Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Updated: January 29, 4:23 PM ET
Greatness of the Raidess is their future

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

I could tell Dog was torn. He's glad the Super Bowl is over, and Hoop Rules. Dog is all about hoop. At the same time, Dog considers Al Davis a Brooklyn homeboy.

"Football? Beside the Jints and Jets? If somebody asks, 'Who you pulling for, Dog?' I ask them, 'Who's winning?' Know what I mean, Dub? But I felt bad, almost, seeing Al get busted up like that, get his doors blown off like that by the impudent Chucky, then limpin' on off into the sunset."

Al Davis
Pete was less than happy to hand over the trophy.

"Impudent? Impressive, Dog. You're so articulate. Don't believe the hype," I said. "Al's like MacArthur. He shall return. When the sun comes up tomorrow and the glare gets out of your eyes, and the dust from the parade clears, know who's standing there? Al's Raiders. Al Himself."

"What?" Dog asked. "The Raidess is all done. Tampa slapped 'em around. Al's way over the cap. He's gotta break 'em up. Callahan got a new one cut for him by Chucky. He'll never beat Chucky if that Harlem fire drill was any indication. Going for two at 34-9? Coach like the game is still in order, which it is. Coulda been 34-24. Still got to get stops. Chucky and them? Dynasty. Al? Done."

"Careful how you put that, Dog. Brooklyn homeboys or not, put that wrong and Al hears about it, you make the list. Not a list you want to make. They'll be telling bandleader stories about you. They'll be saying you should've armed yourself if you were going to talk about the Raiders like that. Al's grappled with everything that walks or crawls, and he'll be here to grapple with thee, Dog. Say whatever you want about Al. But say something that can be read as any kind of curse or disfavor or obstacle to the Oakland Raiders, and you might end up making a good-looking corpse. Al might be finished by tomorrow night. That's up to God. But I'll tell you who isn't finished. The Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are made men. They're finished the same way San Diego is finished with good weather."

"This I gots to hear," Dog said.

"Then let me 'splain it to you, Lucy, best I can.

"To Al, the Raiders are not some business acquisition, or the key to some Club, or TV photo op, or a way to amuse some silly fan's fantasy of thinking he knows more about putting together a football club than a pro, spending money he made in making widgets or developing telecoms or whatever it was he was once proficient at. Him re-tooling a football team is ludicrous. Al Davis doing it is not.

"See, to Al, the Oakland Raiders are not a play toy. The Oakland Raiders are like a child. His child. His only child.

"It doesn't really matter to Al about winning or losing a Super Bowl. Al was losing and winning Super Bowls when most of us were being weaned, by our mothers or some cheerleader. Blown out by the Tampa Bay Bucs? Al Davis has been blown out by the best, by the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, in Super Bowl II. Al's team has also been the best, three times. Three for five in Super Bowls? You'd take it. He won't.

"See Dog, to Al, it's about all Super Bowls. It's about what he calls, 'the greatness of the Raidess,' Dog. That's how he pronouces their name: 'Raidess.' That's a pretty good impression/exaggeration/caricature of it that Boom does. When the L.A. Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1984, Al said, "the greatness of the Raidess is in their future," and that's what he believes, that's his life reality, what he lives for, that's his obsession, the same way you want your kid to turn out. He wants the Raiders in position to battle for the Super Bowl every year, in every succeeding decade. He means for them to be in play, that's what does it for him, and if it follows he steps on some toes and breaks some others, and if the Raider fans dress like a nightmare in Bedlam and run wild in the streets and set stuff on fire, well ... as long as his child is safe, you're on your own."

"But, Dub," protested Dog. "... but he traded Chucky to Tampa, and Tampa won the Super Bowl! Chucky beat on 'em like they was his children! He drilled 'em!"

Charles Woodson
The Raiders will be even better next season with Charles Woodson playing on two healthy legs.

"Yeah, Al lost. Oh yeah, sure he did. With four first- and second-round draft picks in 2002 who not only played but started or could've started in the 2003 Super Bowl, and with three more first- and second-round picks coming in 2003? Who cares about a cap? Al drops seven old heads, re-signs two, makes the hard calls -- Timmy can't play any more; Jerry can, reduced rate; bait and switch Sam Adams; study Gannon -- what's missing? Probably gotta live with him; look in Cally's eyes, see if he can learn from this, or if he is what he is. Al will pay for the real future of the Raiders, the injured corner Philip Buchanon, who may be like Deion Sanders, let along Ronde Barber; the linebacker Napoleon Harris, who in the end may equal Derrick Brooks, and that's the highest praise. Al would call Brooks "the great one," if Al was in the mood to talk about it right now.

