Al Davis Is 80, But Has Time Finally Caught Up With The Raiders?
[The policemen and newspaper reporters and photographers have jumped out
of the cars and are running up to the pool, in which a body is seen
floating. Photographers' bulbs flash in rapid succession.
FLASH OF THE BODY
Angle up through the water from the bottom of the pool, as the body
floats face downward. It is a well-dressed young man.]
That is the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard, the story of former silent movie star
Norma Desmond who has lost her once great stature. It is famous for its legendary
quotations and as one of the first movies to explore the darker side of Hollywood.
[Norma Desmond] " I am big. It's the pictures that got small."
It is frightening to think just how eerily similar the life of Al Davis is becoming to the story of the fallen silent movie star, felled by the advent of the "talkie," who recessed into seclusion and created a fantasy world wherein she was still a star.
Anyone who is a fan of football should hope the similarities are only superficial.
This is a man who is one of the most influential men in the history of the game, a man without whom the AFC would likely not exist. This is the man who built and ran one of the iconic franchises in pro sports, the Oakland Raiders.
It would be a real tragedy if this was how it all ended.
When you hear Al Davis talk about the Raider franchise, you can close your eyes and picture it all, the huge black banners proclaiming the " Commitment to Excellence" which adorn the exterior of the Oakland Coliseum. Even, the silver and black uniforms crowned by the legendary pirate crest. And of course, the three Super Bowl victories and countless clashes throughout the decades.
"You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else!"
Open your eyes and you see that that hasn't existed in twenty years, other than a brief interlude at the turn of the century, which, granted, could have been a lot different if not for a controversial decision by the officials.
Once, the Raiders would have overcome such obstacles in their continuing battle against the world of Football, but the success lasted only one more season due to conflicts between Davis and his charismatic young coach, John Gruden.
The once proud franchise, hated, feared and respected by teams across the league, the place where every player wanted to play, is now the laughingstock of the NFL.
There are teams which have been playing worse, but no team has done it so consistently, ever.
More and more Davis seems to be trying to return to his glory days, either through his words, his coaches or his players. Art Shell was brought back, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mike Mitchell were drafted, to be what Cliff Branch and Jack Tatum once were, and Davis talked about the greatness of the franchise.
But now it is in the past, and you can never go back.
"The stars are ageless, aren't they?"
There has been plenty of analysis of the Raiders' failures this season and the ones preceding it, which will not be revisited here in detail. It is the overall picture which is important.
The decisions Al Davis has made in recent years suggest that at best he is failing to admit to himself that someone is deeply wrong. You can only blame so many coaches before the conclusion that they are not the problem becomes unavoidable.
They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who've we got now? Some nobodies!
Only so many players can come to Oakland and under-perform before its time to accept that something about the culture must be amiss.
While Davis was correct to put some of the blame for Randy Moss' failures in Oakland on the franchise, that blame should not be directed at the players, or the coaches, but Davis himself.
He too often treats his players too favorably at the expense of his coaches. Players have no incentive to perform and play hard because the coach gets the blame rather than the player. It worked for a long time, why shouldn't it now?
The whispers of Norma Desmond continue to permeate- "Without me, there wouldn't be any Paramount studio"
A big problem in this regard has been free agency and the huge increase in contract sizes and guaranteed money. Players are no longer bound to one team for much of their career, so there is less loyalty to the team and to the owner.
Many players, especially rookies receive so much guaranteed money that it makes little difference if they are cut. The success at the turn of the century was as much to do with Rich Gannon, who was a "John Gruden guy" rather than an "Al Davis guy," than it did with the moves Davis himself made. Tim Brown after all had been with the team since the 1980s.
"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"
Now, players and coaches just don't seem to want to come to Oakland.
Established coaches want more control than Davis is willing to give, and every player who leaves Oakland does so with horror stories on his tongue. Regardless of the statements by Richard Seymour and Davis, it would seem that he had deep reservations about coming to Oakland.
"No-one ever leaves a star. That's what makes one a star."
With JaMarcus Russell finally being benched long after most people thought he should have been, there is hope that Davis is still the great man from the interviews through the years.
Whenever anyone suggests Al Davis is becoming too old and losing touch, it is refuted, and by all accounts from the players and coaches, he's still as sharp as ever. And in those press conferences, however rare they may be, boy can he put on a show.
But, still he seems to assert that this has merely been an outlier, though it has lasted for the better part of two decades.
" I hate that word [comeback] . It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen."
As much as his supporters want to believe that Davis still has it, that he's just biding his time, getting everything right until he unleashes the Raiders upon the league again are finding it more and more difficult to see how this could possibly be the case.
His critics claim he has surrounded himself with yes men, purging those who disagree with him, and no longer hearing the opinions of those he respects.
Joe Gillis: Tell her, Max. C'mon, do her that favor. Tell her there isn't going to be any picture. Tell her there are no fan letters other than the ones you write.
Norma Desmond: It's not true! Max!
Max von Mayerling: Madame is the greatest star of them all.
The ever loyal Raider Nation are deserting Davis at an increasing rate. The franchise which has averaged just two blackouts over the past few years despite compiling the worst record in football is looking at blackouts for every remaining home game, and the attendances are falling rapidly.
Joe Gillis: Oh, wake up, Norma, you'd be killing yourself to an empty house. The audience left twenty years ago.
Once the kings of Monday Night Football, now they are embarrassed during every appearance, humiliated in front of the entire nation.
Cecil B. DeMille: Thirty million fans have given her the brush. Isn't that enough?
In spite of all this, what Davis has done, what Davis says, and what the Raiders represent give hope to their fans. Football allegiances aside, every fan, and especially every network would like to see the Raiders return to prominence, always one of the biggest draws among NFL teams.
Anyone who loves football wants Davis to succeed, it would be a great story, and it would be great for the NFL to have a villain once more which everyone loves to hate.
But with each passing year the glory becomes more distant, and it becomes more difficult to believe that Davis still has it. It seems more and more like he is having trouble letting go, having trouble admitting to himself that its over, that his time has passed.
The time is fast approaching when the world says "enough is enough." When he can no longer claim that the franchise is a work or progress, its either back, or its over.
Fans should hope that the Raiders of old can return, because this isn't just any team. This is the Team of the Decades, which dominates the NFL-Films reels and always brought that extra bit of character to the league.
Norma Desmond "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
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