The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the unlikeliest of guests on Tuesday when the team resumed their OTA (organized team activity) sessions.
After losing Super Bowl XXXVII to the Bucs by throwing five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, and having his NFL career ended due to a helmet-to-helmet blow by linebacker Derrick Brooks in 2004, former Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon visited Tampa Bay at the invitation of head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen to help the team’s young quarterbacks.
“We were just talking about this last night,” Allen said. “The irony of Rich Gannon and our relationship over the years – and when I say ‘our’ I mean with Jon and I – is fascinating. When we first signed him to the Raiders, we hadn’t beaten the Chiefs. We were 1-11 against the Chiefs and he was a Chief. So we brought him to the Raiders and he really helped the franchise return to glory. Then the Super Bowl, of course, against Jon. I understand Jon was doing practice routines as Rich Gannon during Super Bowl week. Then follow that up in his last game, which was against [the Bucs]. That’s a tribute to Rich to be here and see the big picture.”
Gannon, who played 17 years in the NFL with Minnesota (1987-92), Washington (1993-94), Kansas City (1995-98) and Oakland (1999-2005), went from being a journeyman to an established starter and Pro Bowl performer once he hooked up with Gruden and the Raiders in 1999. During that season, Gannon completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,840 yards, 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Gannon would go on to have two more Pro Bowl, 3,000-yard seasons under Gruden before Gruden’s departure to Tampa Bay in 2002. Gannon then became the NFL’s MVP during the 2002 season when he completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 4,689 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before meeting Gruden and the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
“Jon asked me to come down and talk with them a little bit,” Gannon said. “I’m going to be able to talk to them this afternoon and just share some things that have helped me play the position over 17 years. I think along the way you pick up some things, some valuable tips and keys that can help these guys I hope.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m here because I spent a lot of time with [Bucs quarterbacks coach] Paul Hackett and Jon Gruden. These guys had a big impact on my career, and this was a chance for me to return the favor.”
Gannon is only in town through Wednesday, but Allen said he would try to get him to stick around longer.
“We’ll try to see if he’ll stay through 2008,” Allen laughed. “It’s always nice for the players of today to learn from the players of yesterday. They offer so much. They offer so much experience and knowledge. In Rich’s case, he is one of the greatest competitors the league has ever seen. He overcame a lot of adversity and a lot of the naysayers to become one of the best players in the league.”
Gannon, who has ruled out any thoughts of becoming a coach in Tampa Bay or elsewhere by citing the long, grueling hours coaches put in and the time spent away from family, is the latest high-profile visitor Gruden and Allen have brought to One Buccaneer Place during the offseason. Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones visited the team in 2004, while Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh was among the Buccaneers’ guests in 2005.
“We also had Billy Kilmer come out last year,” Allen said. “There’s nothing like having an experienced person around to help everybody. I’m going to have Rich look at some tape of some pro personnel in our division and get his thoughts because he’ll have something to add.”
But the main reason why Gannon is in town is to assist Tampa Bay’s young quarterbacks like Chris Simms.
“He’s one of two guys who has mastered this offense in the last 15 years – him and Steve Young,” Simms said. “I’m just very excited to have him here, especially because he did it with Coach Gruden. That three- or four-year stint he had with the Raiders, I don’t think there was a better quarterback in football. I look forward to picking his brain.
“He sat back there with the quarterbacks in our meeting. He’s a great guy, for one. He has a tremendous professional work ethic and just all-around character. He’s got so much to offer. He’s like having another coach out there, but he’s actually been out there and played the game.”
Gannon and the Bucs had to weather a constant drizzle during the OTA practice. During and after practice, Gannon was dressed in Buccaneers apparel, which seemed odd given his history of playing against Tampa Bay.
“I’m soaking wet, so I had to put some more clothes on and this is what they had,” Gannon laughed. “They’re trying to slip some Super Bowl stuff on me, and I thought that was a little much. Then I walk into the building and there’s pictures of me getting sacked during the Super Bowl.
“And I stopped by that [Buccaneers] golf outing [Monday] and they had the Super Bowl trophy out there. It will always be a sore spot, but I’ve gotten over it. Actually, I shouldn’t say I’ve gotten over it. You never get over it. But my counselor says…”
Gannon was also asked if he had spoken with Brooks during the visit.
“Derrick Brooks almost singlehandedly ended my career,” Gannon said. “But I have nothing to be ashamed about. I played 17 years, I played on some good football teams and I helped turn an organization around. I’m happy about the way my career went.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com