The Oakland Raiders' New Attitude
Take a good look at the picture on the right.
From the player in the photo to his hangdog expression, it is endemic of the Raiders' issues for the better part of this decade.
An underachieving player walking off the field after yet another disappointment, unable to hide his defeat; a scene all too familiar to Raider fans in recent times.
Since the beginning, Al Davis treated his stars like stars.
He has enabled them and entitled them to preferential treatment, inflated salaries, and a general all-around "do what you like as long as you perform on Sundays" attitude.
Back in the salad days of the '70s and '80s, Raider renegades wreaked havoc both on the field and off, gaining a hard-partying, no-nonsense type of reputation. They were great football players who occasionally toed the line of football ethics.
But they won, and won often. Thus, it was forgiven, and even largely ignored.
Couple this with the fact that until the mid-1990s the NFL was not as popular as it is today, the Internet was not as prevalent in reporting every single nuance of a player's life, and it was less dangerous to allow players to do whatever they wanted.
Society has changed in regards to how we view our athletes and celebrities, and a guy who parties hard in the offseason is no longer someone to be admired, but rather someone who isn't dedicated to his craft.
Although the Raiders have had few if any off-field issues during this run of futility, Davis continued to give his players more leeway than the average owner.
All Raider fans know about "scholarship" players, the pampering of superstars, and the overall lack of accountability for poor performance that suddenly pervaded our once-proud franchise.
This wasn't a problem in the past when the Raiders were winning and had uber-talented players. Now combined with an aging team that had just lost a Super Bowl in horrendous fashion and a lack of talent to replace said players, it only has proved to be a recipe for disaster.
The old school Raiders weren't the best behaved boys off the field, but they won on it because they cared about being the best, about winning for Al and Oakland, and, most importantly, about having their teammates' backs.
So even though they were renegades, they were still great teammates, leaders, and football players.
Recently, players who play in Oakland have shut their mouths and played football.
Playing for the Raiders is akin to having a muzzle on, and they know it.
Little to any leeway is afforded to Raider players in their communications with the media. However, numerous former players in recent memory have been all too candid the minute their feet leave Alameda.
Say what you want about them as football players and analysts, but Gibril Wilson, DeAngelo Hall and Warren Sapp are all on record regarding the lax attitude and lack of accountability surrounding the Raiders organization.
In fact, Sapp has on numerous occasions laughed out loud about the lack of discipline, accountability, and pride within the Raider organization while he played there. And though Sapp is a loud-mouthed, self-important windbag, the team's performance on the field reflected these ideas, to be sure.
The players of recent vintage all knew if you showed up, you'd get paid regardless of effort, so the majority of them began to play that way.
And previous regimes, like Bill Callahan, Art Shell, and Lane Kiffin (because he didn't want to be here anyway) enabled the players to get away with this attitude except for the Shell-Jerry Porter rift, which was the exception to the rule.
In short, there was a serious disconnect between the coaching staff and the players, one that began when Jon Gruden left and continued for years.
So why play with pride and put your life on the line if you know for a fact that the guy next to you isn't going to do the same?
It's no coincidence that Randy Moss had his worst on-field moments while playing for the Raiders.
Wilson showed up and collected a paycheck.
Hall didn't even show up.
The Raiders were throwing money at guys who were perceived as elite players. They didn't have the character to back up their talents, and thus the Raiders were fleeced repeatedly while desperately trying to regain some semblance of respect and success.
Something happened when Kiffin left the team.
Davis's now famous presser with the overhead projector ushered in a new era of accountability and responsibility. No longer was Davis going to allow his employees to undermine his team or his chances at success through his desperate need to return to glory.
He looked around for a replacement for the vitriolic and polarizing Kiffin, for someone the opposite, someone who would conform to the company line yet instill discipline and respect in his players.
And he found that in his offensive line coach, Tom Cable.
There is no denying the change in attitude surrounding the team since Cable took over.
After replacing Kiffin, the team's on-field fortunes didn't change all that much immediately, but, to a player, the team praised the way Cable handled them as players and men. They also were impressed that his practices were more intense and focused, and how he wouldn't tolerate idiocy on the field, in the locker room, or off the field.
Sure, the Raiders continued to play undisciplined football and sure, they continued to lose games, but there was a difference, a passion that we hadn't seen in a while, which culminated with a very successful end to the 2008 season and hopes for the future.
Cable's comments made it obvious that he was never sold on JaMarcus Russell, rarely praising him and often providing thinly veiled comments questioning his work ethic and desire.
After having an entire offseason to instill his values, the team jettisoned Wilson for a lack of production and a bad attitude, and Ronald Curry for attitude issues as well, marking the start of a run of addition by subtraction that has continued to this day.
In his first full season as head coach, the team struggled yet again, but you could see the team slowly becoming more disciplined, taking fewer penalties and executing a little better on the field.
Of course, the struggles of Russell at quarterback severely hampered the team's progress, but in other areas there was room for excitement.
The first game against San Diego showed the new Raider attitude, though it would be inconsistent throughout the season. But in that game, the team took on their coach's persona and went out and physically decimated the Chargers.
Although they lost the game, the new defense rolled out by John Marshall was encouraging, and the fire and passion the team showed was something that hadn't been seen since Chucky was stalking the sidelines and Rich Gannon was under center.
