For more than a generation, the Oakland Raiders were known as the "winningest team in football". They were a proud team with the highest winning percentage of any team in the NFL. But the Oakland Raiders of the new millenium found themselves in the unusual position of being considered a losing franchise. Seven straight seasons of double-digit losses only added to the frustration of the once-proud Raider Nation. There was the revolving door of ineffective coaches and players. The public ridicule of it's owner, Al Davis, who was considered eccentric by the more moderate of critics and insane by everyone else.
It is a well known fact that people tend to see what they want to see. Therefore, it is not surprising that as the 2009 season ended, the Raiders were once again labeled as failures with their 5-11 record. For weeks, the media projected the imminent departure of head coach Tom Cable. When offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was brought in, it was believed that the handwriting was on the wall.
Well, the handwriting was on the wall, but many were not in a position to understand what the handwriting meant. A closer look at the 2009 season suggested the Raiders were finally turning the corner. The most obvious statistic for 2009 was that 4 of the 5 wins (80%) came against teams that were 8-8 or better. Ironically, the same statistic applied to 2008. However, all 8 wins were won under head coach Tom Cable. In the period 2003-2007, the Raiders won a total of 9 games against teams 8-8 or better. That's a five year period. If you looked at the 2006 and 2007, only 2 wins came against teams better than .500. What all this means is that the Raiders were becoming competitive against better teams which is one of the signs of a turnaround in pro football.
Had the mediots spent some time looking at the last part of the 2009 season, they would have been in a position to understand that change was afoot in the Raiders Nation. Cable benched #1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell after a dismal 2-7 start. The benching obviously had the support of Al Davis. The benching also occurred in the midst of a mediot storm surrounding off-field allegations of abuse by Cable against assistants, ex-girlfriends, ex-wives and Gumby. When Bruce Gradkowski was injured, Cable opted to go with 3rd stringer Charlie Frye rather than returning Russell from the bench. Again, this decision obviously had the approval of Al Davis as well. The hiring of Hue Jackson, far from being a referendum on Cable, was a necessary change for an offensive coordinator. It was exactly what Al and Cable stated.
The off-season saw some interesting activity. Popular running back Justin Fargas was released as were struggling defensive players:Greg Ellis and tackle Gerald Warren. As trade rumors swirled regarding the signing of a veteran quarterback, the Raiders made no moves. In press conferences, Cable made the point that the Raiders were looking to the draft to make changes on both sides of the line. Cable clearly had the look of a man who was part of the action and not a bystander.
The 2010 NFL draft opened with a bang for the Oakland Raiders. While many in the mediot circle believed that the Raiders would select Jimmy Clausen, Bruce Campbell or Anthony Davis, the Raiders surprised everyone by taking the best Middle Linebacker in the draft: Rolando McClain. The Raiders' second round pick (Lamarr Houston) continued to baflle mediot experts who saw the Raiders going for Campbell then. Even more confusing were the statements that Houston, a defensive end from University of Texas, would be converted to defensive end. Was it possible that the Raiders were finally going to address their horrid run defense? As many of the mediots continued to chastise the Raiders for failing to address the offensive line, the Raiders responded by selecting Jared Vanheer in the 3rd round and Bruce Campbell (sensibly) in the 4th round. In four picks, the Raiders had made tremendous strides in addressing team needs and had selected excellent athletes.
As the draft wore on, the Raiders pulled their biggest coup of the day. Prior to the draft, there was talk of the Raiders picking up Washington Redskins quarterback, Jason Campbell, who had a third round tender at the time. As the calls mounted for the Raiders to pick a quarterback prospect, Al Davis, did what Al Davis does best. He traded for Jason Campbell for a 2012 4th round pick! This was a significant accomplishment and the perfect cap to the best 2-3 day period in over a decade.
The mediots didn't see it coming. Many fans didn't see it coming. But many of the Raiders faithful could sense a change amiss. The retention of Cable and his obvious influence with Al. The demonstration that the team was competitive against good teams. The off-season releases and the under-the-radar approach to free agent signings all hinted that something big was coming down the pike.
I have no doubt that this change could be attributed to the potential Al and Cable both saw in the 2009 season. The division is significantly weakened thanks, in part, to the coaching of our two bitterest rivals: San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The Raiders were poised to take over the division and Al demonstrated a committment to that charge. Thank You Al Davis and Tom Cable.