On April 28, 2007, I woke up early, made a pot of coffee and got my typical Saturday chores done early. This was NFL draft Saturday.
I am a football junkie and lifelong Raider fan. The Raiders owned the No. 1 pick and unlike prior years, no one was totally sure who they were going to take.
The consensus was one of two players. There was "The Giant," a quarterback who possessed a cannon for a right arm, JaMarcus Russell. The other option was Calvin Johnson, widely considered the best athlete in the draft, although I think Adrian Peterson might have something to say about that.
Anyone who watches football knows how the draft played out.
The Raiders took the gifted but raw JaMarcus Russell. Before JaMarcus officially became a Raider he held out for an extended period of time. He held out for one of the longest periods of time in the recent history of No. 1 contracts.
He and his agent wanted to make sure he got the money he deserved after being selected No. 1 overall.
If JaMarcus never plays another down, history will show he was paid handsomely. At the time he signed his contract it was the richest in the history of the NFL.
At that point, just a few weeks into the season, he still had never played a down. On top of that, he had no off-season work out plan. He seemed to report with the idea that he was so naturally gifted, success was imminent. It was a can’t lose scenario.
Since JaMarcus became the face of the franchise it seems all the Raiders have done is lose. But they also lost before JaMarcus came to the team, after all that’s how a team gains the No. 1 overall pick, by losing.
Oakland fans had been patient. They didn’t like losing, but were led to believe the Raiders had a stable of young superstars to turn the franchise around. JaMarcus, just by the nature of being the quarterback, was the leader.
Along the way, someone forgot to tell JaMarcus when you play quarterback in the NFL you are the face of the franchise. The QB is the person people turn to in the time of need.
When things aren’t going right the QB is the person that calms the waters and says, “I've got this, come with me and I will get us there.”
The QB is the one who takes losing the hardest and takes responsibility for not doing enough. The QB is the person calling people out who aren’t delivering.
In the case of the Raiders, JaMarcus Russell isn’t that person. He can’t call people out because he doesn’t seem to care. He doesn’t get upset when they lose and doesn’t seem to get excited when they win. He takes no responsibility for getting better.
After all, he was the No. 1 pick and has all the talent. Nothing can possibly be his fault. It must be a receiver running the wrong route. It must be an offensive lineman not blocking properly. It must be the coaches calling the wrong plays.
How could it possibly be his fault? He’s too good to be accountable.
Let me be clear, with the effort, work, and time matched with his natural talent; JaMarcus could be the QB the Raiders thought they drafted. The problem is he doesn’t want to put the XBOX paddle down, get off the couch, and put in the time to reach his potential.
At the Denver game this year, the Raiders lost 23-3 at home. The first boos for Russell began to rain down. Louis Murphy turned toward the Black Hole and waived toward the ground asking the fans not to boo.
It didn’t stop.
It kept up for the next several home games.
On Sunday Nov. 22, there was a new feeling in the air. During the week, leading up to the game it was announced that journeyman Bruce Gradkowski would now be the starting QB for the Raiders. JaMarcus was being benched for his poor play, lack of preparation, and overall attitude.
The Cincinnati Bengals were coming to town. The AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. The same Bengals who just beat the Super Bowl champion Steelers for the second time this year, and they did it in Steel Town.
The general feel from the fans was hope. Hope that the Raiders would somehow just be competitive.
On the first offensive possession the Bengals converted on a third and 23 and a third and 20. They went all the way down and punched it in the end zone for the first score.
The air seemed to leave the stadium. The Bengals scored again on their second possession to make the score 14-0. It seemed as though another route was on.
In the middle of the second quarter the Raiders got the ball on their own 29 yard line. Gradkowski dropped back on the first play, went through his reads and hit an open 25 yard pass to Schilens.
It was a well executed play. He followed that up with a march down the field for a score. Not a field goal from Janikowski from 50 yards away, but a touchdown to Zach Miller.
He completed passes to Lawton, Miller, and Schilens on the drive. He also displayed pocket awareness and poise. The crowd was on its feet.
Throughout the rest of the game the Raiders played hard, dominating the line of scrimmage and putting pressure on Carson Palmer. The Bengals got some things going but the Raider defense didn’t allow much.
With 2:12 left, down by seven the Raiders got the ball back on their own 20. Based on the way the rest of the season has gone the pessimists in the crowd had little faith that the Raiders could tie the game.
There was something in the air in the Black Hole, something different than recent games. Maybe it was the ghost of Marquis Cooper, personally I think it was a 6-foot-1 underrated QB out of Toledo.
Gradkowski lead the Raiders on a game-tying drive that included converting a fourth and 10 among other passes to numerous wide receivers. The drive was capped off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. Janikowski officially tied the game when he drilled the PAT through the uprights.
Overtime was a given at that point. There was a feeling though that the Raiders would pull through. Rookie tight end Myers out of Iowa helped to complete the comeback by stripping and recovering the ball on the ensuing kick off. It merely took a boot from the strong legged kicker from Florida State to win the game.
I haven’t seen the Black Hole that happy since Sunday, January 19, 2003. That was the day the Raiders beat the Titans to advance to Superbowl XXXVII.
The year the Raiders went to the bowl they had another journeyman hard-working QB. His name was Rich Gannon.
Is Bruce Gradkowski the next Gannon? Most likely not. He is, however, the prescription for what’s been ailing the Raiders. There were no boos raining down on Sunday in Oakland.
There was only praise, praise in the name of “Bruce…Bruce…Bruce!"