This Guy Can Take a Hike

Let's get this straight from the start: There's no way the Oakland Raiders could have beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, whether the Raiders were at full strength or not. They were thoroughly dominated by Tampa Bay's defense, crushed by all 18 wheels of the Mack Truckaneers, and their own defense made Michael Pittman look like Marshall Faulk.

The Raiders were embarrassed.

Just wince, baby.

They also were done in, though, by one of their own. The disappearing act of Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins was not only a betrayal, it was the death blow to an already overmatched team. Robbins, who broke team rules and was scratched from even attending the Super Bowl, reportedly is in a San Diego hospital under an assumed name, and Raider officials aren't saying what's ailing him. His fed-up teammates, though, were letting it leak.

"Too much bad tequila," an angry Mo Collins told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Collins is the guard who starts on one side of Robbins.

The starting guard on the other side is Frank Middleton. He says he doesn't want to come back to the Raiders next season if Robbins is still on the team.

"Once and for all, B-Robb is not our heartbeat," Middleton said. "B-Robb is not central to what we do. B-Robb is not our backbone. He messed up his career, not ours."

But a case can be made that the absence of Robbins essentially ended the game for the Raiders before it started. It wasn't all his fault, though. The Raider coaches and administrators blew it too. I can hear the Raider apologists now:

The Raiders can't baby-sit everyone.

They don't need to. Tim Brown didn't need to be told how important this game was. He waited 15 seasons to get here. Nobody needed to watch Jerry Rice or Bill Romanowski, or Rich Gannon or Rod Woodson, or dozens of other guys mature enough to know a Super Bowl might come along once in a career.

But someone should have been shepherding Robbins and kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who have made more than their share of bad decisions that have hurt themselves and their team. I was covering the Raiders as a beat writer in 1996 when Robbins got into trouble and missed the last two games of the season. The Raiders said he'd had a bad reaction to some medication he was taking, but it remains a murky mystery. Two sources within the organization said there was a more sordid explanation to that episode, but the details are hazy.

How much difference can a center make?

Robbins wasn't voted into the Pro Bowl for nothing (although he was removed from the AFC team Monday). He's one of the best centers in the game, and he makes all the line calls. Yes, his backup Adam Treu started most of last season, but he doesn't replace Robbins.

Most of Tampa Bay's pressure came from the defensive ends, not up the middle.

With Robbins in the game, the Raiders probably would have done a better job of establishing the run. That would have kept those ends honest, prompted them to stay home and watch for Charlie Garner coming around the edge. Without Robbins, the Raiders gained 1.7 yards a carry.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Yes, we all do. But most of us are smart enough not to drag 52 of our closest friends down with us.

If Gannon is the NFL's most valuable player, he should be able to make a late adjustment to losing his center.

Great story about Gannon. Two years ago, the Raiders and Dallas Cowboys played an exhibition game in Mexico City on "Monday Night Football." Although Gannon was supposed to play at least a half, he never even put on a uniform. The Raiders said he'd come down with a stomach bug and was too ill to play.

The truth was, he refused to play. He walked into the locker room a few hours before the game and overheard some offensive linemen talking about how hard they had partied the night before.

"I'm just going to block the guy in front of me," said one joker. "I hope they don't expect me to get downfield and block anybody."

Gannon quietly fumed. He went to then-coach Jon Gruden and erupted, telling Gruden he had better get control of his team. That's when Gannon announced he wouldn't be playing. Why risk his knees, his career, for some lineman who didn't care enough to stay sober the night before a game?

Gannon is a perfectionist. He's demanding and he doesn't suffer fools. It's part of what makes him such an outstanding football player. If he refused to play in an exhibition behind one or more hung-over blockers, how would he react if someone pulled one of those stunts before the biggest game of his life?

We saw Sunday. Gannon looked rattled, out of sync, jittery. He made bad decisions and forced throws. He looked nothing like the guy who almost became the NFL's second 5,000-yard passer.

Afterward, Gannon talked about how a defense can make a great quarterback look like a good quarterback by knocking him down a few times. A few more, and a good quarterback looks like an average quarterback. A few more and average becomes poor.

Hard to believe his own teammate was responsible for the first knockdown.

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