There’s a saying that opportunity only knocks once. In professional sports, that’s not quite true.
For Rich Gannon, opportunity knocked several times before he finally showed his potential.
A fourth-round pick in the 1987 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, Gannon spent most of his first decade in the NFL as a backup.
In 1999, he signed with the Oakland Raiders, Gannon’s fourth franchise as a player.
It's over 20 years since Rich Gannon was the Raiders QB
At the time we had a QB in total control of his game and a top 5 QB in the league.
— Raiders Fan 365 (@365Raider) September 24, 2022
That was the turning point in his career.
For the next four years, Gannon was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he took home the league’s MVP award in 2002.
His play that season also helped Oakland reach the Super Bowl, and the fact that it was Gannon’s 15th year in the league was even more special.
This is the story of Rich Gannon.
Growing Up In Philly
Richard Joseph Gannon was born on December 20, 1965, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Happy birthday, Rich Gannon 🎂 pic.twitter.com/2id3FPtXdw
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) December 20, 2020
Growing up in a region filled with sports opportunities rubbed off on Gannon.
By the time he became a student at Philly’s Saint Joseph’s Preparatory Academy, Gannon had tried his hand at numerous activities.
During his prep career, Gannon played football and basketball and rowed for the Hawks’ crew team.
He received varsity letters three times for crew and football and snagged two more for his play on the hardwood.
Not only was Gannon athletically gifted in three different sports, but he was also versatile on the gridiron as well.
As a senior in 1982, he was the Hawks’ starting quarterback and punter and earned All-City first-team honors for both positions.
Gannon passed for over 1,500 yards during his final prep season and had mild interest from several area colleges.
However, he already had his sights set on a particular college while still in the early days of high school.
Gannon’s older brother, John, played linebacker for the University of Delaware Blue Hens.
The Gannon family would travel frequently to watch John play ball, and the school soon became like a second home for Rich.
“I thought UD would be a great place to get a great education and play for a really solid college football program,” Gannon said.
When it came time for him to decide on a college, Gannon chose Delaware and long-time head coach Tubby Raymond.
He played sparingly as a punter during his freshman season in 1983 but was switched to quarterback as a sophomore in 1984.
— Quarterback Club (@TheNewQBClub) February 24, 2017
Gannon’s first collegiate start was against James Madison University, which boasted a future NFL Hall of Famer.
Thankfully, Gannon stayed upright long enough to help lead the Blue Hens to an 8-3 record and become the Division I-AA Rookie of the Year for the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
Record-Setting Blue Hen
The more he started for Delaware, the more confident Gannon became.
After a 7-4 junior season in 1985, Gannon led the Blue Hens to a 9-4 regular season in 1986.
He was named the Yankee Conference Player of the Year and also received a nod as an honorable mention All-American.
Former UD quarterback Rich Gannon and other UD football alumni support fundraising campaign to support Athletics' Building Our Home initiative. Learn more about Delaware First: The Campaign for the University of Delaware https://t.co/IicfxTFcew #UDisthePlace pic.twitter.com/qyZWyoT5IR
— UD Admissions (@UDAdmissions) January 13, 2018
Playing in his first postseason, Gannon led Delaware to a decisive 51-17 victory over William & Mary College in the Opening Round of the I-AA playoffs.
The following week, Gannon’s collegiate career ended with a humbling 55-14 loss to Arkansas State.
During his time as a Blue Hen, Gannon set 21 program records.
These included passing yards (5,927), total offense (7,436), and yards rushing by a quarterback (1,509).
In addition to his other accolades, Gannon was named Delaware’s Outstanding Senior Male Athlete of the Year for 1986-87.
— Mike McFeely (@McFeely_Inforum) September 13, 2019
In 2016, he was added to the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.
“I took great pride in playing for Delaware,” Gannon said in 2018. “My best friends are not players I played with in the NFL, but players I played with at Delaware.”
4th Round Pick
With the 98th pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected Gannon.
