Many of us have read about the legendary football greats, who single-handedly led their team to success, but only a few players have been as influential as Rich Gannon. One of the best in his position, Rich Gannon, was a promising prospect from his college days itself. Born on December 20, 1965, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rich Gannon was a powerhouse in his position who dared to face anything with skill and confidence.
When did Rich Gannon’s football journey begin?
Rich started playing football in high school and continued for eighteen more seasons, with his career statistics showing his impressive climb to become the most valuable player of the NFL. The first sight of Rich Gannon’s talent was in Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He won three varsity letters each in football and rowing and two more for basketball. Throwing 1567 yards in his senior season at school, he won the first team All-City. He was a punter and quarterback then. His talent continued to shine when he started attending the University of Delaware for college.
Rich Gannon’s remarkable college career
After a successful life at school, Gannon went to the University of Delaware. He joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon club in the university and soon became a glorious part of Delaware’s football team, Delaware Fightin Blue Hens, which Tubby Raymond was coaching.
Gannon was coached by Tubby Raymond throughout his university career and played in Raymond’s wing, T Offence. He started at Delaware as a punter but soon switched to quarterback in his sophomore year. To say Rich Gannon made a mark at his university would be an understatement.
Gannon set 21 school records during his time at the University of Delaware. His records included some very difficult ones to break, like total offence yards of 7432 yards, passing yards of 5297, 845 pass attempts, and 462 completions. But his most highlighted achievement was being the only Delaware player at the time to achieve at least 2000 yards of offence for three consecutive years.
During his sophomore year, Rich Gannon bagged the I-AA Rookie of the Year award in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division in 1984. During his senior year at Delaware, Gannon was awarded the Yankee Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He also received an honourable mention on the All-American selection.
Reaching the professional heights
For the NFL Draft 1987, Rich Gannon was picked up by New England Patriots in the fourth round, where they intended to convert him to a running back. He was then traded to the Minnesota Vikings, where he enjoyed success before being transferred to Washington Redskins and then to Kansas City Chiefs.
Rich Gannon’s most successful year as a player was with the Oakland Raiders, where he achieved the most promising statistics of his career. He also set another record as a player for Blue Hens, his former university team.
Gannon’s entry into the Oakland Raiders
In 1998, after splitting up with the Kansas City Chiefs, Gannon was a free agent. He was picked up by the Oakland Raiders the following year in February. Rich Gannon came to his prime under the then head coach, Jon Gruden. The West Coast offence that Gruden deployed was a perfect fit for Rich Gannon.
In his first year as a Raider, Gannon was voted to the Pro Bowl, an event that was repeated three more times consecutively. But the accolades were yet to come. In 2001 and 2002, Rich Gannon set another record of winning the Pro Bowl MVP consecutively for two years.
2002, a bittersweet year for Gannon
2002 was the year when Gannon grew into the best version of himself. A year that the Raiders would not forget and nor would Gannon. Rich Gannon threw 4689 yards, scored 26 touchdowns, and recorded a career highest 97.2 passer rating. He set a record and won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
But the greatest achievement was taking the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl XXXVII. That day, he became the first former Blue Hens quarterback to start the Super Bowl. Rich Gannon was on a roll, passing at a record pace, more than any other quarterback in the history of the Super Bowl through 14 games, but in the last few weeks, he fell short of his feat.
By the end of the league, he led the league with 418 completions on 618 attempts. But this great player was yet to become a legend. Gannon threw five interceptions in the Super Bowl game, three of which resulted in a runback for a touchdown, a Super Bowl record. But the Super Bowl XXXVII was a game that left Gannon a feather away from becoming an NFL legend.
Gannon’s missed shot at glory
On January 26, 2003, the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, was the host for the last Super Bowl played in January. There were a lot of firsts and records set in this match-up between the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the first Super Bowl where the league’s number one offence team, Raiders, faced the league’s number one defence team, Buccaneers.
