Spotlight on Rich Gannon

Rich Gannon has been one of the few NFL quarterbacks to make it through the last two seasons relatively injury-free. Though he had an assortment of ailments - including being drilled into the turf by Baltimore's Tony Siragusa in the AFC Championship Game - the 35-year-old Raiders quarterback has stayed upright and intact while engineering Oakland's turnaround the last two seasons.

Gannon has also done a good job avoiding being caught up in the half dozen or so fights that broke out during the first 11 days of the Raiders' training camp. Gannon isn't one to run from confrontation, but as the leader of Oakland's offense and one player the Raiders could ill afford to lose to injury, Gannon realizes he's the last person who needs to be stepping in between two 300-pound behemoths.

"I've seen guys get hurt. That's why I'm a lover, not a fighter,'' Gannon joked. "It's really bad. I've learned to stay away from those piles.''

Gannon has shown that same deft style on the field. A year ago he was the Raiders' second-leading runner with 529 yards. That was also second among NFL quarterbacks, trailing only Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb with 629. Gannon was equally successful throwing the ball. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,430 yards and a career-best 29 touchdowns.

"He's just an outstanding quarterback,'' said head coach Jon Gruden. "We as coaches like to think our offense is one that he can thrive in. But at the same time I think he can pretty much function in just about any offense, whether it be the Wing-T at Delaware or the Viking offense or any of these offenses he's been in. He's an excellent player.'' More to the point, Gannon is also the Raiders' unquestioned leader. A take-charge player whose best asset is his ability to improvise, Gannon led the 2000 Raiders to a 12-4 record, their best in a decade. He also took them to their first conference title game since 1990.

"I told you guys when he first came here, we're not asking him to do anything he hasn't already done,'' said center Barret Robbins. "He took his team to the AFC championship at KC. They put him on the bench; they lost. Now we have to finish that quest for the Raiders.''

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