Thursday, July 26, 2007

News You Can't Use

In the long, sordid history of News You Can’t Use, this just might be the most odious of them all.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lane Kiffin is undermining and threatening the potential of the Oakland Raiders by making personnel decisions from the vantage of his own alleged insecurities.

According the Chronicle: “Why did the Raiders release long snapper and center Adam Treu? Word has it that Treu—an acknowledged team leader and very personable player—did not get off on the "right foot" with coach Lane Kiffin's staff. He was cut loose despite being a personal favorite of owner Al Davis. Remember this day. Treu, 33, will not be the last older player to be waived. Numerous NFL sources have suggested Kiffin, 32, wants to rid the team of players who are close to his age or older. Kiffin, sources say, doesn't want players with influence who might threaten his authority. So team leaders such as fullback Zack Crockett, 34, and—yes, believe it—defensive tackle Warren Sapp, 34, are in big trouble. Even if Sapp, who admirably dropped 49 pounds in six months, comes to camp looking like a Pro Bowler, he's probably wasting his time.”

Yes, I will remember this day—this is the day the San Francisco Chronicle lost total control of the distinction between opinion commentary and reporting, hiding behind unnamed sources to irresponsibly question the character of Lane Kiffin while engaging in rampant speculation and illogic. This isn't merely an attack on Lane Kiffin, it's an attack on professional journalism.

After limping along last year with an old coaching staff and ineffective veterans, the team has done exactly what the media wanted them to do—clear the decks, start over, get younger.

Yet the San Francisco Chronicle wants us to read something dark and disturbing into the fact that an injured 33-year-old long snapper was cut and a fullback who turns 35 before the season’s end might not be a big part of our plans?

Meanwhile, Al Davis is constantly ripped for interfering in personnel matters. Yet when his head coach exercises autonomy by cutting one of Davis’s favorite players, well, that’s a problem, too, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Treu “won’t be the last older player to be waived?” Wow, that’s really shocking and unsettling, the notion that players nearing their mid 30s might fade out of the picture.

In other news, youngsters Jarrod Cooper and Darnell Bing were released yesterday. According to unnamed sources, the rest of the team’s younger players are on shaky ground, as Al Davis is overriding Lane Kiffin’s personnel decisions and skewing the roster toward older players, because Mr. Davis wants to secure stadium naming sponsorship from the AARP. JaMarcus Russell and Michael Bush are in big trouble.

And that, Raiders fans, is news you can’t use.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Freethinker's Guide to The Facts

A delicious irony is unfolding in the mainstream sports media, and it pertains to Mark Cuban’s interest in acquiring the Chicago Cubs. Bear with me, as I also think it pertains to Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders.

Here’s the scoop: Marc Cuban, rebellious owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, recently filed an application to acquire the Chicago Cubs. The sports media are nearly unanimous: Cuban would be a good thing for Major League Baseball, but the league will never let it happen.

Baseball, we’re told, has become too insular and exclusive. It is known as “The Club,” filled with safe, corporate, tradition-obsessed owners and executives. Unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball resists, and fears, progressive thinking, and it would therefore never let a renegade like Cuban into its ranks. In fact, baseball’s reactionary mindset is exactly why the NFL has stolen MLB’s thunder as America’s Pastime.

I heard this argument not once, but many times, over the past week. I actually agree with it—but only up to the point that the same people making the argument constantly bash Al Davis for being the very thing they claim to embrace.

That is, they say they want more independent freethinkers in the ranks of MLB ownership while trying hard to destroy the ultimate independent freethinker of the NFL: Al Davis.

Now, I’m not a big Mark Cuban fan, and I don’t mean to draw too much of a comparison to Al Davis, but there are some distinct similarities: a forward-thinking rebel, largely beloved by his players and despised by his league’s commissioner.

Anyhow, here’s what the talking heads will say to cover their flip-flopping tracks: “No, it’s just that Al Davis has lost it. We love freethinkers like Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones and Dan 'Money for Nothing' Snyder. After all, Sports Illustrated just ranked both Jones and Snyder among the NFL’s top owners, and even ran a glowing spread on Jones last week. See, we love freethinkers, just not Al Davis, because he’s lost it.”

