I made my way down to the convention center at 6:00 AM and had a nice surprise along the way. Just as I got to the end of Highway 163 was a Go Bucs billboard just off the Friars Road exit. There are Buccaneers fans all over.
I took a different route into media headquarters. I didn't want to go through the Gaslamp Quarter again after the debacle of the night before. It took me about five minutes longer than normal because I had to navigate on the go but it was definitely a lot easier in the long run. Total time, door to door was 55 minutes and that included the bag as well as the vehicle check.
I walked into the media workroom at 6:55 and my neighbor, Andy Kent of the Naples Daily News, was already banging away on his computer. He, like myself, was the only representative of his publication to make the trip to San Diego and he had to put out five stories a day. I know the feeling.
This is going to be a pretty easy day in terms of interviews. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden goes on at 8:30 AM and at 9:30 AM the opposition, Raiders head coach Bill Callahan, takes center stage. This is more of a dog and pony show in that, at the end of each session, the coach poses for pictures with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. At 11:30 Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League, was to give his state of the game address. That would be all for the mass media events on Friday. The rest would be individual events and one-on-one interviews as you could procure them.
At 7:10 AM I finally had my work area set up – computer and transcriber along with the trusty old cell phone that my wife Barbara thinks is my security blanket – so I could go to work. There was a stir out near Radio Row as I started to work on a few stories as well as the Friday diary. We investigated – like good reporters do – and found out it was the Miller Light Less Filling/Taste Great Wrestling Girls in the house again and they were out radio interviews. So much for writing articles at least for a few minutes. Ah, such wholesome young ladies.
Around 8:15 AM Andy and I decided it was time to head up to the press conference. We wanted to get a good seat because we both had questions that we wanted to ask each coach.
Gruden came out looking like he was head to the prom. He was nattily attired in a shirt and tie as well as a matching sport coach. It was definitely a change from the coaching attire that the Tampa Bay media is used to seeing from the 39-year old headman of the Buccaneers.
People who had a question were suppose to signal a member of the NFL staff and they would bring the microphone to you. You were to state your name and affiliation and then ask the question. Upon hearing this I immediately signaled a member of the NFL staff because, if there's one thing that I learned from being in the NFL, he who hesitates doesn't get heard. There's a time limit put on these affairs and you better get in early or you won't get in at all.
I was given the microphone and, 15 seconds later, told that I would have the first question. Now, I saw the movie Deep Impact and know that the first question sets the tone for the entire news conference so the pressure was on. I cleared my throat and stood up to ask Gruden the initial salvo from the media.
Q: When I asked Rich McKay yesterday if he expected to be here after the first loss to New Orleans he said that he didn't because he had no idea how the new staff would react to a home loss on opening day. What did you do to move away from the Saints game and on to the game at Baltimore?
A: We still had 15 games left. I can't even remember that was so long ago. We knew we had a good team and we lost a heartbreaking game in dramatic fashion. But I can't recall that.
Well, I give myself a B- for my first question as a rookie Super Bowl reporter. Not a homerun but, I would say, a stand-up double. At least I didn't strike out and that's when you either get a one-word answer or the dreaded Warren Sapp next question response.
Gruden did have some interesting commentary. In fact, some of the most poignant are below.
Q: This has been billed as the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. Given that, do you think that it's a match up that your defense has to win decisively so you can win the game with the other elements of your team?
A: Well, our defensive obviously has a huge say in us being here today. We're improving on offense. We expect to continue that trend. Our defense is a group that has to play a dynamite football game to beat the Oakland Raiders and that's a great challenge. A lot is being made of the No. offense versus the No. 1 defense. But I think the Oakland Raiders are here today in large part due to the play of their defense. They got a lot of new players there and they're playing extremely well in my opinion.
Q: With the parity in this league this season and as wild as the Playoffs have been, would it seem inevitable that this game on Sunday is just going to be one of those real close ones like the last two years have been?
A: I have no idea. I've tried to stay out of the business of predicting games. I don't think any of us predicted the last three Super Bowl Champions. But anything goes on Sunday. It's going to be decided by the offense and the defensive lines and execution plus playmaking. And how the ball bounces sometimes, you never know.
