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Rich Gannon, native of Northeast Philadelphia, graduate of St. Joseph’s Prep and the University of Delaware, finally reached the mountaintop in the 2002 season. He set four NFL passing records, led the Oakland Raiders to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1984 and won his second Bert Bell Award from the Maxwell Football Club as the Professional Player of the Year.
“There is no one I know of mentally who can come in here and handle this offense and direct it the way he does,” said Oakland receiver Tim Brown. “That’s what makes him the MVP of the league. He puts the ball in the right place at the right time.”
“For me to give you all the positives about Rich Gannon, you’d need three pages,” said Phil Simms, the former Giants quarterback, now a CBS-TV analyst. “He is the most dedicated quarterback I’ve ever been around in the NFL and the second guy isn’t even close.”
In 2002, Gannon completed 418 passes, breaking the previous single-season mark of 404 set by Warren Moon. He set a record with 10 300-yard passing games and six of those came in consecutive weeks, equaling another mark set by Steve Young (1994) and Kurt Warner (1999). He set a pair of single-game passing records with 43 completions in a 30-17 win over Pittsburgh and 21 consecutive completions in a 34-10 win over Denver.
Overall, Gannon passed for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns, both Raider team records, and he completed 67.6 per cent of his attempts. It was the culmination of a 15-year pro career that included stops in Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City as well as one season (1994) in which he was out of the league entirely following shoulder surgery.
The 37-year-old Gannon has won the Bert Bell Award twice in the last three years and that is a tribute to his persistence. He was originally a fourth-round draft pick by New England in 1987, but he forced a trade to Minnesota when he learned the Patriots planned to move him from quarterback to defensive back. It took 11 years, but in Oakland, he finally found a team that believed in him enough to make him their No. 1 quarterback.
Gannon has passed for more than 3,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Oakland and he led the Raiders to three consecutive AFC West Division titles.
“A lot of it is experience, being in the right situation, the right place,” he said. “All I ever really wanted or needed was a chance to be the everyday starter and get a chance to play. I really didn’t get that until I got here in 1999. I’ve been the beneficiary of some great coaching and I’ve been surrounded by some unbelievable players. That all helps the productivity end of it.”
Tubby Raymond, who coached Gannon at the University of Delaware, told Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: “People always asked me, ‘Why not move to the NFL so you can coach the best players?’ Now I can tell them: ‘Why should I have done that? I did coach the best player.’”