Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just What, Baby?

After  four seasons and nearly 500 posts since launching Raider Take, I am taking a step back. The reasons are both personal and organizational.

On the personal front, life circumstances have put an increasing squeeze on my time (for all the right reasons). I need to choose my hobbies carefully. 

On the organizational front, I’ve regretfully become convinced that winning is no longer the top priority for the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have become like a restaurant that is focused on the flatware, not the food. Their eye is off the ball, and ultimately off the prize.  

I have no doubt that the Oakland Raiders organization has convinced itself that winning is still its top priority. But that doesn’t make it true. The evidence strongly suggests that stubbornness and stagnancy are the real bottom line Oakland today.

Until winning returns as the top priority in Oakland, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to spend precious time blogging about the Raiders. 

Trust me, I know that most folks don’t give a rat’s a** if I take a hike. But Raider Take has become a community, and it would be wrong to walk out on friends without an explanation. I’m not shutting the site down, but the frequency of posts will be scaled back significantly, and that will no doubt change the nature of this place. 

Don’t think this is all about wins and losses. Losing is just a symptom. You can lose a lot of games with winning as your top priority (see the 2008 Dolphins). I’m just not convinced that this is the case in Oakland anymore.  

Some examples:

The organization knew that Lane Kiffin was a lame duck at the end of the 2007 season. Instead of acting swiftly and decisively, and instead of installing a proven new coaching regime that could put us firmly back on the winning track, the organization allowed the lame duck to wobble into to the season with a guillotine hovering above his neck. Was it because of the money? Was it a personal grudge? Was it just bad judgment? I’m not sure. But I am sure that it wasn’t about winning. A team with winning as its top priority doesn’t allow this to happen. 

Randy Moss literally and repeatedly quit before our eyes, yet Mr. Davis sill rues the day he lost Randy Moss. A player who should make his blood boil instead inspires sentimentality. If winning were the priority, why so many tears over this loser? Frankly, it’s insulting to the fans who paid hard money to watch that clown jog around the field. Jack Tatum would have ripped his head off. Yet today, Moss is nothing but a star upstairs in Alameda. 

Rob Ryan’s units have chronically underperformed during his tenure in Oakland, yet he has survived three head coaches. At this point, Rob Ryan could survive a nuclear winter in Alameda. Yet not only hasn’t he been fired, he hasn’t been promoted, either, despite three opportunities. What does that tell you? 

I’ve always admired the loyalty of the Raiders organization. But today that loyalty has mutated into something bizarre and counterproductive. It’s no longer just about giving a helping hand to an old Raider in need or keeping a permanent seat for Jim Otto in the skybox. It’s about allowing chronic underperformers to occupy roster spots to the detriment of progress (and thus winning). This is an established fact. 

When Kiffin was a dead man walking earlier this season, even the players were wondering aloud what was going on. It was total informational chaos, and it was an admitted distraction in the locker room. Yet the only real effort to correct the record had nothing to do with the game of football, but with a disagreement about some ESPN article being distributed to the local media. The fact that this spat was conducted so unprofessionally only underscored the tragedy and the comedy of the situation.   

Organizations focused on winning do not act this way. The priorities have become jumbled in Oakland. Yes, the coaches and the players want to win on Sunday. The owner wants to win. They all want to win. Yet a culture of losing is allowed to persist, and insular thinking, not winning, is the ruling priority.

Trust me, I am not bitching and moaning here, I’m just citing some clear examples why I’ve come to the conclusion that winning is no longer the top priority in Oakland. I could give many other examples, but I won’t, because you’re all familiar with them by now. 

I didn’t coin the term “Just Win, Baby.” But, as a Raiders fan, I innately understand it. It’s not about winning this game or that game, because you can’t win them all in the NFL. It’s about doing what it takes to win, at all times. In competitive football, there can be no other priority. You can lose games, but your priorities cannot waver. If they do, you are doomed, and the notion of competitive football ceases to have meaning. 

If a culture of losing begins to infest the building, it must be exterminated, not encouraged. 

Don’t call me a bandwagon fan. I’m still a hardcore Raiders fan. I’ve blogged faithfully, year after year, during the organization’s most dismal era. As of today, I’m no different than any other hardcore Raiders fan who doesn’t regularly blog about the team. 

I am not in a rage about the state of the Raiders. I will be at the game on Sunday, and will have fun as always. I still respect Al Davis, and I still love the Oakland Raiders. I am confident that the ship will be righted, and that winning will return as the top destination, hopefully as early as this coming offseason. Whenever it happens, it will be the result of radical change, the kind of change you can see and taste. There will be nothing vague about it. 

Until then, like the Raiders, I’ll have different priorities. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

First Quarter Take

Three offensive possessions and negative nine yards total with four minutes left in the first quarter. Two sacks and a safety. That's called a bad start. That's called 2006. Time to get out of the time machine and start moving the ball. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Venom, Hope and Evidence

One of the things I'm going to love most about today’s victory is the Raider Haters trying to cope with the fact that the Raiders aren’t a total disaster, a position that is essential to their worldview.

The national media has been literally freaking out about the Raiders, saying they’re the worst this, the worst that, etc. All the while, they have been hedging their bets, moving the Raiders up in their “power rankings,” just in case.

Some will say that Raider Take has been freaking out, too. I have, and with good reason. Over the past five (now six) seasons, I believe the Raiders have lost full a year (and probably two) of relative progress for inexcusable reasons I don’t need to belabor (and for me, that’s a year or two of competitive football inexcusably stolen from my life on this earth, which is not something I take lightly, especially when my team’s motto is Commitment to Excellence).

