Here is the feature I wrote on JR that ran today in the Bee...
Here is the feature I wrote on JR that ran today in the Bee...
Tom Cable's pseudo-passive aggressive start to training camp - begin with a day full of meetings, follow with four straight days of non-contact two-a-day practices in helmets and shorts while installing new schemes on both sides of the ball - seems to be a hit among the Raiders veterans.
"You know, in 17 years, I've never seen anything like this, but I can't believe how much we're getting out of it," Cable said Lorenzo Neal told him after Friday's morning practice. "Just in our talks, in our room, or in meetings, or whatever, it's a chance to really sort it out and work through it before, all of a sudden, you put the combative part into it, which will start on Monday."
Meaning full pads and hitting.
"I'm young, so I've only been through a few camps (but) I think it's a great thing," said third-year offensive lineman Mario Henderson, who has been working at left tackle with the first-team offense. "For one, you prevent injuries...in my opinion at camp when you get out the first day, you sometimes are not really focused on trying to do the right things; you're just focused on going out there and trying to win the starting job. Sometimes that can be bad because you are going fast, but you're not really doing your assignments. Now we have four days where we get everything down pat so then when it comes time Monday to earn a job, it's not your assignments slowing you down. I think it's a great thing."
But don't let the seeming New Age, meditative mental approach fool you. Cable, an offensive line coach at heart, is as old school as they get.
"Well, this game is still about who and how," Cable told reporters. "At the end of the day, we all love football and the players love playing football. So, when you hand them a set of pads and it's time to go do that, they get into that part of it rather easily. That's the way they're wired. But when it comes down to it, if you really know who you really got and how you got to do it, you can do it that much quicker and that much more violent and so you just kind of fit the two together.
"Remember now, the NFL season starts now and it hopefully ends sometime in February for you. The human body can only take so many car crashes."
- Still no word on the whereabouts of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess, who is purportedly holding out for a trade.
- Rookie receiver Louis Murphy, a fourth-round draft pick from national champion Florida, has already impressed in what figures to be a wide-open battle among the youngsters for wide receiver slots.
"He's a guy that came out of a good program and is very passionate about playing the game," Cable said. "For him, it's just learning our offense, a new system for him and just keep doing it but he's progressing very well."
- Second-year running back Darren McFadden, whose myriad of talents were wasted last season by running him between the tackles so often, has been lining up at wide receiver. Expect more such looks to take advantage of his play-making abilities this season, such as screen passes, pitches, Wildcat formations, etc...At least I hope the Raiders use him in that manner.
- Ricky Brown is working at both middle and outside linebacker in the Raiders' 4-3 scheme but says he does not prefer one over the other.
"I've proved that I can be the opening day starter at the SAM linebacker," he said. "I think maybe my more natural position would be MIKE, just kind of the way I'm built, having good change of direction and all, but either one's fine. Really, ever since I played MIKE my second year, which was 2007, it gave me a chance to know the entire defense. So I feel comfortable playing all three."
Newly-signed first-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey showed up for the second practice and while he dropped the first ball thrown his way, his mere presence spoke volumes.
Having missed a full day of meetings Wednesday and the morning practice on Thursday, the No. 7 overall pick from Maryland agreed to a five-year contract that guarantees the receiver $23.5 million.
"I just feel like one of the guys," he said. "When I got back, everybody was like 'Hey DHB, let's get it in.' I'm like 'Yeah, I'm right here with you.' It's not about being the first pick or anything. I'm out there with Louis (Murphy) and the rest of the guys. I'm just happy to be here."
DHB said 49ers draft pick Michael Crabtree, the No. 10 overall pick, holding out had nothing to do with his contract negotiations.
"I've always been concerned with myself and only me from Day 1," he said. "I really can't worry about what everybody else is doing. We was just focusing on being a Raider and that's it."
Plus, he said the niggling hamstring injury that limited him in OTAs is fully healed.
"I'm 100 percent," he said. "Still working with the training staff, just stay on top of it and be a pro.
Said coach Tom Cable: "Ultimately the player makes a decision, the agent goes and fights for him and all those things but really it comes down to the player wanting to make the right decision, getting in on time and all that. That was important to him and he reiterated that to me, so I think this is really big."
As expected, the Raiders have released quarterback Andrew Walter, who was told about the move just before Thursday's second practice. It is the corresponding move to first-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey signing.
"I'm very excited for a fresh start," he told reporters. "We'll see what happens. The only thing different that I would have hoped for is that it would have happened earlier. Things haven't changed since February and it occurred just now. The timing is something I can't control and I couldn't have been able to, but I'd have preferred it to be different."
Walter was the Raiders' third-round pick, 60th overall, out of Arizona State in 2005. He started nine of the 15 games in which he played in Oakland, including eight of 12 for the brutal 2006 team that finished 2-14 under Art Shell.
