Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series acquainting fans with the Raiders’ illustrious 60-year history as the team moves to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
Rich Gannon arrived in Oakland as a 12-year journeyman quarterback who appeared to be in the twilight of a mediocre career. He’d been mostly a backup when he signed as a free agent in 1999.
But that all changed when the 33-year-old Gannon joined forces with Jon Gruden in Oakland. The two immediately clicked.
Before his six seasons with the Raiders, Gannon had never been to a Pro Bowl, never thrown for more than 2,305 yards and in the year he set his career-high with 16 touchdown passes in 1990, he also threw 16 interceptions.
In his first season in Oakland, he threw 24 touchdown passes, more than he had in the previous five seasons combined.
“I think the reason he and I hit it off so well is for whatever reason, Jon feels like he has to prove something every day of his life,” Gannon said in 2018. “I think it’s what drives him and motivates him. I think it’s why he and I had such great symmetry because I think I’m wired the same way. I feel like every day I came in as a player, I had to grind and really work on my craft to prove myself to my teammates and my coaches.”
Gannon went to the Pro Bowl the next four seasons, winning MVP of the game twice. He won the league MVP award in 2002 and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl, though his five-interception performance was forgettable. He was a two-time first-team All-Pro and three-time AFC Player of the year, winning a passer-rating title, a passing yards title, a touchdown passes title and leading the league in completion percentage in 2001.
It was one of the most remarkable late-career runs in NFL history.
“I think (Gruden) saw me as a quarterback that wasn’t young, but was getting a chance to have his own team and wanted to get it right and wanted nothing more than to win football games and would do whatever it took to do that,” Gannon said in an interview on the Raiders’ team site. “I never wanted to do anything in terms of my play that would let him down because I knew how much he had invested in me.”
In three years under Gruden, Gannon threw 79 touchdown passes and averaged more than 3,500 passing yards.
He didn’t miss a beat when Gruden left for Tampa Bay in 2002. Gannon threw for a career-best 4,689 yards on 67.6 percent passing and tossed 26 touchdown passes on his way to an MVP award and an appearance in the Super Bowl against Gruden’s Buccaneers.
But just like that, the magical ride was over for the Philadelphia native who was so adept at passing on the run and picking up extra yards with his legs yet still found a way to start all 48 games over his first four seasons in Oakland.
His health wasn’t able to hold up forever, though. Gannon played two more injury-plagued seasons for the Raiders before retiring before the start of the 2005 campaign and becoming a broadcaster.
“Six years ago, in 1999, I was really a journeyman quarterback,” Gannon told the Associated Press at the time. “I had played in the league 11 or 12 years and never really felt I was given an opportunity or chance to be an everyday player. In 1999, the Oakland Raiders, Mr. Davis and Jon Gruden gave me that opportunity to be an everyday starter. I tried to make the most of that opportunity.
“I can tell you this, I never took one day of my career in the National Football League for granted.”
He finished his career with 28,743 yards and 180 touchdown passes between stints with Minnesota, Kansas City, Washington and Oakland.
Gannon, a University of Delaware Hall of Famer, was originally drafted by the Patriots, who wanted to make him a safety.
They were the opponents in a 2002 playoff matchup remembered as the “Tuck Rule Game.” A controversial call helped propel the Patriots to a victory and end a realistic shot at a championship for the Raiders.