I recently hiked deep into the desert with nothing but a twelve pack of Old Milwaukee, a ream of recycled paper and a manual typewriter. The result is my 2007 Oakland Raiders Manifesto, which I now humbly present to you.
Please be patient, this is going to be long and, at times, incoherent, as is the nature of a manifesto.
Anyhow, after finishing my beer near dawn amid the Mojave wilderness, I lit the cardboard box on fire and melted the aluminum cans, pouring the liquid metal into the hollow carcass of a cactus, so that I might create a totem to my work and existence, much like the great Ozymandias. On my long walk back to civilization, I defended myself against scorpions and reptilian predators, as well as my own personal demons. There was a moment when I thought I wouldn’t make it, as the fiery desert sun was broiling me into a state of extreme dehydration. It was then that I beheld the most glorious sight—an oasis of running water and fresh fruits hanging low to the ground from the long branches of tropical flora. I stumbled forward. I partook in the running water and fresh fruits. I was rejuvenated and reborn, and I then found my way home.
It was only later that I realized my experience was a supernatural metaphor for the 2007 Oakland Raiders. The aluminum cactus was, in fact, the Lombardi trophies of seasons past. The scorpions and reptilian predators were the Raider Haters, sneaky and persistent in their attacks. My own personal demons were Art Shell and Tom Walsh, darker sides of my soul that should have remained suppressed. And the oasis was the upcoming 2007 season, a refuge of refreshing new hope.
And I, friends, was Al Davis. At least until I sobered up...
Anyhow, I’m sure you get my drift. This year is going to be different. Take it from me, the guy who assured you 12 months ago that Art Shell would return the team to glory.
Sure, I was wrong last year. I thought that Art Shell, and even Tom Walsh, deserved a fair shake. I don’t ever turn on anyone on my team before the season has started. Everyone on my team deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s just like family.
But if you look back at my takes last season, as well as my follow-up comments, I got fed up pretty quickly with the coaching staff, even as several readers tried to convince me that the coaching wasn’t apocalyptic, and that the players were just as bad and equally at fault. The players may have been bad, but they weren’t nearly as bad as the coaches.
Just three games into last season, here’s what I said after Walsh & Company started milking the clock while down double digits late in the game: "Let’s return to the reality at hand, and this incomprehensible bit of business about still learning how to get to the line in time, and the related concept of coaching. There’s been a lot of discussion about our playcalling and our execution, and where one begins and the other ends. But something that has been overlooked in this discussion is this concept of coaching. Not coaching in the playcalling sense of the word, but in the teaching sense of the word. You can say all you want about professionals being expected to execute like professionals. But at the end of the day, the players are students and the coaches are teachers. Otherwise, why have unit and position coaches in the first place?”
It was all downhill from there. And we know how it ended…
In my postseason thesis published last January, which was entitled “Pride: The Autopsy of A Lost Season,” I made the following observation: “We hired an insider who hadn’t prowled a sideline in six years, and who hadn’t been a head coach since 1994. We hired an offensive coordinator who had been away from the NFL for more than a decade, and who had been away from the game of football for seven years. We hired a pair of offensive line coaches who, despite once being great players, had marginal coaching experience. We hired a quarterbacks coach with no NFL experience, and very little experience as a quarterbacks coach at any level.
Meanwhile, we made no significant personnel moves on offense. Please don’t say that this was a rebuilding year. Around whom did we allegedly rebuild on offense? Aaron Brooks? Who else? Silence.
Our offensive unit didn’t field itself. Our executives—Al Davis, Mike Lombardi and Art Shell—fielded it. Our executives passed on potential franchise quarterbacks such as Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in the draft. Our executives passed on a running back like Maurice Jones-Drew in the second round, and did not shore up the running back position via free agency or trading (despite LaMont Jordan’s shortcomings and Justin Fargas’s proneness to injury). Our executives built a receiving corps around two players, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, with serious character flaws. Our executives put our tight ends position in the hands of two major underachievers. Our executives did not aggressively pursue a free agent lineman such as Larry Allen. They simply signed Aaron Brooks and drafted Paul McQuistan in the third round and Kevin Boothe in the sixth round, and left it at that. Thus, we now find ourselves with huge question marks at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line—a totality of uncertainty that is simply stunning.”
