Super Bowl wait over for Brown, Raiders

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 20, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tim Brown waited a long time. Al Davis waited even longer.

Now, the Oakland receiver has filled in one of the few blank spots left on his resume, and helped the owner of the Raiders find his way back to the Super Bowl.

The veteran Raiders -- the team Davis assembled to win now, right now -- made it back to the big time. Brown caught nine passes and league MVP Rich Gannon threw three touchdowns passes Sunday in a 41-24 victory over Tennessee in the AFC championship game.

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The Raiders are headed back to the NFL title game for the first time since 1984, and Brown is going for the first time in his 15-year career.

''I saw Tim over there at the end, with a towel on his head,'' said 40-year-old Jerry Rice, who will go for his fourth ring. ''I knew what he was going through, because I could look back on my first one.''

At the Super Bowl next Sunday in San Diego, Oakland will play Tampa Bay, a 27-10 winner in Philadelphia earlier in the day.

Oakland's oft-touted ''Commitment to Excellence'' will be tested by a coach who knows it well -- Jon Gruden, who left the Raiders after last season for the Bucs.

''I've got a lot of respect for where I come from,'' said Gruden, whose new team had to give four draft picks and $8 million to Oakland to get him. ''I do have some close relationships with some of those players.''

Players like Brown, the consummate professional who had never had a taste of the Super Bowl. He said the right things -- his career would still be complete if he didn't make it. But deep down, he knew he would be judged as less than complete.

It's not a concern anymore.

''I've been looking at this game for 14 years and watching other people go,'' Brown said. ''Now, I'm finally on my way. It's a great feeling.''

Oakland offered up a little something for all its fans, young and old.

For those who preferred the vintage Raiders, there were 14 penalties for 127 yards, a handful of cheap shots and enough hard hits on Titans quarterback Steve McNair to send him into the hot tub for a week. McNair played a valiant game, but paid dearly for each of his 194 passing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

''I don't think I have to say much about him,'' Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. ''His play speaks for his character.''

Meanwhile, the new Raiders showed off their high-octane, not-so-vertical passing game. Gannon completed his first 12 passes and went 29-for-41 for 286 yards. Most telling, however, was this: In the first three quarters, Oakland called exactly one running play. Gannon accounted for 42 of Oakland's 44 yards rushing during that span.

''Rich is the decision-maker,'' Rice said. ''He spreads the ball around. He did a great job. He was very composed. He also had some big plays running the ball.''

The Raiders took the lead for good late in the second quarter, when Eric Barton stripped Tennessee's Robert Holcombe, giving Oakland the ball at the Tennessee 16. Two plays later, Gannon hit tight end Doug Jolley for a score and a 21-17 lead.

Oakland expanded the lead to 10, but that's when McNair upped his game to its gutty, gritty best, leading the Titans on a 67-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-24.

Tennessee appeared to be stopped on that drive, but Terrance Shaw got called for a personal foul, Oakland's fourth of the game. On the next play, McNair ran in from 13 yards for his second score.

But the Raiders kept picking on Tennessee's pass defense, rated 25th in the regular season. Gannon led Oakland on a 66-yard drive and ran in for a 34-24 lead.

That drive, like this game, was nothing pretty, but then again, Davis has never demanded perfection.

The unspoken message in ''Just win, baby!'' has always been Davis' desire to field a team that could pull out even the ugly games.

In that vein, he signed a group of veterans who had endured a lot in this league. Mere penalties and a hot quarterback weren't going to be enough to halt this Super Bowl run.

''We fought all year long,'' Rice said. ''When we lost four straight games, this team stuck together and now we're going to the Super Bowl.''

The Raiders weren't alone with a four-game losing streak this season.

The Titans also endured one, and this was just their second loss since Oct. 6, when they fell to Washington and dropped to 1-4.

The Titans bristled when they learned they didn't place a single person in the Pro Bowl. In an odd twist, however, that finally changed Sunday. As the losing coach of the conference title game, Fisher will take his staff to Hawaii to coach the AFC.

''We can hang our hat on the fact we were 30 minutes from getting to the Super Bowl,'' tight end Frank Wycheck said.

The Raiders, however, aren't playing for moral victories, especially considering their recent playoff past.

Gruden's last game with the Raiders ended with a spirit-sapping loss in the snow in New England last January. It came after an apparent fumble the Raiders recovered late in the game was ruled an incomplete pass, and it provided these Raiders even more motivation.

Two seasons ago, they had home-field advantage in the title game, but Baltimore brought one of the NFL's best-ever defenses to town, knocked Gannon out of the game and left the Raiders empty.

This time, however, the team Davis built to win right away would not be denied.

''That's why I came here,'' said defensive lineman John Parrella, one of several veteran free agents who signed with Oakland this season. ''It's for this game coming up, a chance at the Super Bowl. I knew this team was obviously loaded.''