Q: Where among the game's personalities that you've gotten to know does Warren Sapp rank?
A: He's way up there on the list. I can honestly say that one of the great things about being a coach, in my opinion, is meeting some of these players firsthand. Sterling Sharpe and Ricky Watters, Keyshawn Johnson and Jerry Rice. But Warren Sapp, you could look under every rock in America and not find a guy like this. He's something else. He's a fun guy to be around. He loves football. He's a leader and a great perfectionist.
Q: What would it mean to you to hold the Super Bowl trophy over your head at the end of the game?
A: I can't describe that, really. It's an opportunity to be a world champion. This is a great accomplishment by a lot of people. And in modern day football and old-fashioned football, the way I learned the game, a group of people that can come together and win one of those is something that you just can't explain. It's very, very meaningful, obviously.
Q: Have you thought about what types of things you're going to say to your team before they hit the field?
A: I thought a little bit about it. With this crowd, you don't have to say a lot. The later you play into the season, the less you have to say sometimes. And I might ask a couple of players to say something here, today or tomorrow. I try not to talk for very long when I do speak to them. I think we all understand the magnitude of the game and, with that said, there's enough motivation out there for us now.
Interestingly enough, I got a chance to fire off another question and it would be the last Having the opener and the closer in a media session doesn't usually happen but I didn't shirk from that responsibility.
Q: Do you feel that your offense is the Rodney Dangerfield of pro football in that they get no respect?
A: I don't know. I think our offense is getting better. But we are nowhere near where we want to be eventually but we're improving. Our quarterback is playing extremely well. We're getting better up front and we're getting some more mixture, I think, in terms of the run and the pass.
Still about a B- but at least I got the rookie first press conference jitters out. ESPN Sal Paolantonio stated that of all the journalists here I was the only one with two questions. Was he upset or was he joking? One will never know.
Andy had to go meet a deadline so I sat with Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune for the second media gathering. At least this one I didn't have to throw out the first pitch so to speak. I had a chance to sit back and check out the lay of the land before I interjected my query of the first-year Oakland head coach.
Q: You're playing the best defense in the NFL and probably, man for man, the fastest defense as well. How hard is it to simulate that speed at your practices?
A: I think we have an outstanding group of players from a developmental standpoint. We have an excellent group of backup players that are the core of our special teams. So they provide an excellent, excellent look or picture for us to practice against. And it is hard to simulate because they are quality, all-pro players. They have all-pro players across the board, on all levels, and they are a difficult challenge. I will say that first and foremost. In addition, you are looking at a defense that is obviously the best in the League and has been one of the better defenses in the last three or four years. This is a defense that carried its team to the Super Bowl on its back. They have done it single-handedly. They have scored. Obviously, they have stopped people. They continue to make big plays and they're very tight and very intelligent about what they do.
Home run. Touch ‘em all. I gave myself an A+ on that one. Knocked it right out of the park. There's no sense asking another question because I can't top that one. Other comments by the Raiders head honcho, with some of them being a repeat of the previous press conference, follow for your perusal.
Q: No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. Do you feel that this is a match up that your offense has to win decisively to overcome some other elements of the game?
A: I believe offensively, as you attack the Tampa Bay defense, that you have to attack with patience. I think that you have to be intelligent about your approach, in order to not waste plays. As you watch teams play against the Tampa Cover 2, it's important that you pound with patience, that you pass with patience, and if it takes a methodical approach, so be it. But I really believe that you have to be conceptually sound, structurally sound, in order to not waste plays. If these guys back you up in down and distance, it could be a long, long afternoon. So how we stay manageable and how we attack with patience, even though we may be aggressive with our style, we still ought to be able to stay manageable and stay patient and not waste plays against this defense. Because they create so many turnovers and so many big plays.
Q: What is this game going to mean to a Rich Gannon and a Tim Brown, who have worked so hard for so long to get to this point?
