The Raiders have always prided themselves on their mystique. They were the renegade bad boys that weren’t just going to win the game, they were going to beat you down in the process. Al Davis’ favorite word is “dominate”, and the Raiders used to do just that.
What follows is an article that was originally written by myself, and published on March 27th, 2007. Some of the names have changed, but sadly the story hasn’t.
I just got finished watching the History of the Oakland Raiders DVD, and I was wondering what it was that separated the Raiders of the last few years from the Raiders 00-02 Raiders. What was missing from this team that the Raiders of the early part of this decade had, or for that matter what the Raiders of old had. What separated these guys from the Raiders that “just won baby.”
Its easy to look back at the pre-free agency Raiders and see where the greatness lies. At that time the Raiders could just stock up on the best players. But the Raiders of the early 2000’s were in the free agency-salary cap era and were able to dominate. What was it that disappeared after that Super Bowl fiasco? Why is it that despite bringing in players like Randy Moss and Derrick Burgess the Raiders continue to dwell at the bottom?
The answer that I have come up with is that the Raiders of 00-02 expected to win. Those teams not only believed they were going to win, but did not believe they would lose. They knew they were among the best, and if the other team was going to be better then they had damn well better prove it. Today’s Raiders do not have that. Where did it go?
I believe that the loss of Barrett Robbins just prior to the Super Bowl was the beginning of the death knell of that era of Raider greatness. Robbins was the spark-plug of that offensive line that helped the Raiders lead the league in rushing in 2000 and protected Rich Gannon while he threw for over 4000 yards in 2002. That unit worked together well, and the loss of Robbins upset the chemistry of the line, and it has not yet recovered. Jake Grove may be the next great Raider center, but he has not stepped up to that level yet.
Rich Gannon’s injury scuttled the Raiders’ chances to take their fourth straight AFC west title in 2003. That season ended up with Rick Mirer starting at QB after Tui was hurt and Tee Martin was ineffective. Rich Gannon’s career ending injury in 2004 robbed the Raiders of their leader. I do truly believe that the Raiders would have been better than five wins in 2004 if Gannon had started over Kerry Collins for that season. Collins was nowhere near the leader that Rich Gannon was. Rich Gannon had that quality where he could take the team on his shoulders and make the players around him better. Gannon never left the tunnel believing he was going to lose a game.
Frankly, there is a void in leadership on the current Raiders’ offense. Warren Sapp has been a leader on the defense and look at the turn around they have made in the last couple of years. They are close to playing at a championship level, but the offense needs to step it up to get the team to the pinnacle. The offense needs that kind of leader.
I know that many people are down on Andrew Walter after his disappointing performance last season. I am not one of them. The play calling last year and the corresponding line play created a situation where Peyton Manning or Dan Marino would not have looked good. Walter did show toughness as he was repeatedly sacked, but did not come out of a game because of injury. Walter did show leadership when he had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking about the play calling of Tom Walsh. Had Walter been a more seasoned veteran, he likely would have just called his own plays. I am not saying that Andrew Walter is the next Rich Gannon, Jim Plunkett, or Kenny Stabler, but I do think that he has that potential if he is put in a situation to succeed.
The key to the Raiders getting back to the top is getting back to not believing they can lose. To do that they have to get rid of anyone who is not going to leave it all on the field every single game. Lane Kiffin needs to get these guys confident in his game plans, and confident in their ability to execute his plans.
In the draft, they had better make sure that each player they draft, especially the all important number one pick, is the kind of player that is going to give it everything every play.
To sum up the Raider attitude, I quote John Madden, “We didn’t win every game. We didn’t shut out every opponent, but they darn sure knew they had played a game, and didn’t go out dancing that night.”
That is what is missing.
Originally published 3-27-07… TFDS archives.