Nobody can ever say that any owner in the NFL is scrutinized more than Raiders’ managing general partner, Al Davis. Over the years of ineptitude from 2003-2010, Davis was ripped, ram-shackled, steamrolled, ridiculed, and rampaged. What was his response to all the hatred and venom spewed at him and his Oakland Raiders? He shrugged his shoulders – but it wasn’t the typical shoulder shrug that you or I could give, no, it was a classic Davis shoulder shrug… as if the entire world was wrong. And now on the brink of the 2011 season, where the Raiders are considered by most to be a legit playoff contender, Al Davis is no longer shrugging – he is smiling that classic Davis grin.
People can be cruel sometimes. Some folks who said they would never wish death on anyone actually came really close during certain periods over that “worst team in the NFL” era for the Raiders. They certainly weren’t used to their team being at the bottom of the barrel, for in all their years as fans the Raiders were one of the top contenders every year. Even at their very lowest, they were still competitive enough to cheer for.
But during this recent debacle, they became the laughing stock of the NFL. They became the punch line of the league and the punching bag of Inside the NFL co-host and former Raider Warren Sapp. By the way, if you see Sapp, tell him he is wanted by the police in Palm County, Florida in connection to a Subway® robbery.
Bottom line in all of this rehashing is that nobody is laughing anymore. As early as the preseason last year, ESPN writers John Clayton and Chris Mortensen specifically, could tell there was something different about the Raiders now. As far as I can tell, it had a lot to do with that epic trade for the studly defensive tackle Richard Seymour. That is when things started to be not so meager.
The addition of Richard Seymour to the Raiders defensive line not only turned the locker room atmosphere around, but now people are talking about the defensive line as hands down the best in the AFC West and quite possibly one of the best in the NFL. It is totally justified talk and a lot of it has to do with Seymour’s willingness to take young players like Matt Shaughnessy, Lamarr Houston, and Desmond Bryant under his massive wing and teach them the way of the trenches. Plus, he is still just plain beastly.
It also helps that Mike Waufle is one of the most creative defensive line coaches in the league. This caused him to get mention as a potential replacement for John Marshall earlier this season via yours truly. The simple underlying connection between Waufle and Seymour is that both moves were made possible by none other than Al Davis. That same guy who people insisted was losing it and had seen better days.
Not only did Davis drastically improve the defensive line and locker room atmosphere, but the next year he sunk his boney hooks into the shirt collar of now Head Coach Hue Jackson. Although it is unknown at the present time if there was the promise of the head coaching position during the first meeting between the two men, some think it was most certainly inevitable once Davis found out about Tom Cable’s womanizing. And once Davis saw how horrible the offense was under Cable’s “two-hat” system, it was certainly necessary to bring in some help.
So Davis called upon that classic Davis football knowledge and somehow convinced Hue Jackson – one of the best skill position coaches in the NFL – that he wanted to be with an organization that was steadily going downhill fast. Jackson could have gone to coach Jay Cutler with the Bears under the respected Lovie Smith, but was seemingly magically convinced that he wanted to coach up JaMarcus Russell under Tom Cable instead. Nobody really wanted this job, but apparently Hue Jackson is either suicidal or Al Davis is a hypnotist.
Love him or hate him, that is classic Al Davis, a man with so much charisma that if you sit down with him for a half hour, you are under his control and will do whatever he says. Clearly, at that time, the Raiders were an inglorious reclamation project.
So now that Davis is on his way to proving all the doubters and the haters wrong and sending his own message to the founders of “Message to Al” with his middle finger, the question becomes: is there anybody who wants this more than Davis? Of course the players want it, of course the fans want it, and of course the NFL wants the Raiders to be good, because the league is better when the Raiders are good. At least that’s the lie that was shoveled into our mouths when they sucked. But nobody and I do mean NOBODY! wants this thing more than Al Davis.
The owner who was pushed to the brink of asphyxia by his own meddling fans is about to prove everybody wrong and could very well become the oldest owner/GM in NFL history to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. And nobody better say that the Raiders won in spite of Davis, rather than because of him. The person who dares say that is just completely ignorant.
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