A: I think words can't describe their emotional aspects. I can't even begin to delve into that and appreciate what it means for those guys to be here. I think that those guys have worked so hard to get to this point it's a culmination of a lot of things. A lot of toil and tears and hard work, and I just hearken back to last Sunday's against the Tennessee Titans and looking at Tim Brown in the fourth quarter and tears coming down his eyes and he was just so jubilant, and so ecstatic about where we were at and where we were going that he couldn't fathom it. He couldn't believe that we were going to the Super Bowl. And to be able to give that and to be able to lead a team to this situation and to this experience is, it's ultra special and I'm certain that those guys feel that and they sense that and that's why they want to do so well on Sunday.
Q: Have you thought about what types of things you will say to your team before they hit the field on Sunday?
A: Oh, I always do. I take tonight and I essentially relax and get to formulate ideas about our first 15 plays and how we are going to attack Tampa's defense. And then tomorrow, I sit down with Mark Trestman and we put together the first 15 and I visit with Chuck Bresnahan to get our approach as to how we'll compliment one another and obviously Bob Casullo and his input on special teams and how all three areas kind of interrelate to each other. But I spend tomorrow afternoon, basically tonight and tomorrow afternoon, thinking about what we're going to say. What I'm going to say to the team on Saturday and that basically comes off of what I have said to them on Wednesday when we begin the week's preparation. I generally come in there and give them a theme for the week. I make two or three points during practice, after practice so they can obviously visualize what's important when we change it up. We'll show a film clip or a highlight film and we do certain things to motivate our team, but we change that aspect up. But again the things and the keys to victories obviously have been laid forth on Wednesday. So when I come in here on Saturday night it's pretty much cut and dry on what we have to do and we add a little juice to it as we move along.
Q: Can you talk about the match up of your defense against the Bucs offense and what, if anything, concerns you there since much has been made about the other sides of the ball?
A: It's an interesting match up because as I watch the Tampa Bay Bucs on offense you see an offense that is efficient and that is multiple and that creates as many formations and schematic problems for you in terms of your force patterns and the run. And obviously coverage adjustments in the pass. So knowing Jon and understanding his world and what he's trying to create, there's going to be a lot of different shifts, motions, formations, personnel groupings. He's going to try to attempt or create a barrage of different appearances and looks and basically run the same core plays that he always has but maybe out of a different set or out of a different variation.
Q: How would you describe from your personal perspective your season with the Raiders from the date you took over until this day and how would you describe the Raiders season overall?
A: Overall it's been a tremendous journey. We have approached the season as a journey and we know there's going to be bumps in the road as we move along. But it's been an incredible ride. This group of players is a special group because of their passion and because of their abilities on the field to produce. So it's been special in every respect from the time that we started training camp until the point we're at right now and it's not over. They have been on a mission since day one and the mission is still incomplete. We have one final game to go and obviously Sunday's game, a victory, obviously, would put an exclamation point on it.
It was interesting to watch the reaction of each coach when they had to pose for pictures with the Super Bowl hardware. Each of them acted like it had a communicable disease and didn't want to get close to it. I didn't blame them because only one of them is going to be able to hoist the prize around 6:30 PM Pacific Time on Sunday. For the other it will just be a bad memory.
The funny thing about the press conference was that, if you closed your eyes, you couldn't tell if it was Gruden or Callahan speaking. They are both cut out of the same cloth from a philosophical sense. This is going to be a game where the two teams, especially the two offenses, are going to be as close to mirror images of each other. The Oakland defense is built for speed as well but their tackles, Sam Adams who is listed at 330 pounds and that's probably with one foot off the scale and John Parella at 300 pounds, are a little bulkier than the Bucs interior defensive linemen.
We went back downstairs to do a little more typing an, low and behold, I ran into the twins. It was the Coors Light twins and I was lucky enough to have my trusty disposable camera along. Got a great picture of those two beautiful blondes and me and I just happened to be wearing my University of Oklahoma shirt on. Daughter Kelly will love it. Go Sooners. Andy and I finally made it back to our workstation at 10:15 AM for 60 minutes of composition. We then headed upstairs again to listen to the state of the game speech from Commissioner Paul Tagliabue that began at 11:30 AM sharp. A few of the topics that the Head Honcho of the Gridiron was quizzed about are listed below.