The attitude adjustment had not come full circle, however, as after an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants, the Raiders as a team had their manhood and professionalism questioned by Giants MLB Antonio Pierce.
Those of us who had seen the improvement in attitude and execution were appalled at the still remaining perception of our team as a bunch of guys collecting a paycheck.
Cable addressed the media and was very candid about the lack of discipline and accountability the team had reverted back to. He was as disappointed as the rest of us. Cable asserted his desire to improve the team's overall attitude by benching Russell a short while later.
Russell, despite being the highest paid player at the most important position of leadership on the team, was the least disciplined, least accountable, and least passionate player on the team.
The immediate change in attitude that followed was something to behold.
When Bruce Gradkowski took over the quarterback job he instantly invigorated the team and the fans through his fiery attitude and play. Grad's popularity exploded, as he cast himself on and off the field as the anti-Russell.
But, of course, poor execution by the offensive line saw poor Grads tear both his knee ligaments in the second quarter of his third game. We're still the Raiders, after all, and lady luck isn't exactly our best friend.
When Russell returned to the game, there was a noticeable sag in attitude around the team, and the players basically packed it in.
What was a competitive game when Gradkowski left became another embarrassment, and though not all Russell's fault, the team and fans simply didn't have any faith in the beleaguered QB any longer.
His large contract, unwillingness to renegotiate, poor performance on the field, and lack of discipline and work ethic were grating on the fans and the players. As a result Russell was now the poster child for the attitude the Raiders were trying to shed.
The team would no longer play for him, and the fans would certainly no longer support him. The team continued to play with heart and passion whenever Russell was not on the field but when he was, they packed it in.
This comes back to going to war with your teammates, to being accountable, and to having each other's back.
This was the last step in changing the poisonous attitude: the team, as a whole, was showing they would bleed for someone who would bleed with them, but that they had no desire to bleed for someone who seemingly could care less.
Cable had changed the attitude on the whole, but there were still storm clouds hanging. This offseason, the attitude shift is complete.
Over the last few years the Cable regime has seen fit to jettison under performing black clouds like Wilson, Hall, Javon Walker, Gerard Warren, and the eye of the storm, Russell.
Not only did these players not perform on the field, they are, with the exception of Walker, distractions off the field and players with poor team attitudes.
The releasing of Russell showed the rest of the team that despite your pedigree, if you don't buy into the program here and work your tail off, you are entitled to nothing.
The players respected this immensely, and it represents a major shift in thinking for the franchise as a whole.
I truly believe if Russell remained on the roster, it would've counteracted every positive thing the team did this offseason as he was so negatively perceived by the franchise and fan base.
The loss of Justin Fargas and Kirk Morrison, two of the most loved and respected Raiders of recent vintage, do not fall into this category as they were wonderful team players with great attitudes and a passion for the game and the team. But they did underperform, and the team has improved by letting them go, despite how much we all love them and wish them the best.
The Raiders reached in the 2009 draft for Darrius Heyward-Bey, in part because he was a combine superstar which we all know Al loves, but largely for his humble attitude, giant heart, and incredible work ethic.
That can be the only logical reason to drafting him over Crabtree.
All signs point to the pick paying off this season after a terrible rookie campaign, but we must wait and see in actual game play.
The Raiders have stayed away from high-priced free agents and known locker-room headaches like Albert Haynesworth and Terrell Owens that in the past they would've jumped at, because Cable has made it clear; He cannot win without talent, but he also cannot win without passion, fire, and accountability.
Now, I personally want to sign T.O., but that's another story.
The team hired Hue Jackson, the Ravens' QB coach and a successful offensive coach at every stop in his career in both college and the NFL, largely because of his teaching ability, but also due to his reputation as a no-nonsense coach that gets the most out of his players and instills an attitude of team values and accountability.
Although Jackson is bafflingly still off-limits to the press, the praise of his coaching style from players, coaches, and colleagues is free flowing and effusive, and it mostly centers around playing hard, being disciplined, and being accountable.
For the first time in many years, Raider players are having fun playing football again.
Comments from Heyward-Bey about going for dinner with teammates show the camaraderie and bonding that is taking place on and off the field every day. The enjoyment of playing for Jackson and with his teammates are ones we as fans have not heard in years.
Jackson's cursing, prodding, in your face ways have been embraced by offensive and defensive players alike. Nnamdi Asomugha is on record as saying this is the most fun and most camaraderie the team has had since he's been here.
The lighthearted bet between Asomugha and Cable, and Cable's willingness to pony up during training camp, showed that this team cares for each other as people and showed that they enjoy each other's company. Most importantly, those factors wouldn't exist if the players didn't believe they were heading in the right direction as a franchise.
The Oakland Raiders were a laughingstock for years, not only in the eyes of fans, but in the eyes of other teams, players, and league management. This was due to the lack of discipline and accountability that had become the franchise's calling card.
But this team understands that fact.
They have brought in high character players like Heyward-Bey and Richard Seymour, no-nonsense coaches like Cable, Marshall, Jackson, and Mike Waufle, and Davis now seems to have a willingness to listen to his staff and make decisions based solely on what's best for the team. Instead of making decisions driven by ego or a desire to make a big splash in the headlines.
The team finally recognized that things had become very dire, and something needed to be done.
The times they are a-changing.
Not a moment too soon for Raider Nation.
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