Every dog has its day, even the underdog. For the past few years, I’ve listened to NFL fans and analysts berate Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders.
“The Raiders are underdogs every week,” they said. “Oakland is where NFL players go to die,” they clamored.
But hunger, desire, discipline, and hard work have the Raiders primed to renew their throne as the beasts of the Bay.
The defense is set. The run game is revved up. The offensive field general, Jason Campbell, is focused and eager to prove that he is capable of leading the Raiders into the playoffs.
Over the past year, NFL insiders have disrespected Campbell, written him off, and the Redskins discarded him amongst the ranks of the misbegotten.
Then the Raiders took Campbell in, cleansed him of the Redskins muck, dressed him in fine silver and black raiment, and placed the Raiders crown upon his head. Then they instructed him to lead the once great Raiders Nation back to glory.
However, in order for a nation to transform itself, it must transform the entire world in the process—therefore, the Raiders Nation will shift the entire balance of the AFC West first by knocking the San Diego Chargers off the top.
But before that is done, the Raiders must assure the battle plans are drawn—check.
Next, the Raiders must equip themselves with adequate armament, which they have—save a piece or two. With the injuries to Chaz Schilens, the Raiders are in need of veteran leadership at the receiver position.
A few years ago, the Raiders brought in the flamboyant ego of Randy Moss, which turned out to be a bad relationship. In the age of prima donna receivers, wheeling overstuffed baggage in Gucci luggage, it’s imperative for emerging teams to find gritty, hard-working receivers to complement an upping coming franchise.
In my analysis of the Raiders need at wide receiver, I factored in work ethic, versatility, competitiveness, pass-catching, and route-running skills.
However, the vital intangible is what Raiders management saw in Jim Plunkett years ago, and in Jason Campbell months ago. The desire to be the best, to prove to the NFL that you belong—that you are willing to fight harder—and endure more than anyone you face.
In 2004, a wide receiver was drafted in the seventh round out of Northwestern Oklahoma State. And over his six years in the NFL, he’s been tossed aside for a flashier less-productive receiver, he’s been underestimated, under-appreciated, and considered the proverbial underdog.
When Patrick Crayton was benched last year after Week Six, he entered game seven and caught a touchdown, and returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. The next week, he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against Seattle.
Asked about job security, Crayton responded, "Not everyone has to worry about their job. But a lot of people have to fight for their job, and a lot of people have to prove themselves day in and day out. I'm one of those guys."
In fact, last year, Crayton returned two punts for touchdowns, tied with Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson for the league high. He also was ranked third in average yards per punt return.
He amassed 622 receiving yards in 2009 coming off the bench most of the season—about 200 less than Terrell Owens and Nate Burleson, who were starters.
Crayton makes the big catches, doesn’t complain, returns punts, is the best blocking receiver on his team, is practicing as a long snapper—and has only missed one game since 2006.
And what did the Cowboys do in return? They drafted another wide receiver, Dez Bryant, in the first round.
And what does Crayton say about being the underdog? "I've been the underdog for seven years. Ever since I put a Cowboys uniform on, I've always been an underdog. All I do is look up. I've never been able to look down."
And I say, every dog deserves a home, even underdogs. Crayton, Oakland is a better home. Raiders Nation, do you agree?