to several missed assignments in the second quarter. "But the great thing is," says Rison, "he turned around later in the game, flashed that little smirk and said, 'You know, that's just me. I don't mean anything by it.' "
Though Rison had a quiet performance in his return to Kansas City, catching only two passes against the team that released him in August, he made an impact when it counted most. With 38 seconds left and the Raiders on the Chiefs' 32, Rison ran a slant from the right side and caught the ball at the 25 to set up Janikowski's game-winning kick. Rison is embroiled in a much-publicized court case in Kansas City over accusations that he bounced several checks, but at that moment the only bad check in his vicinity was rookie cornerback Pat Dennis's futile attempt to cover the crafty Rison. "I know there are a lot of mixed emotions about Dre, in town and in this locker room," said Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, "but he did a lot for this team's mentality. I have nothing but love for him, because we owe him a lot."
For all of his troubles off the field, Rison has been a strong presence in each of the many locker rooms he has inhabited. His indomitable persona helped jack up the Green Bay Packers, for whom he scored the first touchdown in their Super Bowl victory in January 1997, and later that year he energized Kansas City, which had a league-best 13-3 record after Rison signed on. Gonzalez is the latest in a long list of standout receivers ( Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, Antonio Freeman, Derrick Mayes, Derrick Alexander) who consider Rison a mentor. An hour after Sunday's game, as he made his way to the Raiders' bus in the Arrowhead parking lot, Rison got hugs from Anders, McGlockton, quarterback Elvis Grbac and several other former teammates before stopping to chat with Wesley. "Yo, keep ballin' like I told you," Rison advised the rookie. "You're gonna make it across that bridge." One Chiefs player asked Rison how he liked being in Oakland. "We've got a great thing going, man," he said, beaming. "We're more potent than people know."
Then Rison said goodbye, lifted his jet-black Kenneth Coles onto the bus and headed for home.