Q: You touched on the expansion of cities that could host a Super Bowl? Is the San Francisco area in that mix?
A: We have had meetings with Mayor Jerry Brown We have had meetings with representatives of the business community up there about a Super Bowl in Oakland. And if there were interest in pursuing that idea, we would be open to having such discussions again. And it would be a part of our evaluation of a number of different cities as potential cities for Super Bowls.
Q: Can you give any insight into the discussions you've had with the Indianapolis Colts and the city regarding their stadium revenue issues?
A: I've had quite a few discussion with people in Indianapolis, the mayor, the business community, Jim Irsay, the newspaper. I was there in October and spoke to the business community at a major lunch event. I guess I would just say it's a work in progress. The Colts do have some needs growing out of a number of different factors – the stadium, the market, the number of new stadiums that drive their player expenses up under our salary cap system. I think the only thing that I could really say now is we committed to the city that we would openly share information that would enable them to make some well-informed judgements about their negotiations with the Colts. I've also committed to Jim Irsay to work with him and through him to try to get it resolved. But they do certainly have some needs and the discussions are ongoing.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle to putting a franchise in Los Angeles?
A: The biggest obstacle to date has been the absence of a state-of-the-art stadium. And that's why we're encouraged by the efforts in Pasadena to develop a concept for the Rose Bowl that would make it a state-of-the-art stadium while preserving all the history and other elements that are so critical to the community of Pasadena. And of course it would not be just for the NFL, it would be for UCLA and the Rose Bowl itself. But the biggest impediment has been the absence of a state-of-the-art stadium in the area.
I will delve more deeply into the commissioner's address at a later date. He brought up some points that I agree with, such as possibly changing the overtime rule, as well as some areas, like the possibility of a Super Bowl in New York or Washington, that I am totally against.
It was now 12:30 PM and time to get back to work. Before that happened I, honestly, caught a lucky break. Television star John Amos was in the building to take in the festivities and to be here if coach Hank Stram happens to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I caught the likable actor, who plays the reoccurring part of Joint Chiefs of Staff leader Admiral Fitzwallace on the critically acclaimed and Emmy Award winning The West Wing, for about 15 minutes between appearance. The interview was so moving and so good that I am going to make it a feature upon my return. Look for it in about 10 to 14 days. Believe me, this will be a must-read piece that only Pewter Report will have.
Now it was time for work. It's 1:00 PM and my next meeting is radio at 2:45 PM with Scotty and Jake on WAMR. I settled down to work but ran into singer Bon Jovi, former pro basketball star Rick Barry, Miami Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt, former pro quarterback and CBS announcer Boomer Esiason and NFL Man of the Year Troy Vincent to name a few.
I did my radio commitment with Scotty & Jake and had only final appearance. We were doing a special three-hour Super Bowl breakdown on WWPR and I had the first 20 minutes at the top of each hour while Dave White handled the host duties starting at 5:00 PM. I brought on the other three guys who help me out during the season in each of the segments. First Dave Alexander – former BLESTO scout for the Baltimore Ravens – from Portland joined me. The second shift went to Jim Theis – sports information director at the University of Wisconsin – from the Land of the Cheeseheads. Rounding out the hour was my own brother Tom Haggerty – former collegiate offensive lineman who definitely thinks, if you can call it that, with a lineman's mentality – from the Windy City of Chicago. These three and the four from the previous night along with Lenny Alcaro – The People Chef – out in Arizona make up what I like to call my Knights of the Gridiron. Or is it Nights of the Gridiron. It's getting late. Can't you tell?
Well it's 8:00 PM and it's time to fight the going home traffic. I got smart this time and went around the Gaslamp Quarter and scurried up Highway 5 until I hit 163 for my trip to Rancho Bernardo and the Holiday Inn. Had to make a stop at Burger King because tonight was going to be a working meal.
Finally finished the diary at 11:00 PM. Had BET on the television while I was writing and Comedy Night is pretty funny. I needed a few laughs to stay awake. Now, let's see if I can be asleep before the news is over. See you tomorrow for another day at the Super Bowl. GO BUCS!
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