While these teams have combined to win seven Super Bowls, neither came close to reaching the postseason in 2003.
Norv Turner took over as Raiders coach for the fired Bill Callahan following a 4-12 season, the worst collapse by a team that played for the title the previous year. Pittsburgh, coming off two straight playoff appearances, went 6-10 to match the worst record during Bill Cowher’s 12 years as coach.
“Going in you recognize that there is a kind of new start,” Cowher said. “We’re trying to re-establish a mindset, re-establish an understanding of how we are going to play the game of football this year. We are going go have to go through some growing pains in the course of doing that.”
Both starting quarterbacks are particularly motivated to return their teams to prominence, knowing their time with these squads may be running out.
Rich Gannon turned 38 in December and played just seven games last season due to injury after looking nothing like he did in 2002, when he was NFL MVP and took Oakland to the Super Bowl. The Raiders signed Kerry Collins to be the backup, but he could take over sooner than expected if Gannon struggles.
“We have two very, very good quarterbacks,” Turner said, “two guys who have led their teams to a Super Bowl.”
Despite coming off shoulder surgery, Gannon does not look ready to give up the starting job. He is 10 pounds lighter than he’s been in years, thanks to the most productive offseason of his 17-year career.
“I was under so much scrutiny this offseason,” Gannon said. “There were doubters out there who wondered whether I could play anymore. I took it personally, and trained like a mad man.”
Tommy Maddox was inconsistent last season, throwing for 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He is now looking over his shoulder at first-round draft pick Ben Roethlisberger. Maddox played fairly well in the preseason, but is lining up behind a very suspect offensive line.
Not having much of a ground game to depend on, with the aging Jerome Bettis and disappointing Amos Zereoue, also hurt Maddox. He could get help in that area with the addition of Duce Staley, who was officially named the starter over Bettis.
The 29-year-old Staley, three years younger than Bettis, has less wear and tear than the league’s No. 6 career rusher after being limited to 96 carries in Philadelphia’s running back-by-committee last season.
“He (Bettis) has a lot of respect for Duce, and Duce does for Jerome,” Cowher said. “I think it is a healthy situation and hopefully we will be able to give them both the ball.”
Staley could have trouble getting yards up the middle against Oakland’s new pair of veteran defensive tackles, Warren Sapp and Ted Washington. That duo should help a Raiders run defense which ranked last in the league last season, allowing 156.9 yards per game.
“Everybody’s interested—the coaches, the players,” Raiders safety Ray Buchanan said. “Everything is based on potential right now. We can try to establish some kind of identity with this first game.”
2003 STANDINGS: Raiders - 3rd place (tied), AFC West. Steelers - 3rd place, AFC North.
RAIDERS LEADERS: Offense - Gannon, 1,274 passing yards and 6 passing TDs; Tyrone Wheatley, 678 rushing yards; Zach Crockett, 7 rushing TDs; Jerry Rice, 63 receptions and 869 receiving yards; Rice and Brown, 2 receiving TDs. Defense - Eric Barton, 98 tackles; Roderick Coleman, 5 1/2 sacks; Phillip Buchanon, 6 INTs.
STEELERS LEADERS: Offense - Maddox, 3,414 passing yards and 18 passing TDs; Bettis, 811 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Hines Ward, 95 receptions, 1,163 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs. Defense - James Farrior, 96 tackles; Kimo von Oelhoffen, 8 sacks; Brent Alexander, 4 INTs.
2003 RAIDERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 113.9 yards per game (16th in NFL); Passing Offense - 171.9 ypg (27th); Total Offense - 285.8 ypg (25th). Rushing Defense - 156.9 ypg (32nd); Passing Defense - 212.1 ypg (22nd); Total Defense - 369 ypg (30th).
2003 STEELERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 93 yards per game (31st); Passing Offense - 206.5 ypg (14th); Total Offense - 299.5 ypg (22nd). Rushing Defense - 108.8 ypg (12th); Passing Defense - 190.1 ypg (11th); Total Defense - 298.9 ypg (9th).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 7; Steelers, 27-7. At Pittsburgh, Bettis rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown while the Steelers defense held the Raiders to 161 total yards.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Raiders - WR Porter, coming off an injury-plagued season, had just 28 catches for 361 yards with one TD last season. … The Raiders have not had back-to-back losing seasons since 1996 and ’97. … K Sebastien Janikowski missed just four kicks during all of 2003—one extra point and three field goals. … Oakland has not won on the road since Dec. 8, 2002, at San Diego. Steelers - WR Ward has had no fewer than seven receptions and 82 yards in the last three season openers. … RB Bettis has rushed for 275 yards on 61 attempts in three games against the Raiders. … Cowher is 4-1 against Oakland as Steelers coach.
2003 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Raiders - 0-8 on the road; Steelers - 4-4 at home.
INJURIES: Raiders - DOUBTFUL: DT Chris Cooper (calf); LB Sam Williams (shoulder). QUESTIONABLE: LB DeLawrence Grant (knee); LB Napoleon Harris (knee). Steelers: QUESTIONABLE: LB Kendrell Bell (shoulder). PROBABLE: S Ainsley Battles (ankle); CB Deshea Townsend (groin).