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SUPER OLD

Jon Gruden wants you to know he doesn't prefer antique to art deco.

Given a choice, he would take an MP3 over an eight-track, ESPN over ESPN Classic and nursery school over nursing homes.

To the Bucs' 41-year-old coach, young usually covers the spread against old.

But when it comes to building a football team, it's hard for him to remove the silver and black _ from his players' chin stubble.

During free agency, Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, the former Raiders senior partner, signed 13 players who were 30 and older.

When they referred to the G-men, you thought Geritol, not (Joey) Galloway and (Charlie) Garner.

The Bucs and Raiders even engaged in their own version of Trading Spaces.

Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, for nine seasons the face of the Buccaneers, surfaced as a free agent in Oakland. Receiver Tim Brown, who's known as Mr. Raider after spending 16 seasons there, was brought aboard by Tampa Bay.

So is it any surprise that tonight's nationally televised game features Tampa Bay, the oldest team in the NFC (and the NFL for that matter at an average of 27.81 years) against the Raiders, the oldest (27.36) in the AFC?

Perhaps not. At least 10 members of the Bucs organization _ players, coaches and front office personnel _ worked for the Raiders.

But Gruden insists it's Tampa Bay's dearth of draft picks and tight salary cap that have transformed the Bucs locker room into the VFW hall.

"That's not by preference. People who want to say that are not informed, okay?" Gruden said. "I mean, let's be honest. Pick up the media guide yourself. I mean, I'm not criticizing anybody, but in the last 10 drafts here, 12 drafts, how many offensive players are in the media guide? And that's a fact. When you have a salary cap that is what it is, I'm not crying wolf there, either. You have a deficit there that's big. So you've got to fill the roster. If you look at the free-agent list, the guys who make it to free agency are not 26 years old and they aren't cheap."

So Allen went with the players he knew, not new players.

Garner, Brown, guard Matt Stinchcomb and Rickey Dudley joined Allen, Gruden and four others in their migration to Tampa Bay.

Yet Allen still bristles at any reference to the Bucs as Raiders East.

"It's a catchy phrase, maybe. But I don't know what it means. I don't," Allen said.

"When you say veterans, before I was ever a Raider, I was raised around a guy who had veteran players," Allen said, referring to his dad, Hall of Fame coach George Allen. "With the Raiders, we believed in doing well with our draft choices. But we had more draft choices on our team than most teams do. Where our salary cap was, the only thing we were able to do is go out and get a bunch of veterans. Grant Wistrom, the fact of it is, got more money than all of our free agents put together to sign. Our cap meant we had to go out and recruit some players. And fortunately, veteran players want to play for this coaching staff in this city and I love that. That's an asset, it's not a liability."

Here's what is a liability: no offensive touchdowns in two games.

With six new starters on offense, including three of the five line positions, the Bucs lack continuity. Contributing to the lack of chemistry is the fact that many of those new players missed significant time in training camp with injuries.

"Practice is a challenge. It really is," Jets coach Herm Edwards said. "And you know that. The thing you don't want is all of a sudden to see a third of your team is not practicing and they're the ones who are going to play on Sunday. Especially on offense, your timing is off. That's part of it."

Galloway aggravated a hamstring tear in the season opener against the Redskins and is lost three to five more weeks. Garner, who was recovering from knee surgery, had just five carries during the preseason. Left tackle Derrick Deese had foot surgery twice before training camp.

"No, I think you're taking 14 different subjects and putting it into one. The guys need to play better as a group," Allen said. "Matt Stinchcomb isn't an old player, he was hurt. I've seen the injuries around the league and when Mike Brown gets hurt from Chicago, it's unfortunate because he's a young, talented player. When a veteran gets hurt, it's because he's old. They're not related. People get hurt because it's a violent sport. Our guys need just to perform better."

There's no question veterans are more confident and make fewer mistakes. A year ago, the Bucs led the NFL in penalty yardage. This season they have been flagged seven times for 49 yards.

"When it's a young guy, you get a guy who's running around chasing his tail," Edwards said. "He's going to make mistakes. He doesn't know where to live. You worry when he leaves the building, where is he going? He's the last guy in the parking lot and the first guy out. You'd like to have a good mix."

Joe Gibbs, whose Redskins beat the Bucs' 16-10 in the season opener, said Tampa Bay has the best of both worlds.

"There's a formula for playing a long time in the NFL," Gibbs said. "Those are the guys who have it. It takes a good mix on your team and that's what Tampa has. But certainly, having the veteran guys to lead things is a big deal in this league, I think."

Perhaps nowhere is experience more valuable than the offensive line, where the Bucs added Stinchcomb, Deese (34) and Todd Steussie (33). But that unit is under fire, having helped yield nine sacks in two games and not providing many lanes for a rushing game averaging 61 yards.

"What you get with those is that they're on their last season, they know this is it for them, money is not an issue," Edwards said. "If they haven't won a championship, they want to win a championship. Generally, they're married, they're settled down, they've gone through all the things young players have gone through. They're experienced veterans. But they've only got so much left on the tire. They think they can continue to play, but you never know when they're going to hit the wall. And it's amazing. All of a sudden, they just hit it.

"That's the whole thing about free agency. You bring in guys thinking maybe this is the right thing. It's like playing cards. These are the cards I was dealt, I've got to play them now."

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