The uncertainty was, indeed, stunning—and yet just seven months later, it has been largely erased. From top to bottom, forward and backward, our offensive coaching staff has been upgraded. We drafted our presumed franchise quarterback. We drafted a promising running back and picked up another solid runner via free agency. We ran Courtney Anderson out of town and replaced him with a young stud at tight end. We picked up Jeremy Newberry and others to shore up our line with some veteran savvy. We signed a fullback (what a concept—a fullback!) in Justin Griffith. We removed the cancer known as Randy Moss and applied some apparently successful chemotherapy to Jerry Porter.
In other words, every single point I made in January has been addressed. Why shouldn’t I expect significant improvement?
Yet just yesterday on ESPN Radio, I heard Sean Salisbury declare, “I don’t think the Raiders have improved at all” on offense. Let’s see: Better head coach, better offensive coordinator and better line coach. More talent at quarterback, running back, tight end and even offensive line (receiver position might be a wash with Moss's departure and the additions of Taylor and Williams).
Yet ESPN’s Sean Salisbury says nothing’s changed. Willful ignorance is a special talent of the Raider Haters.
Yet other haters are suddenly hedging their bets. In its 2007 NFL Guide, Athlon Sports states: “There isn’t any reason to think the Raiders can’t win as many as seven or eight games with a few lucky bounces.”
ESPN’s John Clayton (who really isn’t an avowed Hater, he’s a bit too mature for that), recently wrote (thanks for the link, Freaking Pope): "First-year coach Lane Kiffin brings a new vigor to Raider practices. Assistants run up and down the field to encourage or teach young players. Offensive line drills have more intensity as coaches try to bring out more aggressiveness in the blocking schemes. Still, the treat of camp is the strong arm of JaMarcus Russell. Watching him throw is a thrill in itself."
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs’ team web site recently ran an article (thanks to Colin for the link) that began: “It’s time for the AFC West to start worrying about the Oakland Raiders again.”
Heck, even our friend at Sports Illustrated, who likes to send early valentines to Daniel Snyder every July with his annual NFL owners rankings, upgraded Al Davis five slots this year—after a 2-14 season! Imagine that, Al Davis’s stock rises after the worst season in his tenure with the team. That's a textbook example of a Hater hedging his bets. He knows something's up in Oakland.
Speaking of betting, when Mr. Davis was recently asked about the possibility of gambling at the officiating levels of the NFL (per the NBA’s recent troubles), he said he wasn’t worried about gambling, he was worried about bias. So much for his alleged senility. His answer was not only quick, it was on the mark.
ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd, a Raider Hater but no dummy, highlighted Mr. Davis’s comments in his August 2 show, affirming that officiating bias is, indeed, a very real phenomenon and a legitimate cause for concern in professional sports. In 2005, the zebras screwed us not once against the Chiefs, but twice, affecting the outcome of both games against our AFC West rivals. The latter instance was so infuriating that a Raiders executive confronted the officials after the game and had to be restrained. Last year, against the Browns, Seahawks and Chargers, we saw similarly dubious calls.
Here’s what Mr. Davis said: “I don't worry about gambling, I worry about bias. I worry about bias. Because if you remember, Sports Illustared ran an article about officiating in the NFL. And one of the officials said, 'The only thing we're warned in our meeting, be on the lookout when you go to Oakland. Watch out when you go to Oakland."
Mr. Davis could have also easily cited the fact that, just weeks ago, the NFL’s head of officiating took a cheap shot at the Raiders while suggesting that a blown call is more excusable if the wronged team made its own mistakes earlier in the game.
I recall Art Shell standing mute and slack jawed after that ripoff call in San Diego last November. While always trying to look poised, Art Shell seemed unable to demonstrate his pride. The officials walked all over him and us. I want, and expect, Lane Kiffin to go Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella on any zebra that dares thieve another game from the Oakland Raiders. Enough is enough.
On a similar track, do you think that our staff will be so befuddled that they will be unable (not unwilling, unable) to challenge an obviously horrible game-changing call? Do you think that Greg Knapp will go pass happy behind a broken offensive line amid a rainstorm? Do you think our team will be literally unable to run a no-huddle offense?
I don’t. What we saw last year was incompetence of biblical proportions. Thankfully, it’s the kind of thing you’ll only see once in a lifetime, because so many things have to be simultaneously wrong for it to happen at all.