However, I shall remind folks—I am a Raiders blogger. I cover one team, not 32 teams. By definition and vocation, I have tunnel vision.

The national media have no such excuse. They bash the Raiders as a blood sport, by choice, and completely out of context. Just consider the ratio of Chiefs bashing to Raiders bashing in the national media. It’s not even close. When is the last time you read a “I hate the Chiefs” article in a national media outlet? How about never. Yet the Chiefs are clearly the worst team in our division (forget the league), were no better than us last year, and don’t even have a history of success to buy them a little benefit of the doubt. They have nothing. But all you hear about is the Raiders are the worst this, and the worst that. This is 2008, not 2006. Yet you would never know it.

I’m not saying that the Raiders don’t have tons of work to do, nor that I’m content with a 2-4 record after five years of record-tying misery.

I’m just taking this opportunity to point out that, after putting serious scares into the Bills and the Chargers, and now after shutting down the Jets for their second victory in six games, the Raiders aren’t the “worst” anything. That doesn’t make them great, or even good. But it does shine a spotlight on the irrational venom that is directed at the Raiders with maniacal frequency and editorial impunity.

Are the Raiders poised to finally take things to the next level? I hope so, but I’m done with getting my hopes up. Hope used to be one of my currencies, but hope has become fool’s gold in the Raider Nation. We need evidence, not hope. If we win at least two out of the next four (Ravens, Falcons, Panthers, Dolphins), which is an entirely reasonable expectation, then I will consider that evidence. 

In the meantime, I will enjoy this victory, praise our defense for stopping an opponent when it counts (finally), and congratulate Tom Cable on his being .500 as a head coach in the NFL.  

First Quarter Take

Well, we're on pace for 28 penalties today, given that seven have been committed prior to the end of the first quarter. The red zone continues to be the dead zone, but clearly this is a winnable game if we establish some mental discipline. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hard Times in The Big Easy

Well, at least we didn't have to watch another late 4th quarter defensive meltdown this week. Instead, we got an entire half of defensive meltdowns.

Meanwhile, JaMarcus is lucky he only got picked once, because he could easily have had three or four interceptions with some of the throws he made. We said we were going to throw the ball more. So McFadden gets less than 10 carries while we complete 37 percent of our passes and fail to score a touchdown.

So we fire Kiffin, and we play worse on both sides of the ball after two weeks of preparation. Hooray!

DeAngelo Hall after Kiffin was fired:

"We answer to Al. Al knows us personally. It's nice when you have that personal relationship with the owner as opposed to trying to kiss up to every head coach who comes in."


"I don't think Tom Cable has to do a whole lot in terms of getting us to win games. It's just a matter of finishing games and not getting into back-and-forths in the newspaper with the owner. I'm sure he can definitely do that."

Makes me wish we'd spent Hall's money on a free agent receiver instead. Wait...we did that too. Didn't we? What's his name again? I don't recall seeing him today.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Able Cable Takes The Reins

By The FreakingPope

As the dust settles, with occasional flurries from former players like Warren Sapp, we find ourselves a little over a week away from our first game under a new head coach. The team is back on the practice field. The drama may go on, but the team is somewhat isolated from it.

I admit that the night before Cable's first press conference, I was a little nervous about how our team would handle the transition. It literally kept me up. I felt like we had lost the face of our "Return to Excellence".

Over the last few days, Cable has offered up some insights into his plan for our immediate future.  He could be a regular here at Raider Take, based on what I've heard, or maybe common sense is truly common in this instance.

Judge for yourself.

"The work will be tempo, tempo, tempo, as fast as we can go.  And keep pushing that, because I just believe that if you play faster than the other guy he's going to give up somewhere in that game."

We can hear part of Kiffin's philosophy here, but the charisma is far different.  Maybe it's because he outweighs Lane by 100+ pounds, or because he's used to dealing with formidable pupils, but when Tom says it, it doesn't sound like a suggestion.  It sounds like an order.

"We're not looking back.  We're a good team.  We're going to run for the playoffs, and that's our deal. We're not gonna back down.  We're not afraid say that, because you have to if you believe in yourself."

Could this be the end of playing not to lose?

"In order to succeed you have to fail. And so I've said that from day one.  Never be afraid to make mistakes, but around me make mistakes at 100 mph, cause you'll grow from that quicker, you'll learn from that quicker."

If this is the teaching method that pulled Gallery's career out of the toilet, sign me up.

"If I don't like the effort, I can't stand that.  You might as well give someone else your check, because you're cheating.  We're not going to do that.  We're going to work hard, and work fast."

Now I know one, if not all of us, have written this here.

"What you're going to see is balanced offense. That's the key. Whether that means more passing or not I don't know. You might see a series or two where it's all pass or all run. I think we have to be more balanced. We do run the football, so there's a lot of people in the box so you've got to take your shots."


I leave you with the following.  It speaks to the next step in our evolution as a team.  May Tom find fortune, where Lane, Shell, Turner, and Callahan could not.

Do you see this team as being close to being a contender?

"Yeah I do. I don't have any question in my mind. First thing we have to do is learn how to win, then we have to learn how to handle winning. We compete hard, I think that's obvious. That's step one. Step two is learn how to win. We need to win in the fourth quarter. Once that happens we need to learn how to handle winning because it hasn't happened for a while. You don't just go out and win a few games and think everything's all rosy because it can blow up on you. There's still a process that you have to get through. Right now it's about learning how to win games and finish games in the fourth quarter."

Note: Thanks to FreakingPope for contributing this take! This is one of an ongoing series of guest takes here at Raider Take. If you would like to contribute a guest take, please email me at raidertake@yahoo.com for guidelines.