But Al is a realist. It was Al who said, halfway through this past season when the Raiders were 4-4, "We aren't as good as we were at 4-0 the first four games, or as bad as we are when we went 0-4 in the last four." Al knows. If he doesn't, he picks it up as he goes. And then he knows.

"Keep ticking them off, the old, done, cap-sized Raiders. Rookie TE Doug Jolley, in the end better than Ken Dilger, if not already; rookie tackle Langston Walker, already bigger than a house. They all played in the Super Bowl as rookies, except for the injured Buchanon. That's not to mention the three starters they'll pick up in 2003, and not to mention Charles Woodson, the now vexed Wood, who played on one good leg in the Super Bowl.

"As long as Al has Woodson and Buchanon, he's open for business. Al's always operated under this on-field theory:

"'Give me two great corners, and a place to stand (preferably a place in a California stadium outfitted with many luxury suites) and I can move the earth.'

"After watching him for 25 years, I believe him."

"Yeah, but ..."

"Yeah, but what? Think Al minds the fact the Chucky went to Tampa and won the Super Bowl? Well, yeah, he minds right now, but in the end he doesn't care. Let me tell you a story. Years ago, the Morabitos owned the San Francisco 49ers, and wanted to sell; it was Al who found them a buyer. Al brought in the DeBartolos, Edward Sr. and little Eddie Junior, on Al's turf. It was to Al Davis that DeBartolo Sr. complained when the Morabitos upped their initial asking price. They wanted more. DeBartolo was about to walk, with Eddie Junior saying, please Daddy, please buy the team, please. Eddie Sr. was about to walk because the 49ers were a business decision to him, just a toy to Eddie Junior.

"Al said, 'No, go ahead and buy them -- you''ll never be sorry.' So Eddie Sr. looked at Al and saw that he was a serious man, and he bought the team. Now in the ensuing years, the 49ers won not one but five Super Bowls, four of them in the decade between 1985 and 1995, when Al's Raiders were walking in the wilderness, on I-5, between L.A. and Oakland, in the twilight zone of the Grapevine and often also in the court room, between the NFL and Pete Rozelle. But as long as Al got his finder's fee on the Niner deal, then he was fine with it. How many team owners in all team sports would've done that to the competing team in its own region? Think, say, Peter Angelos would've done that for a baseball team coming into Washington, D.C.?

"See, Dog, the key to understanding Al Davis and his actions, and the key to understanding his dark side, is to understand that he loves that team and is that team. Mess with them, not on the field, but with their existence, and you've earned the eternal, scheming ire of Al Davis.

"And Dog, let me be even more frank. Al also said to me that same year,'Free agency -- I see it coming. I see it.'

"Now this was long before the rest of the League saw it, or even contemplated it. When free agency finally came, Al and I hadn't spoken for years. The one time I was across the table from Al Davis, like and dislike had nothing to do with it. Whether or not a kid did well had nothing to do with it. Whether Al helped his Raiders while not helping a division rival had everything to do with it. When I sent my emissaries to tell Al the kid wanted to play with the Raiders, that his record-breaking, free-agency-spawning CFL pro contract had a loophole, an out, after two years -- Al already knew the play before they got there. He had reasoned it out. So he told my emissaries, 'I know why you're here ...' and he did ... so Al is going to be thrown by a salary cap 'issue' he saw coming before he signed the fossils in the first place? I highly doubt it. Al's lost his fastball? No, it's more like most of the others never even had a fastball to begin with. Without Al, they're nothing."

Tim Brown
Would Al dare cut ties with Tim Brown? Maybe, if it means a better chance for the Raiders to win.

"How?"

"Who enghineered the merger? Without Al, the Broncos are a nice kitschy memory in Denver, some sepia-toned photos in a Wild West museum in Boulder somewhere.

"Instead, they're an institution.

