Thursday, February 22, 2007

Four Quick Takes

1. The Raiders released Aaron Brooks today. Therefore, at the moment our offense is in the hands of Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo. Say we draft a QB with our first pick. Who starts the first game of the season?

2. The Raiders made Jerry Porter’s selection of a new jersey number front page news on their web site today. He is quoted as saying, “For me the new number represents a new start, a new beginning and new attitude.” You have to admit, the whole thing is strange. One minute, the guy’s eating from the proverbial organizational dog bowl. The next minute he’s being celebrated by the team for his new number and new attitude? It's sort of like turning Britney Spears into Christina Aguilera. Nice idea, but I'll believe it when I see it. I still think that a Porter 81 jersey is a risky investment at this point. It’s somewhere between a Moss jersey and a Burgess jersey. For more thoughts on Porter's alleged redemption, check out BlandaRocked's blog.

3. The pro-Norv Turner folks in San Diego say that he’s the one who installed that offense and he’ll fit right in. The anti-Norv folks point to his dismal coaching record and uninspiring demeanor, correctly noting that while he’s a solid coordinator, he’s not a leader. Overlooked is the fact that General Manager A.J. Smith clearly set out to install the antithesis of his nemesis Marty Schottenheimer. Marty is a proven winner and a leader who stood his ground to the bitter end, which is why Smith got him fired after a 14-2 season. Norv is a “yes” man, which is apparently what A.J. Smith covets. This is good news for the Raiders on two fronts. One, a divisional rival has replaced a great coach with a mediocre coach. Two, Norv’s talents as an offensive coordinator are no longer available to our cross-bay rivals.

4. In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Adrian Peterson names the Raiders as one of a few teams he'd "like to play for," in addition to the Texans and the Cowboys. He's a Texas native, but says he rooted for the Raiders as a kid. Perhaps he's just making nice in pursuit of #1 pick money, but I suspect he's being honest. I like the idea of someone who wants to play for this team, who understands the legacy and wants to be a part of restoring it. Most mock drafts have him going at #4 to the Browns at this point. Are we going to pick a QB in the first round? Are we going to trade down, and if we do, where should be trade down to, and who should we pursue?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Five Dollars and Five Minutes

Update 7:01 a.m. - Thanks to AllyOop and Raider News, as well as Raider World, for spreading the word.

Update 7:43 p.m. - Thanks to
Raider Nation Podcast, Raider Raza and Raiders40 at for helping spread the word. I know they won't be alone, and I will continue to update this list accordingly.

As a new parent who lost his own father to a heart attack, I was particularly saddened by the news of Craig Long’s passing. Craig, a public relations coordinator for the Oakland Raiders from 1997 through 2004, died of a heart attack on February 9 at the age of 36. He is survived by his wife and young daughter, Ava. Their second child is due in June.

I didn’t personally know Craig Long, but I do know that he was part of our Raider Nation family, a sentiment that extends to his wife and daughter. Click here to read Jerry McDonald’s fine memorial to Craig.

In the comments section of McDonald’s piece, Craig’s wife Allison adds more insight into the man and husband, as well as some rather poignant observations that we might all do well to heed: “Some say time heals all wounds but I disagree. Nothing can heal how I and so many others feel right now. Ava cries for her daddy and my heart aches for my best friend. All I can do is pray that he is looking down on us every step of the way….So many people have asked me 'what can I do'…. I have something I want you to do. Please go home, hug your spouse or loved one, kiss your children, tell then you love them and don’t let go. Cherish every moment as you never know when it will be taken away from you. We had no warning…. we had no second chances. I would give anything in the world to look in his eyes one more time and tell him I love him.”

Friends, there is something else we can do. We can make small contributions to little Ava’s trust fund, which collectively will make a big difference. Those of you who live in coastal California understand the brutal cost of living that faces the Long family as they grieve and cope with this permanent loss. What if we all took five dollars (and ideally a bit more) and five minutes to write a check and help make a difference in this child’s future? If 500 of us contribute just $5 (which is less than one Coliseum beer!), that adds up to $2,500, which would more than double at five percent interest over the next 18 years. If we make it $10, the impact is even more extraordinary.

According to Jerry McDonald: “A trust fund has been set up for Ava Long. Send donations in care of Allison Long, account number 0072860478, Bank of America, with Craig Long Memorial Fund in the memo section. The address is 1010 E. Alisal St., Salinas, CA, 93905. Write "Craig Long Memorial Fund" in the memo section.”