Oh, I still have my concerns. Can Jerry Porter’s legs finally outrun his mouth? We’re still overly reliant on LaMont Jordan, at least until Dominic Rhodes returns from his self-inflicted boneheaded banishment (yes, I’ve heard of Adimchinobe Echemandu, but I’m not ready to anoint him the next Bo Jackson until he plays in a game or two). The offensive line…well, that subject scares me like West Nile virus and Paris Hilton with a dictionary.
Speaking of scary, how about this nugget from Saturday’s practice: “Andrew Walter’s most memorable play came when he dropped a snap from center Jeremy Newberry, looked at it for a moment, then kicked the ball before it was recovered by defensive lineman Kevin Huntley.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that Andrew Walter just might not be very alert, in the football sense of the word. I sure hope that Daunte Culpepper’s knee is fully healed. I was more comfortable with McCown as our starter before Russell’s holdout, figuring that Russell might be ready by midseason if McCown melted down. But with Culpepper here, I’m going to hitch my wagon to his train and pray that he returns to his once-remarkable form, or at least a good shadow of it, because Russell’s readiness is retreating by the day.
You know who’s also holding out in addition to Jamarcus Russell? Brady Quinn. You know, the kid with his head on his shoulders, or so we were told. Matt Leinart held out for a few weeks last year. Not to say that I’m not concerned about Russell, but it’s too early to panic. I don’t like it, but I do like that we signed Culpepper as a hedge.
There’s a reason I’m not talking much about the defense here. I just don’t have much to say about our defense. They were very good verging on great last year, and if they can stuff the run with some regularity, they will be great. I don’t want to talk about it, though. I’m afraid I’ll jinx things. Just let Caveman Ryan & Company do their thing.
By the way, I’m glad that Al Davis didn’t hand over the head coaching keys to Rob Ryan. Some said he “deserved” the job. Not the best premise for hiring a coach. And why would we hire a defensive guru to help fix one of the worst offenses in NFL history while creating a vacancy at the defensive coordinator’s position, when defense was the only thing going right for the team?
No, I like the Caveman in his cave, making fire and beating things with bones. His time might come, but Kiffin’s time is now. Al Davis has a demonstrated nose for young up-and-coming coaches. Madden and Gruden are obvious examples, but people forget that Mike Shanahan was also young and unproven, too, when Al Davis gave him the reins. It didn’t work out for the Raiders, but, as much as I hate to say it, Shanahan has proved to be a successful NFL coach.
I have no reason to expect that Kiffin will be any different.
Just recently, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle made a slanderous allegation that Kiffin is going to cut older players because…they are older. Kiffin supposedly feels threatened by older players because of his own tender age. The same Kiffin who hired a staff of older proven coaches, such as Greg Knapp and Tom Cable. But that Adam Treu, he really had Kiffin’s knees knocking? Don’t believe it. Kiffin and his staff are a major upgrade over last year’s Cirque du Soleil troupe, and I accordingly expect to see significant improvement.
You might recall that before our late November game last year in San Diego (the one with the infamous “illegal forward pass” call), Raider Take’s favorite columnist wrote the following: “The game will be decisively lost. You Raider fans will endure all of it because you still believe your heart rather than your own lying eyes, and good on you and your blind, delusional faith. It's good to believe in something, even if it's just a sham.”
Our columnist pulled a hate muscle that day, and I think he’s still limping. Anyhow, the game wasn’t decisively lost. It was our third straight game against AFC West rivals, and we lost all three—but only by a grand total of 15 points. Don’t tell me that the Broncos, Chiefs or Chargers were taking it easy on us. If we could play those teams tough last year, we can sure play them tough this year.
I was attending a free concert at the local town park the other night, wearing my Raiders hat, and the singer mentioned that one of his bandmates was a great guy—except that he was a Raiders fan. The singer then told a joke: How does a Raiders fan teach his kid to count? Start with zero, then go 0 and 1, 0 and 2, 0 and 3, etc.
I have to admit, it was kind of funny. After last year, I’ve come to accept, and even embrace, such banter. It means that I’ll get to serve a big slice of crow someday, and probably sooner than they think.
Friends, we are coming out of the desert. As Raiders fans, we have deep reserves of passion, loyalty, faith, tenacity and fanaticism. Having drawn on these reserves, we remain resolved. The oasis lies ahead. Behold the new season.