Gannon retires after 18 seasons in the NFL

NAPA, Calif. -- Rich Gannon hollered at his teammates whenever he felt it necessary, and he had the support of owner Al Davis all the way.

"We used to hear a little bit, 'The players are getting upset with Rich. He's on them too much,'" Davis recalled. "Boy, I raised my hand and said, 'Amen, go ahead.'"

Gannon called it quits Saturday, retiring from the Oakland Raiders after missing most of last season with a broken vertebra in his neck.

Now he's headed to the broadcast booth.

The 39-year-old quarterback, supported by about a dozen teammates and several coaches, announced his decision at the team's wine country training facility; it had been expected for months.

"As far as the decision to retire, it was an easy one for me," Gannon said, sitting alongside Davis and coach Norv Turner. "It really was not my decision. I was not able to continue to play physically. That really takes all the guess work out of it for a player like myself, who still feels that he's got enough left in his tank and enough left in his arm and his legs to continue to play."

Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP, was known as much for his confident demeanor and tireless work ethic as his accurate arm. He has already signed with CBS Sports as an NFL game analyst after playing 18 seasons in the league, though both he and Davis hope Gannon will stay involved with the franchise in some capacity.

He guided the Raiders to the 2003 Super Bowl before spending much of the last two seasons injured. A shoulder injury cut short the 2003 season for Gannon. Then he hurt his neck in the third week of last season in a helmet-to-helmet collision with Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks.

"I missed out on a chance to be with a great person, a great player for an entire year," Turner said. "That's a regret."

Gannon threw for 28,743 yards and 180 touchdowns in his career with Minnesota, Washington, Kansas City and Oakland. He passed for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing more than 67 percent of his passes in his MVP season and made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. Twice he was MVP of the Pro Bowl.

"Let me say that today is an emotional day for the organization because it's a premature ending because of injury," Davis said in a rare public appearance. "Think what you want, his age was not the factor by any means -- it was what he said it was, injury. It's a proud day. ... The proudness is Rich Gannon wore the famed colors silver and black for six years. He gave us something that we needed, and we needed it badly. He gave us a worker."

Gannon never stopped working even after his injury.

He tried to help any way possible last season, attending meetings and games while wearing a bulky, plastic brace. He consulted with four of the country's top neck and spine specialists, and they advised him not to return last season. Gannon held out hope of playing this year though he knew it was unlikely.

He said he "can still be a normal person" and play catch with his two daughters despite the injury.

His teammates are grateful he stayed involved.

"That's what Rich Gannon's all about," said Kerry Collins, promoted to starting quarterback to replace Gannon. "After he got hurt, he was still in the meetings, he was there. His neck was hurting but he was still a part of it and really wanted us to be successful. That pretty much says it all about him. He's one of the smartest quarterbacks I've ever been around. ... I don't think there's anyone better than Rich Gannon. He showed that week in and week out the way he played, too. He was a tremendous competitor."

Gannon's stardom didn't come easily.

Early on, several teams envisioned Gannon as an NFL safety. He insisted he would be a quarterback.

"He's stubborn, boy, I'll tell you that," Davis said. "He's stubborn on a lot of things. In any event, we watched him because the scout thought he could play quarterback, not only based on his ability but based on his feet. He was an excellent scrambler and could make teams have tremendous problems. ... Rich could have played in any era because of his feet. His feet drove people crazy."

He was traded to Minnesota only two weeks after New England drafted him out of Delaware in the fourth round in 1987. He played for the Vikings until 1992, spent '93 with Washington, sat out the '94 season after shoulder surgery and then became a starter in Kansas City from 1995-98.

Gannon left the Chiefs as a free agent in 1999 and became a sensation in Oakland.

"Six years ago, in 1999, I was really a journeyman quarterback," Gannon said. "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. Davis and Jon Gruden gave me that opportunity to be an everyday starter. I tried to make the most of that opportunity. ... I can tell you this, I never took one day of my career in the National Football League for granted."