This is a bit unclear, but I assume it means writing checks directly to Allison Long and addressing the envelope to Bank of America c/o Allison Long at 1010 E. Alisal St. in Salinas, CA 93905. I’m not exactly sure about the best place to reference the account number, but anywhere on the check or in an accompanying note should suffice. It’s a local branch, and I’m sure they’ll figure it out regardless. Don’t forget to write Craig Long Memorial Fund in the memo section.

I’m off to catch the postman. I invite you to join me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

For Sale: Optimism with Extended Warranty

I’m the guy who sold you hot coffee in Death Valley in 2005 and a bridge in Brooklyn in 2006. Now I’ve got something new to sell you. Trust me. No, really. I’ll even throw in an extended warranty and free batteries.

I’ve been blogging about the Raiders for a mere 17 months, yet I’m already writing about a third coaching regime. Over this span of two seasons and more than 330 takes, I have celebrated six total victories with you. For the past two preseasons, I have barked a lot about how this year is the year, only to quickly find myself talking about next year.

Here’s what I was selling in 2005: With the additions of Moss and Jordan, with Collins getting comfortable in the system and Gallery getting comfortable in the NFL, and all under the guidance of offensive guru Norv Turner, the Oakland Raiders were poised to be an offensive juggernaut. Oops.

Here’s what I was selling in 2006: This is the year we return to classic Raiders football, to long bombs and downhill running, to pride and poise and glory, all under the steady focused hand of Raiders legend Art Shell. Ouch.

I don’t make any apologies for being wrong in my early predictions about the past two seasons. I’m a fan, which means I’m a fanatic—a fact that I must balance with my role as a commentator. Here’s an example of how I do it: When Tom Walsh is announced as the offensive coordinator, I don’t scream that the sky is falling and that he’s a failure before his plane has even landed in Oakland. Once a decision is made by my team, I am willing to be open minded—and even irrationally exuberant—until proven otherwise. That’s the fan in me. However, when Tom Walsh confirms my worst fears with incoherent playcalling, then I am obligated to comment accordingly.

In other words, I reserve the right to be optimistic in the preseason but am obligated to be realistic during the regular season.

So now I’m back, knocking on your door with a new sales pitch: We’re coming out of the woods. We’re getting back on track. This is the start of something meaningful and lasting. It’s the dawn of the Lane Kiffin era—batteries included.

I love the decisiveness of our recent hirings, such as Knapp, Cable and Perry. They have been swift and sensible. This year, it's not the Raiders who are making curious news. It’s Jerry Jones who is hemming and hawing into oblivion. It's the Chargers firing their coach in mid February after already losing both coordinators—and after going 14-2 in the regular season. This is a team that didn’t fire its second-year coach after going 1-15 in 2000. San Diego has always had the fairest weather, eh?

Anyhow, I like our hirings. We're quickly emerging from the acid trip of 2006, in which we hired a head coach away from a corporate desk job, our OC away from rural retirement, a QB coach who hadn’t coached quarterbacks for six years and a line coach with very little coaching experience. In retrospect, it's no wonder our offense looked disoriented. Our coaching staff was disoriented.

This year, our new coordinator and coaches are already deeply engaged in the game at an NFL level, and while Kiffin is new to the NFL, he has been prowling a sideline for the college program that most resembles an NFL program. Shaking off cobwebs won't be an issue.

We still have a ways to go, we still have player personnel issues in my opinion, but I think that the confusion and disorientation of 2006 are being roundly resolved, and that a true foundation is being formed. Trust me. Remember, the price of optimism is free, and this time I'll even throw in an extended warranty and some Duracells. I'm sorry about the previous products, but I still stand by this new one.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Last Laugh: In Progress (Again)

The 1991 biography Slick: The Silver & Black Life of Al Davis reveals that in 1989, Sports Illustrated painted Al Davis as “haunted by mortality” and “practically establishment” in the wake of a five-year playoff drought. The author then notes that “those who had been ready to bury Davis hastily backtracked—by early in the 1990 season, Sports Illustrated had this as a cover line: ‘Rebirth of The Raiders.’ By the end of the season, they were playing in the AFC Championship game.”

In other words, Al Davis has been through this before, and so have we. Yes, Mr. Davis is older now. Yes, our most recent playoff drought has been worse than any before it, in terms of wins and losses. But adversity is something that the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis and the Raider Nation have overcome before, and adversity is what we are facing now. I like our odds.

Now, there is no shortage of commentators here at Raider Take who feel that Mr. Davis has become a liability. I’m not talking about Raiders Haters. I’m talking about dedicated Raiders fans who know how to state their case. They are surely entitled to their opinion. You know that I’m of a different opinion. To me, Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders are synonymous, like the Eifel Tower and Paris or Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. But this place would be rather boring without a diversity of thought that is reflective of the diversity of the Raider Nation itself, in all facets of the term. But there is one fact that I embrace, and that we all face: Mr. Davis is still in charge, not just now, but for years to come (God willing). Some may wish otherwise, but a fact is a fact.

