Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

July 8, 2009
Playing catch up

A thousand, a million apologies for leaving the Blog blank for so long without letting you know I was going on vacation. More of a staycation, of sorts. In any event, there were a few minor developments in Silver and Blackdom since I last posted. As such, here's an attempt to play a little catch-up. And yes, things will pick up steam as the Raiders' report date to Napa for training camp of July 28 looms.

- Four score and four days ago, Al Davis was born. And to commemorate the Raiders owner's 80th birthday on the 4th of July, Greg Papa, the voice of the Raiders, showed some seven minutes of a two-hour interview he conducted with Davis in his office on "Chronicle Live" last Thursday. Yours truly was a guest on that night's show and Papa asked me a few questions after the interview about Davis' legacy.

In today's microwave society, it's hard to look past how far the franchise has fallen - it was recently ranked No. 116 out of 122 pro sports franchises in a poll by ESPN - since Oakland beat the Tennessee Titans in the AFC title game on Jan. 19, 2003, going a combined 24-73 since, including the 48-21 shellacking at the hands of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But to fairly and truly answer Papa's question, you have to peel back the layers. Davis is as big a figure in NFL history as any other, going back to George Halas through Pete Rozelle to Vince Lombardi to Monday Night Football. Many see Joe Namath as the impetus for the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 but the real force behind the fusion was Davis.

Plus, Davis has done more for minorities and females in football than anyone else in the game's history. He hired the first Latino head coach in Tom Flores, who won a pair of Super Bowls; he also hired the first African-American head coach in Art Shell, though Davis probably fired him too soon and Shell's second tour was an unmitigated disaster; and Raiders CEO Amy Trask is the highest-ranking woman in the NFL. No wonder there are so many fans out there that want to see the Raiders' ship righted before Davis' legacy is irreversibly tarnished.

Following, thanks to Jay De La Cruz of Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area and Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times, is a transcript of the Papa interview with Davis that aired on "Chronicle Live." A one-hour special on Davis to air on Comcast is in the works, with the airdate to be announced.

Greg Papa: Let me be one of the first to wish you Happy Birthday.
Al Davis: Well, it will be happy when we win. But it's a milestone, obviously, 80, and usually at this time of the year, every fifth, from 75, 80, I've held a nice party in Las Vegas but I felt this year, predicated on the economy, that we would just whittle it down to a few friends for dinner, and hold off because we didn't want to flaunt when everyone else is having trouble financially and I thought it was best to do it that way. But in any event, thank you very much.

GP: My wife and I were thrilled to be at your 75th, and it was a tremendous function and you showed a lot of generosity to us and to those closest to you. Let's start at the beginning, we're going to tell the story of one of the most fascinating lives not only in the history of professional football but all of American sport, July 4, 1929, Brockton, Mass., the home of Rocky Mariciano, the great champion, and you, sir. How old were you when you moved from Brockton, to Brooklyn?
AD: We came to Brooklyn, New York, when, when I was 5 years old, and my dad was a manufacturer. He was an entrepreneur, he manufactured raincoats, and he was in real estate, and he was moving the raincoat business, in those days, to the south, because of the course of labor, and things like that. Some of the factories stopped in Baltimore, some stopped in North Carolina. But, my mother felt that we ought to stop a little further north, so we chose Brooklyn, New York. The memories are great, I lived there until I was about 16. My dad had a home in Long Beach, Long Island, and we were moving from Brooklyn to Long Beach, to Brooklyn, to Long Beach, but by the time I was ready to go to college, which I was about 17 years old. I had already committed to move to Long Beach, and so I went on to college.

GP: Tell me about Brooklyn in those days. You mentioned some of the names to me, the great Don McMahon, who later pitched in the major leagues, with the Atlanta Braves, was a childhood friend of yours, and the Torre family, I think you were closer to Frank than Joe, and some of the people, before you got to Erasmus Hall, even that you knew growing up in Brooklyn.
AD: Well, let me make a point to you. Brooklyn was a very diverse place. We had all the ethnic groups that you could possibly think of. It was great street learning. And right next to my house, there was a park called Lincoln Terrace Park. And it was a tough park. It really was. Whoever played in that park, you had to be a survivor. I can only tell you the story, and I did the eulogy of Sugar Ray Robinson, when he died, in Los Angeles, and one of the other eulogists, one of the other persons who spoke, was Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson and Don King were there. And we talking. And I told Mike, who was about 20 years younger than I am, `Mike, I played in Lincoln Terrace Park, and I tell you what, it was tough.' And he said, `What do you mean you played in Lincoln Terrace?' And I said, `I used to play there, every day and night, unless I went to practice . . . '