Let’s review who’s “lost it” in the new millennium:

Number of NFC Championship games Synder’s Redskins have played in since 2000: 0

Number of Super Bowl appearances for Snyder’s Redskins since 2000: 0

Number of NFC Championship games Jones’ Cowboys have played in since 2000: 0

Number of Super Bowl appearances for Jones’ Cowboys since 2000: 0

Number of AFC Championship games Davis’s Raiders have played in since 2000: 2

Number of Super Bowl appearances for Davis’s Raiders since 2000: 1

Remember, Raiders Haters, emotions are not facts and numbers don't lie.

Now, I admit that Mr. Davis has blown some things over the past three seasons (don't tell me four, he was just coming off a Super Bowl year in 2003, returning with the same coach and players who got him there), particularly in matters of hiring coaches and relying on questionable characters at offensive skill positions and questionable talent on the offensive line. The result has been an unprecedented rough patch for the Oakland Raiders.

Well, let’s remember that Jerry Jones’ Cowboys were 5-11 for three straight seasons to start off this decade and haven’t done squat in the playoffs ever since. Meanwhile, Dan Snyder’s Redskins have had one season above .500 in this decade. Talk about rough patches.

Jones and Synder get a pass, however. But Al Davis? He’s not entitled to a rough patch in the notoriously competitive, parity-driven NFL.

So just remember: independent freethinkers are great for the ranks of sports ownership, unless you’re talking about the original and ultimate freethinker, the one with literally more Lombardi trophies than Dan Snyder has winning seasons, the one who unlike Jerry Jones actually has some postseason achievements in the new millennium, and who unlike Mark Cuban comports himself with dignity and maturity.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dear Sports Illustrated

Dear Sports Illustrated:

I remain shocked—shocked!—that you have not once included Raider Take in your Featured Fan Page nor under your More Local Raiders News section, which includes several blogs.

Could it have something to do with this, this, this, this, this, this, this or this, to name a few?

Honestly, I think I’m ready to bury the hatchet…right between your eyes. Ha, ha, ha! Just kidding. Seriously, can’t we all get along?

Last year about this time, you held a poll to determine the NFL team fan sites that ultimately made your list, but Raider Take wasn’t even invited to the dance.

Indeed, Raider Take was left pouting on the pine, attired in street clothes, just like Jerry Porter.

It pains me to grovel for your attention. But considering all the publicity I’ve given you over the past three years (remember, bad publicity is better than no publicity!), isn’t it time you threw me a bone, or at least a dog biscuit? What do I need to do—agree that Eddie DeBartolo might acquire the Raiders and that the team made a huge mistake in releasing Kerry Collins (to paraphrase a few of your classic stories)?

I urge you to look beyond my sins and consider the regulars here at Raider Take, the articulate souls who have registered more than ten thousand comments in these pages over the past three years, and who continue to delight us with their witty and insightful analysis. They deserve to be heard by all (and especially by your Raider-hating NFL writers…oops, there I go again).

Anyhow, I guess I'll keep waiting anxiously by the phone at the Heartbreak Hotel. I'm sure you've got my number (or is it vice versa?).

Raider Take

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Spanking The Zebras

Well, there I was, about to rant about the travesty of logic and justice known as Mike Pereira, when an email arrived from H, who was copying me on a letter he sent to the National Football League regarding Pereira.

As you all know by now, Pereira, the NFL’s head of officiating, traded barbs with Queen of Darkness Amy Trask at a recent panel discussion. Not only did Pereira suggest that a blown call is more excusable if the wronged team made its own mistakes earlier in the game, he also took a cheap shot at the Oakland Raiders.

Several Raider Take regulars made some great points in the comments section of the previous take, and I was ready to weigh in myself, but H essentially took the words right out of my mouth. Here’s what he had to say to the NFL:

"Mike Pereira recently took a cheap shot at Amy Trask of the Oakland Raiders. I won't go into details as to what was said, but I refer to the opening salvo where Mr. Pereira complained that he gets most emails on Mondays about ‘bad calls’ and pointed out that, on a blown pass interference call, he reminded himself about the six turnovers earlier in the game.

Well, Mr. Pereira just doesn't get it. Part of football is just like part of life, and that part is overcoming adversity. The team with the six turnovers had fought back, overcome adversity and put themselves in a position to win the game. To dismiss the blown call as having no effect on the outcome of the game due to earlier turnovers is the height of arrogance.

