D'ADAMO: Different dynamics with Gannon and Rice

The futures of quarterback Rich Gannon and wide receiver Jerry Rice have far less ambiguity as of late Monday night.

Gannon confirmed that he will not return to the playing field this season after suffering a cracked vertebra in his neck in a September 26 game against Tampa Bay. The Oakland Raiders have not yet decided to put Gannon on injured reserve for the second straight season. The Raiders also granted Rice his wish to be traded after weeks of requesting such a fate in lieu of becoming a significantly reduced factor in the Raiders offense. Oakland shipped Rice to the Seattle Seahawks Monday night for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. The trade is expected to be official once Rice completes his physical with the Seahawks Tuesday.

Both situations have an entirely different dynamic.

Gannon has not stated specifically whether or not he would retire but frankly that is the wise choice. Gannon turns 39 in December and saw four of the country's top neck and spine specialists over the past couple of weeks and was told he shouldn't try to play again this year. Gannon did not rule out a return next season and nor did he utter the "R" word – aka retirement.

Gannon was knocked out of the game in the first quarter of the Raiders' 30-20 win over Tampa Bay last month after being hit by linebacker Derrick Brooks. The Raiders originally said Gannon would be out at least eight weeks. Kerry Collins is playing in his place.

Gannon was eager to make the 2004 campaign his comeback season after the 2002 NFL MVP was hurt in a 17-10 loss to Kansas City last Oct. 20, and had shoulder surgery in November. The Raiders placed Gannon on injured reserve and he worked diligently to get himself back to being healthy.

Gannon knew the injury was significant right away, but never felt numbness in his extremities. In leading the Raiders to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1983 two years ago, Gannon broke the NFL completions record with 418. He led the league with 4,689 yards passing, nearly becoming just the second quarterback to go over 5,000 yards in a season. Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984.

Gannon completed 67.6 percent of his attempts, had 26 touchdowns passes and only 10 interceptions. His 97.3 rating was second in the NFL to the Jets' Chad Pennington. He also threw for more than 300 yards in 10 games, another record.

Gannon will discuss his future in football with his family. Everyone has their own opinion on what Gannon's decision should be and that's retire. Frankly, the viewpoint from this corner is no different. While I do not claim to be a medical expert, risking such injury again that involves the neck or the spine is frankly not worth it.

He should have no regrets in doing so either and Raider fans should remember him as one who brought much-needed stability to the position that the franchise lacked for several years.

Many Raider fans, and media, bristle about Gannon's lack of arm strength and even his salty personality. Unfortunately, they are missing the point. Whether it was the system, the talent around him or the coaching, Gannon did something no Raider quarterback could do for 19 years – lead them to a Super Bowl. Yes, they got their doors blown off and Gannon threw five picks in that game but you didn't see other "strong armed" quarterbacks like Jay Schroeder lead them there either.

Until he came to Oakland, Gannon was nothing more than a journeyman. Gannon was traded to Minnesota only two weeks after New England drafted him out of Delaware in the fourth round in 1987. He played for the Vikings until 1992, spent '93 with Washington, sat out the 1994 season after shoulder surgery, then became an effective starter in Kansas City from 1995-98.

Gannon left the Chiefs as a free agent in 1999, and had been a standout in Oakland until getting hurt last year.

Rice, meanwhile, deserved a much better fate. Instead, he has been spending the first six weeks of his 20th NFL season defending his ability better than opposing cornerbacks have been able to do throughout his career.

Now, he will be reunited with Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren, who was the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator from 1986-1991.

Rice, who owns virtually every receiving record imaginable, has seen his role significantly reduced for the Raiders under first-year head coach Norv Turner. The Raiders released Tim Brown in training camp after 16 seasons, the same fate Rice encountered in San Francisco, because they felt his ability was declining and that the team had younger receivers that were ready to become viable options.

Rice, however, said he was told that he still fit into the Raiders plans. That certainly has not been the case in 2004. Rice was more or less the nominal starter but has not been on the field in key moments of the game. Instead, Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry, Doug Gabriel and Alvis Whitted have been the vital cogs in Oakland's offense.

In fact, Rice has gone three times without a single reception, having his streak of 274 consecutive games with at least one catch snapped in a 13-10 win over Buffalo and again in a 35-14 loss at Indianapolis and in Sunday's 31-3 loss to Denver. It's one thing to go without a catch in the Buffalo game because the contest hung in the balance. Therefore, continuing his streak was not an emphasis. Against the Colts and Broncos, however, the Raiders were trailing. One would think Rice would get at least one pass thrown to him at some point.

There are two ways to look at Rice's situation. For one, the Raiders perhaps should have been more up front with him so he would not have to scramble near the trading deadline to find a taker. Secondly, if the Raiders were struggling so badly, why not make him a part of the offense? After all, he is the NFL's all-time receiving leader for a reason?

Rice joined the Raiders after San Francisco released him for much the same reason Oakland decided to part ways with Brown. In late January, Rice said that 2004 would be his last season. He came back excited to put last season's 4-12 disaster behind him under a new head coach (Turner) with a new philosophy. Rice is now hinting at the desire of wanting to play beyond this season – with emphasis on the word "play."

Rice might no longer be the best receiver in the NFL like he was, say 10 years ago, but he is still better than half the receivers in the game.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at vdad7@yahoo.com


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