|Raiders say much of nothing at presser
By Wayne Drehs
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- He's good enough, he's smart enough, and -- doggone it -- most people like him.
So when Raiders rookie head coach Bill Callahan followed the lead of Super Bowl counterpart Jon Gruden and ditched Monday night's media session for some added game preparation, Jerry Rice stepped up to the podium and did his best impersonation of a head coach.
It wasn't hard.
The rules: Dress nice. Smile. And talk a lot. Just don't say anything.
Does he ever. When it came time to answer a question about whether or not the Raiders hold any resentment toward Gruden, who left the team last year to coach the Buccaneers, the future Hall of Famer did his best Sammy Davis Jr. impression, tap-dancing his way to an answer that culminated with, "I can't really say if the players are hostile toward him or anything like that."
Yet when it came time to talk about what it means to be a Raider, he talked at length. The four teammates who joined him Monday night -- Charlie Garner, Lincoln Kennedy, Bill Romanowski and John Parrella -- were no different, saying little, if anything, with any juice to it.
Only safety Rod Woodson, who joined the team this year and never even played under Gruden, answered the delicate question with anything of an emotion-filled answer.
"He doesn't matter," Woodson said. "He's not playing. Now, if he wants to put on a helmet, strap it up and play, that's a different story. We can give him a few hits."
Nothing like having the juicy Super Bowl angle squashed in one 35-minute interview session. For all the sweaty hands and knocking knees over Oakland's impending arrival -- the local paper, after all, called Oakland's AFC championship victory some San Diegans "worst nightmare" -- these dogs don't seem to have much bite. At least not verbally.
An NFL spokesman shrugged off the absence of Callahan, who made the 45-minute flight with the team Monday afternoon, but elected to stay in his hotel room planning rather than coming downstairs for the interview session.
But while Gruden's absence was announced early in the day, and subsequently understood, considering the five-hour flight and three-hour time difference between Tampa Bay and San Diego, Callahan's absence was a bit more puzzling. Garner even hinted that the only reason his head coach wasn't there was to follow his mentor's lead.
"Neither one of those guys are going to let the other guy know that he is outworking you," Garner said. "So it's going to be a battle all week long."
One challenge will be handling the myriad of distractions that pop up when one week separates the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Rod Woodson, upon sitting at his podium after Rice spoke Monday, said the first thing he was going to do after interviews was "get to bed. I'm beat."
Rice echoed those statements. The wide receiver played in three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, but each of those games came two weeks after the conference championship. This year's setup left Rice and his teammates scrambling late Sunday and early Monday to fulfill ticket requests and finalize family travel.
"You've got to get that out of the way and focus on the game," he said. "But it's difficult."
Yet the groundwork for this week has already been established. The Bucs, led by the vociferous Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson, are sure to provide plenty of entertainment. Already, Sapp wore a No. 7 throwback Eagles jersey to seemingly mock Philadelphia, which lost to Tampa Bay in Sunday's NFC title game, during the Bucs press conference.
Oakland, on the other hand, despite its rowdy and raucous image, seems perfectly content to trudge through the week-long media motions. The Raiders may say very little of anything and wait for Sunday to send any messages.
"This is awesome. It's awesome to be here," Rice said. "But I'm just looking at the prize. I tell our younger guys -- it doesn't do any good to get here if you don't win the game. We have to win the football game."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com