Al Davis: Aging Owner Refuses to Drink from Fountain of Youth
Al Davis is facing a crisis that is rapidly reaching an epic level.
The aging owner has watched his beloved Raiders be ridiculed and mocked, and the downward spiral has spanned seven long seasons.
Although much of the blame lies on his shoulders, it seems that his supporting cast has no interest in bringing the franchise back from the brink to its once dominating, in-your-face brand of football.
To say Davis still has a hand in day-to-day operations would be a gross exaggeration. One fan described Davis' fifty-foot walk from his limo to the front door as "heartbreaking." He said that Davis would stop every few feet and lean heavily on his walker to catch his breath while he engaged and talked to fans. His mind is still sharp, but his body has become weak and requires much rest.
Recently, former quarterback Rich Gannon reached out to Davis, offering his help to try to salvage any fragment of hope that JaMarcus Russell may still live up to his potential. John Herrera, who has suddenly become Davis' mouthpiece, suggested that Gannon was the one who needed help.
Herrera and Davis' relationship bears a shocking resemblance to the Lord of the Rings characters King Theodin and Grima Wormtongue. At one point last season, Herrera tried to ban Gannon from a game that Gannon was covering for CBS.
Former Raider receiver Tim Brown has also offered his services, only to be turned away as well. In the past, Davis has embraced just about all his former players and coaches despite some having harsh criticism towards the owner and organization. However, since Herrera has been speaking for Davis, any and all assistance has been turned away.
Raiders CEO Amy Trask has been doing her part too. She seems to be ignoring the fact that Raider games at the Oakland Coliseum have been blacked out most of the season.
She hasn't noticed that most jumbotrons in today's NFL not only have the capability to show replays, but they have high definition screens as well. No, she seems to be content with the jumbotron that has the size and technology of Davis' overhead projector.
The Oakland Coliseum is considered the worst stadium in the NFL, and at one point, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn't even hide his shock when he attended a game last season.
In an odd twist of circumstance, another former Raider reached out, not to the Raider organization, but to Raider fans.
Former coach Jon Gruden and current ESPN analyst was covering the 49ers-Cardinals game in San Fransisco on December 14th, and made a pit stop in Ricky's Sports Bar just outside of Oakland. He signed autographs and mingled with fans much of the night. Gruden also purchased a Bo Jackson jersey for himself and Raider hats for the Monday Night Football crew.
When Gruden was asked if he would coach the Raiders again, he was quoted as saying, "tomorrow if I could."
"Chucky" must fantasize about coaching this team, as it's tailor-made for his type of football. Three gifted running backs and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who was drafted by Gruden in his Tampa days, would be running the huddle. Jon Gruden coined the phrase "running back by committee" in 2000, when he used a three running back rotation while coaching the Raiders.
The thought of Gruden and offensive coordinator Mark Trestman has to be rolling around in Al's mind, especially with the success Gradkowski had under center last season. Gruden brought Trestman in during the 2001 season, the year that the Raiders' offense became one of the best in the NFL.
Let's face it, though: The possibility of Gruden coming back is a long shot, but it shouldn't be so. Gruden is obviously interested. He said that he wouldn't coach this year so that he could spend time with his family, but the fact that he hung around an Oakland sports bar all night and said that he would like to coach in Oakland again says differently.
It would appear that Gruden was appealing to the masses to send Al Davis a message saying that he would, in fact, love to come back.
The fact that Gruden's legacy started in Oakland, and that the fans still love him to this day, says something. Maybe the fact that Al got him everything that he wanted and needed to succeed says something. Gruden didn't get the same courtesy when he went to Tampa. In fact, he was resisted on key free agents that he wanted, and the team was never able to replace its aging players.
Still, what makes the possibility a long shot is Al Davis. He will not give up the level of control that Gruden wants, nor does Al pay his coaches anywhere near what they are worth.
But in another dismal offseason, where things look grim again, I will hope and pray that the light will turn on behind the silver and black walls of Mordor.
Al has never had to worry before about the worth of the franchise or the fans' support, but now both are hitting him square in the wallet.
Maybe that's why Randy Hanson was rehired: to avoid another costly lawsuit.
Al Davis is watching his time slip away. He has watched the Raider franchise as its value plummets, selling off pieces of the team just to hang on another year.
Now he is witnessing something new: the fans are fed up and beginning to revolt. They have rented billboards, started websites, and circulated petitions. Home games have been blacked out much of the season as ticket sales have been terrible.
My hope is that Davis will see the offers from his former players for what they are—olive branches extended to him for the sole purpose of reviving this once great franchise.
I hope that Davis will see that people like Amy Trask and John Herrera are holding the Raiders and their fans hostage, hoping that once Davis is gone, their efforts of not letting new blood and new ideas in are enough to allow them to continue in the front office.
I hope Al Davis sees that he cannot afford another losing season.
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