In football, officiating is the one subjective area of any game. To act as if it has no impact on a given game is supercilious at best. This type of attitude does nothing to enhance the image of an official in the eyes of the average fan.

Blown calls, especially late in a game, do affect the outcome, as there is insufficient time to overcome that call. Yet, we hear nothing about what is done to a particular official who missed the call, or non-call in some cases, while players are called out and publicly and humiliated on national television. All we hear about is an occasional ‘oops’ letter to a team, and even that is only rumor, nothing public.

I believe Mr. Pereira owes an apology to Ms. Trask and the Raiders in particular, and to football fans in general.”

To me, this is the epitome of the perfect complaint letter: respectful yet forceful, and precisely argued with facts and logic. Well played, H!

As for all of us Raiders fans, it just goes to show once again, just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lasting Echoes of The Autumn Wind

When it comes to remarkable memories, the Oakland Raiders lead the NFL pack. Some of these memories are heartbreaking, such as the Immaculate Deception and the Tuck (rhymes with…) Rule. Most, however, are magnificent. Kenny Stabler falling to his knees, flicking the ball through a Sea of Hands…Jack Tatum separating man from helmet in Pasadena…Bo Jackson running over Brian Bosworth and Seattle Seahawks on Monday night…The list is almost infinite, thanks to our team’s flair for the dramatic. Heck, even last year’s utter defensive beatdown of the Steelers gave us something to remember amid an otherwise radioactive experience.

As you know, I haven’t been writing much lately, and for no good reason. I’m as fired up as always about the season, and I even called the team today to check on the status of my season tickets (much to my dismay, they could arrive as late as August 1, which is cutting it a bit too close for my tastes, considering that the preseason begins on August 11). Raider de Coachella, however, shocked me out of my writing stupor by sending an email today suggesting that we take a quick trip down memory lane while we wait for the real action to begin.

It got me thinking not only of the aforementioned epic moments, but my own favorite memories. Sure, we all agree on the big stuff. But what about the less obvious, but equally important, personal moments? Stuff that won’t make a dent in the history books but that, for whatever reason, loom large in our own individual memories?

Following are a few of my favorite moments, and they star some unlikely characters, specifically James Jett and Rick Mirer…What are yours? Maybe it happened in person, or on television, perhaps when you were a child. Maybe it wasn’t even a game, but an off-field encounter with a player. Tell us about your favorite moments in the comments section—and why they personally mattered to you.

Oakland, November 16, 2003: The lowly Rick Mirer—pressed into action due to a rash of QB injuries—was so driven to beat the Vikings that he gave up body and soul in pursuit of a touchdown, leaping into the air for that extra yard late in the game, only to be violently helicoptered into the sideline.

I so vividly remember this play for a variety of reasons. A cousin of my wife sent me a pair of his tickets to this game, so it didn’t cost me anything. Better yet, they turned out to be the best seats I’d ever had: Row 5 of Section 127, in the heart of the north end zone, which just happened to be where Mirer went airborne. I thought he might helicopter right into my seat.

The Raider Nation erupted into an ear-splitting roar in appreciation of Mirer’s will to win in the twilight of a lost season. And win he did, joining a masterful defensive effort to help orchestrate one of the few bright spots of the year. I’ll never forget it.

Oakland, October 24, 1999: The Raiders and Jets were tied at 23 in the last minute as the Raiders drove down the field. Then, in the words of the official report, “on second down from the five, with only 35 ticks of the clock left, Rich Gannon dropped back looking into the end zone. The Jets coverage was tight and the rush came hard. Gannon avoided linebacker Mo Lewis, spun away form nose tackle Jason Ferguson and scrambled toward the right sideline. Spotting wide receiver James Jett working free in the back of the end zone, Gannon fired the ball in and Jett came up with it in heavy traffic.”

I was atop Mt. Davis during this touchdown. It made a particular impression on me because my older brother, a diehard Raiders fan, had recently moved out of state. I dialed him up on my cell phone prior to the play and got his voice mail. I narrated the play as it unfolded, which ended in a white noise of happy chaos. Somewhere he has a microcassette with that happy moment still on it.

Little did I know at the time, but the Raiders were on the cusp of a tremendous run over the next three seasons. In retrospect, this game—with Gannon & Co. gutting out a close victory—was a clear sign of things to come.