I guess my point is that we’re all rooting for the last laugh, are we not? You, me and Mr. Davis. We’re all in this together. Our last laugh is Mr. Davis’s last laugh, and vice versa. Whether you like him or not, our fates are intertwined.

You know that when the Raiders advanced to the AFC Championship after the 1990 season (followed by playoff appearances in two of the following three seasons), those who were writing his epitaph in Sports Illustrated just one year earlier were thinking, well, Al Davis finally got his last laugh (although I admit a Super Bowl berth would have been a much bigger laugh, there’s a still a big difference between “has been” and the AFC Championship game). But that wasn’t his last laugh. The Oakland Raiders and Al Davis were again declared DOA in the late 1990s, just before…winning the AFC West three straight times, advancing twice to the AFC Championships, and earning a Super Bowl berth after the 2002 season.

Surely, that was our last laugh, right? No, actually, it was our second last laugh, according to the pundits and the Raiders Haters. And now we’re working on our third. The Raiders Haters will come in here and say I don’t have a leg to stand on. Based on the past four seasons, I don’t. But I have more than the past four seasons.

I have a collection of gravestones that were hastily etched by wishful thinkers. They speak of a team declared dead, and an owner declared outmoded, and a fan base declared deluded. One is from the late 1980s. Another is from the late 1990s. And the latest is from the late 2000s.

Someday they might be right, but they've always been wrong before. I like our odds. If I'm a betting man, I'm betting on a last laugh...again.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Legend Leaves The Turf

On the one hand, I hate to see Fred Biletnikoff step away from the Coliseum turf. On the other hand, if it had to happen, then I think the timing is probably right.

You know how I feel about Fred Biletnikoff. His exploits and credentials as a Raiders legend are well documented, so I won’t state the obvious. As for the timing of his departure, well, let’s begin with some questions…

Did Freddie pack his own bags, or was he nudged out the door? Some have speculated that Freddie was unhappy with how Art Shell was dismissed, and that he was suffering from diva fatigue, courtesy of Moss and Porter. Others have speculated that it was simply a matter of Coach Kiffin exerting his own autonomy (!) and vision for the offense. I imagine that the truth is somewhere in between. In other words, if Freddie was nudged, it may not have taken a big nudge.

Is Jerry Porter an X Factor in this development? As you may recall, Fred Biletnikoff was part of the infamous meeting that resulted in Jerry Porter’s ejection from Art Shell’s office last spring—an ejection that initiated Porter’s season-long banishment to the proverbial doghouse. Given that piece of recent history, along with reports about Freddie’s rapport with Art Shell, can we view Freddie’s departure, at least partially, as an attempt by the organization to make peace with Porter?

Before you shoot me down, hear me out. Let’s review Jerry Porter’s lost season, which boils down to the following two possibilities:

1. Porter fully earned his season-long banishment by being a bad teammate, a malcontent, a disruptor, etc.

2. Porter did not fully earn his season-long banishment, in which case his season-long banishment was at least partially due to vindictive mistreatment by the Oakland Raiders coaching staff.

If you buy the first scenario, then Jerry Porter is simply a guy you don’t want on your team—ever. So why is he still on the team? Why is the Oakland Tribune reporting that “it appears Porter will stay” in 2007?

This suggests that the Oakland Raiders may have accepted the second scenario, in which Porter was mistreated. Who’s the last man standing in this power struggle? Not Art Shell. Not Fred Biletnikoff. The last man standing is Jerry Porter. Coincidence? I’m not saying I agree with it. I’m just wondering: are the dots connected?

Even if the dots aren’t connected, the timing of Fred Biletnikoff’s retirement is telling. Last year was all about going back to the future with Art Shell, Tom Walsh and a return to "classic" Raiders football. This year is all about erasing the failed experiment of last year with new blood, new ideas and new energy. For whatever reason, Fred Biletnikoff is not a part of this new plan. If that's the way it has to be, then I can accept that, because we are in desperate need of a new plan.

That’s not a slight on Fred Biletnikoff. Maybe he was, indeed, just sick and tired of dealing with Moss and Porter, or he maybe was truly aggrieved by Shell’s reportedly harsh dismissal, or both. Or maybe he was, in fact, nudged firmly out the door. Either way, you could say he was a victim of circumstances. Everyone is a victim of circumstances at some point, but that doesn’t diminish who they are and what they’ve achieved.

On that note, I salute Fred Biletnikoff, whose accomplishments and character define what it means to be a Raiders legend.