Depending on which angle you take, the 2002 season was a success AND failure for the Oakland Raiders.
The successful part is that the team made its first Super Bowl appearance since the 1983 season and won its third straight AFC Western division title. The downside was the outcome of the former, a 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That defeat was the Raiders' most lopsided in a postseason game since getting annihilated by Buffalo (51-3) in the 1990 AFC Title Game. The Raiders arrived for training camp in Napa, CA, for the start of 23-day stint intent on beginning the process of washing away those memories.
"I'm really anxious," Oakland head coach Bill Callahan said. "I've got a bad taste in my mouth and I want to get it out as soon as I can. We all do. The resolve of this team is great. To a man, everybody wants to get back to where we were. This is a team that's got great pride. To a man, I know a lot of individuals want to get back and get going again. This is ultra important."
The players had to endure a conditioning test upon their arrival in Napa. The test consisted of eight 100-yard "shuttle" runs. Callahan added that there is more to the test than merely completing it.
"I'm a little concerned about the stamina going into training camp and seeing how guys come back after a month's layoff," Callahan said. "I'm always concerned about where they're at from a stamina and endurance perspective. It's one thing to complete a test but a guy can be standing up and breathing fine at the end of it or he can be bent over and at his knees."
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Raiders best chance to win it all came last season. Oakland, however, figures to be in hunt once again for the Super Bowl for a few reasons. The Raiders did not take a step backward at any position and the AFC lacks an overwhelming team. The only serious concern is age and injury becoming a factor.
"It's important to establish yourself from a work perspective, getting your fundamentals in order is first and foremost," Callahan said. "You try to hone your core techniques to allow you to do what you do. It's important to establish a work ethic that is second to none."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com