"Who do you think the Bronocs had to beat to get into the two Super Bowls they lost? How do you think the Broncos won the two they won? Al Davis. The Colts had the rights to the first pick, and John Elway, in 1983. Elway wanted to be a Raider. No way the League was going to let it fly. Put Elway on those Raiders' teams of the '80s and they play in a few more Super Bowls. Al Davis was suing the League about the direction of his Raiders at the time -- at any time, basically. Anybody Al senses trying to hold the Raiders back, Al is suing. Al is suing the city of Oakland even as we speak. After Elway refused to be drafted by the Colts, the League basically awarded Elway to Denver, not to Al's Raidess, but to a team in Al's division, the better to grapple with thee, the better to keep them out of the arena of the playoffs and Super Bowl. If Al's lawyers weren't already working, he and Elway probably would have sued the league then. But do you think that little charade could fool Al Davis? The man is 73, but has Al 'lost his fastball'?

"Hah. Have you found yours yet?

"Try opening one of your eyes.

"Or try getting open on Philip Buchanon for the next 10 years or so. Think Al couldn't have had Jack Del Rio, or Denny Green, or Bill Parcells, or even Ty Willie after Gru-Dog hatted up for Tampa? But he did what he often does. He hired a coach from within, a coach off Gruden's staff, a Gruden acolyte who got his head handed to him by his mentor in Super Bowl XXXVII. Chucky knew Cally going and coming. The Tampa D couldn't believe they'd seen in practice everything the Raiders would try to do. Chucky wasn't going to hire somebody smarter than him. But instead of paying, say, a Parcells (who, at one time, back after he left the Giants, Al courted as a coach), Al used the cash to pay Cally, Napoleon Harris and Sam Adams ...

"Al's got a long memory. When an ex-49er and Tampa wide receiver named Mike Shumann got cut 20-odd years ago, he came to Al and said, 'You need a white WR like me to move the chains for you.' Al laughed, said maybe, didn't sign him. Twenty-odd years later, when Shumann was a weekend TV guy with KGO-TV in San Francisco, Al said, 'You were right; I did need a white wide receiver to move the chains.' Shumann laughed helplessly. He forgot he'd said it. When he went to shake Al's hand, Al declined. He'd shaken Shumann's hand once before a game, and the Raiders lost. Can't shake hands with him before a game again. The Raiders are his life; they are him, and he will brook no possible hex on them, even from a nice guy.

"Al not only hired the first African-American coach in the modern era, he hired the first Hispanic-American coach in the modern era. And he won with both. Because he didn't hire them for what they looked like, he hired them because of what they could do and because they were Raiders down to the common white meat. Al let Mike Shanahan go as Raider head coach long before Chucky; Shanahan not only won one but two Super Bowls. And Al let Shanny go for free. So he wasn't going to stand in Chucky's way. In fact, when Al saw he'd get cash and draft picks, Al greased the skids, tied the rollerskates, tilted the incline, did the deal himself."

"Dub, I never knew this about Al Davis."

"Dog, that's why you wore that Jets jersey to the Black Hole, and got it torn off you. That's not even half of what there is to know about Al Davis. But that's all you need to know and deal with him, and with One Nation.

"If you are around him, or the Oakland Raiders, Al is going to have an effect on your life, an impact, one way or another, an effect directly related to your own effect on his beloved only child, his reason to live, himself, the Raiders."

"So, Dub, you're saying the Raiders are not going to become garbage, that this wasn't their last hurrah, that they'll be back even though they are $48 mil over the cap?"

"I'm saying Tampa Bay is the NFL Super Bowl champion, and deserving champions. Champions come and go. It's the great dynasties, the larger than life characters like Al Davis that impact generations of lives and teams and Super Bowls plural squared, they are the constants, the forever, what the champions must play off in order to be champions. Even losing they are essential because they are always there, the eternal verities, like villany, or heroism. If you're around, and even some years when you're not, Al Davis is going to have an effect on your life. Barret Robbins is about to find that out. Al will read that situation, then act. I've seen him save guys headed for the abyss, if they were Cliff Branch and could help the Raiders. I've seen him cut guys loose. I've seen him be nice to children. Al's a great football man, a good ally, and a bad adversary. I don't really recommend the latter. All I can say is, bring a lunch if you're the latter.

"Dog, what I learned over time about Al Davis is his prime directive, his trigger mechanism, his interior motivation; it's that, yes, he loves and lives and breathes football, but even more than that, he loves this team like it's his own life blood. It's not a toy to him, it's not even just an obsession, it is him, his own living, breathing self ... his legacy. It's his way of living forever ... Al can always cherry-pick ..."

I stopped. I was about to say. "Al can always cherry-pick from among discarded veterans ..." But Al is 73. He can't go on forever. Or can he?

"The greatness of the Raidess is their future."

"You tripping now," Dog said.

"Am I, Dog? Am I?"

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."