Thursday, July 16, 2009

A (Recent) Raiders History Lesson

What better way to survive the seemingly interminable wait for training camp than watching classic Raiders highlights?

No, I’m not talking about the Ghost to The Post or the Super Bowl victories or any of the other epic moments featured on the Raiders’ cool new 50th anniversary web site.

I’m talking about September 10, 2000, when the Raiders overcame a 21-0 deficit on the road against the Colts to win 38-31, igniting what would become an exciting three-year run that culminated in a Super Bowl berth.

I bought this game on DVD several years ago, and now I’m glad I did. I watched part of the second half last night, and it was good for the soul. The Raiders kicked Peyton Manning to the curb and took firm control of the game in that second half. I was particularly impressed with our offense.

Napoleon Kaufman with feet of lightning. Tyrone Wheatley pounding the middle. Tim Brown and Andre Rison running crisp, precise routes. The offensive line giving Gannon ample time, and Gannon making the most of it…

As I watched, part of me thought, Wow!

Another part of me thought, it’s not rocket science. Is it really that difficult to run disciplined routes, block oncoming rushers and throw the ball with fundamental accuracy and decisiveness?

Yes, we had good talent back then, but more than that, we were just crisp and focused and disciplined. Yet in recent years, the Raiders have managed to make this stuff look really complicated and almost unattainable, as if we were trying to unlock the keys to the universe, not gain a simple 10 yards.

Another thing that struck me was how in control and engaged Jon Gruden looked on the sidelines. I don’t know why so many Raiders fans dislike the guy. Prior to Tom Cable, six of our last seven coaches have gotten the boot after two or less years, with Gruden being the exception. We've had three winning seasons since 1994, and Chucky presided over two of them. He must have been doing something right.

Compare his sideline demeanor to Callahan (I belong here, right?), Turner (gee whiz, we’re losing again?), Shell (deer meets headlights) and Kiffin (whatever, is the game over yet?).

I could play quick random sideline clips of each of these coaches to a class full of sixth graders who know nothing about the Raiders, and ask them which coach they thought was a winner, and 30 out of 30 kids, I guarantee you, would pick Gruden.

Tom Cable, please take note.

I imagine that, to some of our rookies and young players, the whole Raider “mystique” and old highlights are intimidating and even hard to comprehend. All of our draft picks over the past few years were born after our last Super Bowl victory.

If I were looking to motivate them with a Raiders history lesson, I wouldn’t go all Stork and Snake and Sea of Hands on them.

I would pop in the DVD of the Raiders vs. the Colts from this very decade, featuring players who are now their professional peers, like Charles Woodson and Sebastian Janikowski.

I would say, look, this isn’t rocket science—as long as you care, and if you work at it, and if you are disciplined in your approach. We can win. You have the talent. But we need you to step up and do what it takes.

Those guys you're watching in 2000 didn't have appreciably more talent than you. But did they have more heart? That's a question only you can answer. And if you give the right answer, we will win again, and you will quickly understand what it means to be a Raider, and what the mystique is all about.