EDIT: This was a piece I wrote back in November for another site I blog on. It was meant to address the state of the Raiders at the time, but given the current mess with Rich Gannon, I think it's now just as fitting. A few changes have been made, mostly to help the piece flow easier.
That's what separates success from failure. It's the answer to this question that built empires, started wars, and, yes, drove football teams to glory. It's the same question that will ultimately decide whether the species reaches the stars or winds up as cockroach feed. It's what pigeonholed the high school jock as the prototypical Doomed Male: Impressive in his natural gifts, but unable to adapt mentally.
Football, in that sense, has always served as a microcosm for our ability to survive and come to terms with our past - if only so it can bury it in move on.
Someone must've left Al Davis out of the meeting on Human Evolution 101.
Seven years removed from the smallest sliver of Glory, Al Davis sits in his suite at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, slumped over in his track suit and high on morphine and memories. But memories won't save this franchise. They won't protect Michael Bush when the O-Line breaks down. They won't add longevity to Darren McFadden's knees. They certainly won't help channel the tenacity of Ken Stabler or the grit of Daryle LaMonica into the team's franchise QB. At best, they'll serve to remind the team's aging owner of what once was, and keep the denizens of the Raider Nation drunk on what could have been.
Like the high school jock, the Raiders are hell bent on recapturing their former glory through intimidation and ridiculous claims of birthright. Don't blame them - it's the only defense mechanism they have left. Here they sit -far from the biker bars and wild parties of yore- overweight, undervalued, and covered with needle marks and tattoos that say that not now, but once, we were Kings.
The factoids surrounding the Oakland police blotters all reek of the same faded bravado, but miss out on the bigger picture: Success builds image, not the other way around. Because of this, Tom Cable has become the Pariah of the Month in the Bay Area. But we love winners more than we love ethics -always have. Had Cable had been successful in producing a winner despite Davis' antiquated game plans, his past transgressions would've been forgotten and notched up as an addition to the Raider Mystique. The same mystique that swallowed this franchise up years ago.
So what, if anything, can be done to save this team? We live in interesting times, and just as Change was sold to the world a year ago in the form of a presidential candidate, so too can the Advertising Machines sell Change to Oakland. It's time for the Emperor to step aside -or at least realize that no amount of chest-thumping will make up for poor business and managerial decisions.
If there's any team that could show Davis the meaning of "Getting it," it's the team that started the Raiders' decent: the New England Patriots.
The Patriots didn't reach the mountaintop because of the Tuck Rule Game: They did it because they built a machine that is self-automated, and hired the right people to work that machine. They didn't care if they fit the "Patriot Image," because images are bought and sold and revised and entirely subjective to the Won/Loss column.
That's the essence of "Getting it," and it's something that Al Davis has squelched at every given chance. It's clear he still wants to win -- so long as its on his terms. The same terms he helped used to revolutionize the game and the same terms that everyone else adopted, adapted to, and blew past decades ago.
The problem, then, is that no matter how many times this Emperor is told he has no clothes, he's content on strolling through the world bare-assed and frostbitten. The pride he still clings to is the only protection he needs to weather the elements. But it's not enough to win. It'll never be enough to restore any modicum of dignity to this team until Davis realizes that Pride and Poise not only came before the fall, they've lingered over the ruins of Raider Nation for nearly a decade.
Some might say that the Raiders' problem began with change. For a time, Davis was content with winning by the smallest of margins, usually by using whoever (and whatever means) he had to. Winning was pure, in its own Raider sort of way, and the Raiders won -- a lot
But things changed, and not for the better. Davis moved to LA, and began a personal vendetta that mired this team's success unless it fit the Davis Image. Marcus Allen, Jon Gruden, and Tim Brown could attest to that.
Still, the sting of one change shouldn't deaden the need for another. It didn't stop Davis before. It shouldn't stop him now.
So, as a Raider fan, I ask that Al consider his options. Learn from your mistakes, Al. Realize that winning, not trailblazing, is the surest way to see another Super Bowl before you expire. Realize that there's no pride in losing -no matter how many "Moral Victories" you chalk up. Realize that Change is the only real way of ever "Getting It."
Most of all, Al: Just win, baby...please.