New England’s management viewed Gannon as a defensive back, receiver, or running back.
The New England Patriots originally drafted quarterback Rich Gannon and intended to convert him to running back, bu… pic.twitter.com/tmUvNQFxeJ
— Siva Kodali (@kodali_siva) June 17, 2016
That didn’t appeal to Gannon who only wanted to play quarterback in the NFL.
“I told them I wouldn’t report to training camp,” Gannon said. “I would have gone to law school rather than do that.”
In 1987, the Pats quarterback room was already full, and Gannon didn’t believe he would get a fair shake to make the team.
“I was drafted as an athlete, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t going to give me a chance to play quarterback,” Gannon said. “They had Steve Grogan and Tony Eason and Tom Ramsey [at quarterback]. I just felt my chances of making it in the NFL weren’t very good if I didn’t have a chance to play quarterback.”
Gannon’s ultimatum worked, and New England traded him to the Minnesota Vikings.
Although Minnesota had no problem with Gannon remaining as a quarterback, the franchise already had Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson.
Stuck behind both players, Gannon was strictly a backup between 1987 and 1989, completing just nine passes for 108 yards and an interception during that span.
Starter at Last
After the 1989 season, Kramer left the Vikings and joined the New Orleans Saints.
Minnesota added former NFL and CFL signal caller Sean Salisbury and also retained Wilson.
In the third game of the 1990 season, Wilson tore ligaments in his thumb, and Gannon took over as the team’s starter in Week 4.
The Vikings went 6-10 that year, and Gannon started 12 games, throwing for 2,278 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.
Throwback: Rich Gannon playing QB for the Minnesota Vikings. pic.twitter.com/nBoQ7r5zC5
— Purple People Podcast (@PurplePeoplePod) November 16, 2014
With Wilson’s thumb healed, Minnesota coach Jerry Burns reinserted him as the starter in 1991 and demoted Gannon to third string behind Salisbury.
Through the first five games of the year, Wilson struggled, and Salisbury failed to impress.
With no other options, Burns sent in Gannon, and he led the team to a 6-5 record in 11 starts.
Minnesota went 8-8 overall, and Gannon had 2,166 yards for 12 touchdowns and six picks.
After the ‘91 season, Burns retired, and the Vikings hired Stanford coach Dennis Green.
Undecided as to who should start, Green rotated Salisbury and Gannon during the 1992 preseason.
Gannon emerged as the starter and led Minnesota to an 8-4 record before Green benched him in favor of Salisbury for the remainder of the season.
Minnesota went 3-2 to end the year, and Salisbury was sacked four times and picked off twice by the Washington Redskins in a 24-7 Wild Card playoff loss.
Trade to Washington
Six years after joining Minnesota, Gannon was traded to the Washington Redskins.
Once he arrived in Washington, Gannon found himself in a familiar position.
Just like his 1987 experience in Minnesota, Gannon was relegated to holding a clipboard as a third-stringer.
Mark Rypien and Cary Conklin were ahead of him on the roster, but Gannon eventually replaced both.
— Utah_Man_In_AZ (@4_second_40) September 5, 2022
During the 1993 season, he started four games and played in eight, passing for 704 yards, three touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
The Redskins went 4-12, and Gannon was released after the year.
Kansas City, Here He Comes
Dealing with a severe shoulder injury, Gannon missed the entire 1994 season and then was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs before 1995.
He would back up Steve Bono in ‘95 and 1996 and start only three games during that time.
Then, before the 1997 season, the Chiefs signed former San Francisco quarterback Elvis Grbac, and head coach Marty Schottenheimer made him the starter over Gannon.
Through the first nine games, the Chiefs had won seven times before Grbac was injured in Week 10.
Gannon started Week 11, a loss against Jacksonville, before leading Kansas City to five consecutive wins.
— Vintage KCChiefs (@Vintage_Chiefs) April 20, 2022
When Grbac was ready to return in the final week of the season, there was pushback from the media as well as Chiefs fans who thought Gannon should remain the starter.