An interesting story surrounding the game was Jon Gruden’s trade. Jon Gruden was the Raiders’ Coach from 1998 to 2001, and this was why Gannon had reached his prime. But a trade had resulted in Gruden becoming the Buccaneers’ head coach in 2002. Time had now brought Gruden’s old team, and the new team face to face. It was also the reason why the Super Bowl XXXVII was called the Gruden Bowl. It was also known as the Pirate Bowl, being a match between two pirate-themed teams.
The ill-fated Super Bowl
Coming into the game, the Oakland Raiders were a four-point favourite. After all, they had been winning the previous seasons, and this was their fifth Super Bowl appearance. But for the Buccaneers, it was a fairytale run, appearing in the Super Bowl for the first time with Jon Gruden at the helm, guiding the team to 12 wins and 4 losses to finish the regular season.
The Oakland Raiders, known for their exceptional offence, did not expect the issues to creep into the side right in the Super Bowl Game. But the issue was not their offence not working. In fact, Gannon was having the best time out there in the field in the offence. The problem was that their offence worked exactly how they wanted it to work.
Why was it a problem? Their former coach, Jon Gruden, knew about the Raider’s playbook and the playing style and mannerism of their star quarterback, Rich Gannon. In this Super Bowl, Gruden was not in the Raider’s dugout but in the Buccaneers’. This meant that the Buccaneers knew exactly how the Raiders and especially their star quarterback, Rich Gannon, would play. Raiders’ head coach Bill Callahan also made a blunder by using some of the same audibles that Gruden had used in his time with the Raiders.
Backed by that knowledge, the Tampa Bay iron defence unravelled the juggernaut offences the Raiders kept throwing at them. The Buccaneers managed to sack Gannon five times, leading to 34 points consecutively. Tampa Bay’s Dexter Johnson came to stop Gannon and resulted in two of his interceptions.
The game ended 48 Buccaneers to 21 Raiders, making it the seventh-largest Super Bowl margin of victory. At the tenth hour, with glory at stake, Rich Gannon and his team could not open up the huge fortress of defence that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had created at San Diego, California.
The aftermath of Gannon’s missed shot
Rich Gannon’s career took a hit after the bittersweet season in 2002. In 2003, Gannon suffered a shoulder injury in week 7, resulting in his season-ending right then and there. In 2004, Raiders got a new coach Norv Turner, who had a very radical playing style. He made a new signing Kerry Collins.
Given that Collins was fitter than Gannon, many thought that Rich Gannon would lose his starting position in the team. After all, the new coach Norv Turner’s vertical offence looked like it was a better fit for Collins than for Gannon. But Gannon was a master of his trade. He did not just become Turner’s starting quarterback but also revelled in Turner’s vertical offence position.
2004, Gannon’s farewell to football
The Raiders season-opening match with the Pittsburgh Steelers saw him throw 305 yards with one resulting in a 40-yard touchdown strike to Doug Gabriel. The Raiders had almost won over a strong Steelers team that finished the season with 15 victories. But with a serious neck injury that ended Rich Gannon’s career, the Raiders lost all the fights they had, finishing at 3 victories and 10 losses. Gannon finally retired from football before the 2005 season.
Back to the present
Rich Gannon was inducted into the University of Delaware Athletics Hall of Fame soon after his retirement on August 6, 2005. Gannon joined CBS television as an NFL analyst after his retirement. Gannon now works as the game analyst for Las Vegas Raiders pre-season games.
CBS let go of Gannon as an analyst on February 22 in 2021, but he still features in the Monday QB on CBS Sports Network. Gannon and his wife are also the national spokesperson for the Celiac Disease Foundation and are organisers for the Annual Celiac Week at Holy Family Catholic Church School in Minnesota.
Rich Gannon’s story is filled with evidence of how far grit and hard work can take a person. From a ball-playing schoolboy to playing at the Super Bowl, only a few can withstand all the hardships and trials that Gannon had to face. For his accolades and gameplay, Rich Gannon was declared the twenty-eighth greatest quarterback of the modern era by the Football Nation, a title no one shall dispute.