GP: Baseball? Basketball? Football?
AD: Baseball, basketball and football, and I said, `I owned that park, Mike.' And he turned to Don King and said, `This guy is an S-O-B, he's a tough S-O-B.' If he can come out alive out of that park, he must be a tough S-O-B. I remember it so vividly, my public school, my junior high school was called Winthrop Junior High School. We had to march when we were in school to our classes. We had to wear a white shirt and a red tie. And anyone who went to Winthrop will remember that. And then, we were being recruited to go to high schools, and I went to Erasmus Hall High School, with the idea of playing basketball. That was the dream, to play for Al Badain, at Erasmus Hall High School. And the memories are great, I made a lot of friends. Yes, as you mentioned, a guy, McMahon, was on the baseball team, I wish he were alive today. We used to laugh like all heck. The Torre brothers were big, they played for Madison, and Joe, I think, played for Brooklyn Prep. And there are so many great ones who went to Erasmus. Let me start with Bob Tisch, who owned the Giants. Jerry Reinsdorf, who owned the White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. Sam Rutigliano, who coached the Cleveland Browns. Sid Luckman, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Barbra Streisand, you have to fill Barbara in because she probably is the No. 1 celebrity from that school. And Lanie Kazan, we just had a litany of great performers, great people.

GP: You mentioned you played for the great Al Badain, on the basketball team, and you played all the sports, but football, was the one, and you stated when you were 18, you felt you had a deep understanding of the game of football. Why do you feel that you saw football better than the other sports.
AD: Well, I really don't know that I saw it better. It interested me more. When I was 18, I was already in college. I went to college when I was 17 years old. At Erasmus, we ran a single wing. At Syracuse we ran a single wing and then Ben Schwartzwalder came and we ran a single wing, unbalanced line, and I just understand that there was more to it than running the football. There was a passing game. And I saw it, and I believed it, and a lot of people, I can remember Luke LaPorte, was one of our teammates, we were taking a class in football in the summer, and Luke came over to me after the class and looked at some passes that I had put up on the blackboard for coach Schwartzwalder's assistant coaches, who were coaching the class to see, and he said, `Can you run that in high school?' And I said, `High school? You can run this in pro football.'

GP: Al Davis got a chance to prove that on Sid Gilman's staff in the early 60's and he joined the Raiders in '63 and took a one-win team to 10 wins.

- Rookie linebacker Slade Norris, the team's fourth-round draft choice out of Oregon State, won the Ultimate Rookie Challenge at the NFL's Rookie Symposium by correctly answering more questions than any other rookie in attendance. The questions were based on presentations on lifestyle made during the symposium, along with NFL trivia, and they voted on electronic keypads in a gameshow format. The New England Patriots rookies won the team competition while Norris, as the individual winner, won a Samsung flatscreen TV.

- The Raiders also announced they have entered a sponsorship with AirAsia, purportedly the largest low-fare airline in Asia. The airline has launched an A340 airliner named "Xcellence" that is painted silver and black and is adorned with the team's logo on the tail fin. According to a release sent out by the team, "AirAsia will host a '1,000 Seats Courtesy of AirAsia' web-based contest in which students will be chosen at random for the opportunity to win free tickets to Raiders home games...(with) program and contest details...made available on Raiders.com and AirAsia.com."

- And lastly, according to former Raiders personnel chief Michael Lombardi, Shell's "fox in the henhouse," quarterback JaMarcus Russell "disappeared and was AWOL on the last day" of OTA workouts. Lombardi wrote so in his column on nationalfootballpost.com. And while it might be hard to be absent without leave from something that is voluntary, if true, it just doesn't sit right. Not when Russell told reporters the day before that he was planning some special bonding retreat with the wide receivers before camp, seemingly taking the leadership and responsibility mantle by the reigns. Indeed, since the end of last season, Russell had been a constant around Raiders headquarters with the exception of when his uncle Ray passed away.

A source confirmed Russell was not at the last workout but did not think it was a big deal. True, Russell would only be joining the likes of Derrick Burgess, who blew off the whole thing, Nnamdi Asomugha, whose brief appearance was lauded in this corner, and Jeff Garcia, who took time off for the birth of his son, in skipping an OTA or two. No big deal, right? But while Russell's work ethic has been questioned and Garcia will be biting at his ankles to get snaps, the unquestioned No. 1 QB can answer all questions with his performance in camp. Following is what Lombardi wrote: "The work ethic of quarterback JaMarcus Russell is still being questioned by many who have worked with him in the past and are working with him now. After he issued a call to his teammates to practice and finish the OTA days strong, he then disappeared and was AWOL on the last day. Russell must learn that talent alone is not going to make him successful. Dedication to becoming a better player is what he needs."

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About Raiders Blog and Q&A

Matt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee's sports staff in fall 2011.

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