Schottenheimer chose Grbac anyway, and he beat the Saints in the final regular season game before losing to Denver in the Divisional round.
The following year, Grbac began the 1998 season as the starter before getting injured in Week 1.
Gannon replaced him again, starting 10 games and passing for 2,305 yards, 10 touchdowns, and six picks.
During his time behind center, Gannon led the Chiefs to a 5-5 mark, and Kansas City missed the postseason with a 7-9 record.
Once the ‘98 season concluded, Gannon was released.
Gannon Becomes a Raider
In 1998, the Oakland Raiders rebounded from a 4-12 season in 1997 to 8-8 under first-year head coach Jon Gruden.
Heading into the 1999 season, Gruden wanted a different quarterback to help the franchise improve even more.
Oakland released ‘98 starter Jeff George and signed Gannon.
Interestingly, Gannon was reunited with Wade Wilson who had signed with the organization a year earlier.
In Gruden’s mind, Gannon was the perfect quarterback for his West Coast offense – someone who could make short, quick throws and command the offense’s respect.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) August 11, 2020
Although the Raiders went 8-8 again in Gannon’s first year, he had by far the best season in his career to that point.
Finally paired with a coach who believed in him (and surrounded by quality players) Gannon threw for 3,840 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions.
He was also voted to his first Pro Bowl.
Gannon Thrives in Silver and Black
For the next three years, Oakland continued to get better under Gannon’s leadership.
Suddenly, the quarterback few wanted was one of the best in the NFL.
“In 1999, I was really a journeyman quarterback,” Gannon told the Associated Press. “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. (Al) Davis and (Coach) Jon Gruden gave me that opportunity to be an everyday starter. I tried to make the most of that opportunity.”
It helped that the Raiders had a reputation for taking undervalued and discarded players and giving them a place to play.
Before Gannon, George Blanda had been signed by the franchise in 1967 as a washed-up 40-year-old quarterback.
He ended up playing nine years with the Raiders and winning an AFL title with the team.
In 1978, Jim Plunkett was given a chance by Oakland after not living up to expectations with the Patriots and 49ers.
During his nine years with the Raiders, Plunkett helped the team reach two Super Bowls, winning both as well as taking home MVP honors for Super Bowl XX.
Without a doubt, Gannon thrived in Oakland like his predecessors.
After his personal best 1999 season, he passed for over 3,000 yards again in 2000 and 2001.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) October 14, 2016
Gannon was selected for the Pro Bowl both seasons (winning the MVP of the ‘01 all-star contest) and was honored as a first-team All-Pro in 2000.
Looking back years later, Gannon believed he did well in Oakland because he and Gruden both had something to prove.
“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.”
During the 2002 season, Gannon turned 37, and no one expected him to improve on his already impressive three-year totals from 1999-2001.
However, for the Raiders and Gannon, things would only get better in 2002.
After losing in the AFC Championship game in 2000, the silver-and-black were eliminated in the infamous “tuck rule” game against New England in the 2001 Divisional Round playoffs.
That game saw Gannon throw a touchdown pass, and it looked like the Raiders would advance after a Tom Brady fumble was recovered by Oakland with less than two minutes remaining.
Of course, as many sports fans are now aware, Brady had apparently begun the process of “tucking” his pass attempt back to his body.
The officials ruled the fumble as an incomplete pass and gave the ball back to Brady and the Pats.
New England would end up winning the contest in overtime.
In 2002, Gannon sizzled as he lit up opponents for 4,689 yards (a career-high), 26 touchdowns, and 10 picks.
NFL Nostalgia: This is a QB name that makes me all nostalgic about the early days of playing fantasy football.
Rich Gannon 🙌
2002 Season (OAK)
– 4,689 passing yards / 26TDs / 10INTs
— Joshua Cho (@jbchoknows) February 9, 2022
He also had 156 yards and three scores on the ground.
Gannon led the NFL in passing yards as well as attempts (618), completions (418), and yards per game (293.1).
The league rewarded his spectacular season by naming Gannon NFL MVP in addition to his second first-team All-Pro selection.
He was also the MVP in that year’s Pro Bowl for the second time in as many years (a first in league history).
In the 2002 AFC Championship, Rich Gannon accounted for 4 total TDs as we defeated the Titans, 41-24. #tbt
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 22, 2016
Better yet, Oakland went 11-5 and beat the Jets and Titans in the playoffs to reach Super Bowl XXXVII.
Humbled in the Super Bowl
Unfortunately, the Raiders wouldn’t be going to the Super Bowl with Gruden as their coach.
After the 2001 season, team owner Al Davis and Gruden were embroiled in a dispute, and Davis traded his coach to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a pile of draft picks and cash.
Gruden then took an already talented Bucs team to a 12-4 record and victories over San Francisco and Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Oakland and Tampa Bay then met in Super Bowl XXXVII with something to prove.
Davis wanted to show the world that he could win a title without Gruden while the coach wanted his former boss to suffer for letting him go.
By halftime of the game, Gruden was grinning from ear to ear as Tampa Bay led 20-3.
The remainder of the game didn’t get any better as the Bucs’ defense hounded Gannon into throwing a Super Bowl-record five interceptions.
Random Fact: Rich Gannon entered Super Bowl XXXVII as the 3rd highest rated QB in NFL playoff history (94.3) trailing only Bart Starr (104.3) and Joe Montana (95.6). His 5 INT performance dropped him to 10th place (84.6). He never played another postseason game. pic.twitter.com/Pl1AsQNFnK
— Eric Drews (@GreenGold4Ever) May 18, 2022
Even worse, three of the picks were returned for scores, and Tampa Bay also sacked Gannon five times.
The final result was a 48-21 blowout win by Gruden’s new team.
It was painfully obvious to anyone watching that Gruden had the Bucs well-prepared to face his former squad.
Bill Callahan, who had replaced Gruden, failed to make significant changes to the Raiders’ play calling and audibles (from Gruden’s time with Oakland), and Tampa Bay took advantage.
Gannon’s stats for the day were 24 completions for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Gannon’s Career Ends
A year after their Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders fell to 4-12.
Gannon played only part of the 2003 season due to a shoulder injury, passing for 1,274 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2004, new head coach Norv Turner brought in former Giants quarterback Kerry Collins to compete with Gannon.
Not backing down from the challenge, Gannon won the starting job after training camp and had 524 yards and three touchdowns after the first three games while the Raiders went 2-1.
Unfortunately, during the team’s Week 3 game against Tampa Bay, Gannon injured his neck and was lost for the remainder of the year.
Earlier today, former Chiefs and Raiders QB Rich Gannon joined #TheDrive to preview Chiefs/Raiders.
— 610SportsKC (@610SportsKC) November 18, 2020
When the season concluded, he decided to call it quits after 17 years.
During his career, Gannon passed for 28,743 yards, 180 touchdowns, and 104 interceptions.
Additionally, he rushed for 2,449 yards and 21 more touchdowns which included a career-high 529 yards and four scores in 2000.
Gannon was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, two-time Bert Bell Award winner, and NFL passing yards leader once.
“I can tell you this, I never took one day of my career in the National Football League for granted,” reflected Gannon in 2020.
After leaving football, Gannon became an NFL analyst for CBS in 2005.
He has also spent time as a preseason analyst for the Las Vegas Raiders.
— Raiders on PFS (@spot_raiders) July 24, 2018
In 2021, CBS declined to renew Gannon’s contract, ending his 16-year run with the company.
Gannon and his wife, Shelley, have two daughters, one of whom was diagnosed with celiac disease at a young age.
Since her diagnosis, the Gannons have been involved with the Celiac Disease Foundation to help raise awareness.