"Time to move on and that had run its course, and like I had mentioned yesterday we like who we have got here and no sense in prolonging it any more," said coach Tom Cable. "Lets move on."
True, Walter is a good guy, and, with the worst offensive line in modern history, he never had a real shot to prove himself. But I never understood why the Raiders drafted him so high in the first place. Godspeed, Andrew. Maybe the San Francisco-Sacramento entry in the upcoming UFL will call?
JaMarcus Russell, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski are the four QBs still in camp.
It's not really surprising that receiver Javon Walker has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List, what with his penchant for injuries and having undergone "secret" surgery on his knee this offseason. But here is coach Tom Cable's reasoning for the roster move (Walker still counts toward the 80-man training camp roster).
"Just want to be sure, give it enough time (to heal properly)," Cable said. "Seems to be on schedule and all that. We want to make sure. I think if you remember last year, he hurried it a little bit and it became an issue."
A year ago, Walker came to the Raiders with a bum knee, suffered a hamstring injury and then saw his season come to an end with ankle surgery.
- Speaking to reporters for the first time since he was ushered off the practice field in June by team officials the day after signing with the Raiders, veteran defensive end Greg Ellis seemed genuinely happy to be in Napa and admitted Al Davis personally recruited him.
"He said, 'Greg, guess where we're going to be on Thanksgiving.' I said, 'Where.' 'We're going to be in Dallas playing your Dallas Cowboys,'" said Ellis, who has never not played on Turkey Day, what with calling Dallas home since being drafted by the Cowboys in 1998. "So that will be fun. And Thanksgiving games are a good time; guys will love it. It's just like a Monday Night game, almost, that type of atmosphere, because you're the only show on."
I asked Ellis how the conversation with Davis went.
"I was happy because he expressed a lot of interest in me, a strong interest, and it's always good to be wanted, as opposed to have to go out there and hunt for a job; it's a different story," Ellis said. "But again, I'm blessed that somebody actually wanted me to be a part of their team and I'm just here to try and aid and do what I can do to help us win."
With two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess and his 38 ½ sacks in four seasons in Oakland still AOL, Ellis has slid into the starting position at left DE in the Raiders' 4-3 defense. In Dallas, he had been playing linebacker in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense, though his career began on the left side in a 4-3 scheme.
- Second-year receiver Chaz Schillens, who lined up with the first-team offense, was unable to join Will Franklin, Jonathan Holland, Louis Murphy and Todd Watkins at JaMarcus Russell's passing camp in Alabama due to a prior commitment. But the San Diego State pass catcher did have some balls thrown at him by a four-time Pro Bowler this summer.
"I heard they got some good work done (but) I was able to throw with Jeff (Garcia)...a couple of times down in San Diego," Schillens said. "That was good."
- Left guard Robert Gallery is sidelined for the moment having recently undergone an emergency appendectomy. Which means he has a different view of new fellow Raiders offensive linemen Samson Satele (center) and Khalif Barnes (tackle).
"They're athletic," Gallery said. "They're going to be good in this (zone-blocking) system. They can move. Just all the things you need to be in this system and that's why they brought them in here and it's good to get going with them."
Barnes has been a left tackle his entire career but is working in the right side for the time being.
- Fulback Oren O'Neal, who blew out his knee in an exhibition game last season, is practicing once a day during the two-a-day workouts.
"They limit some of my reps out there," he said. "It's been a year since I've played football so I'm going to ease back into it....I'd say I'm pretty close. Training camp is getting me ready, knock the dust off and get ready to play some games. I'm ready to roll.
"Sitting there watching and being in pain, (it) just feels good to be out there with the team moving around again."
- Darren McFadden likes the mental aspect of four straight days of two-a-day practices in shorts and helmets. The Raiders will be in pads Monday
"It was a pretty good day, kind of a learning day for us," the running back said. "There wasn't much intensity or anything going on. It was a learning day for us. It's something that coach wants to get out there and just kind of learn the plays so when we do come back full speed we'll be able to run them."
McFadden appeared thicker than last season, more muscular and appears to be in great shape.
"Maybe three or four pounds bigger," he said.
So the big news coming from the first day of practice at Raiders training camp in Napa was that first-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey has agreed to a five-year contract that guarantees the No. 7 overall pick and receiver from Maryland $23.5 million.
He is expected to be at Friday's morning practice and the Raiders themselves greeted the news with relief.
"He'll be all right," said second-year receiver Chaz Schillens. "We'll catch him up and get him up to speediIt's important to be here, that's for sure. You need every single practice you can get when you're a rookie. We'll have to catch him up."
Added team captain and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha: "It's big because we want him to be a big part of the offense. Everybody was waiting on him to come in. I think that's great that he signed.
"(Missing a lot of time) can hurt your development as a player. When you're coming into training camp as a rookie you have to be there to see how it goes. You have to get into a groove. In 2007 that didn't happen (with JaMarcus). That's good to get it out of the way now. He only missed one practice. It's good for him."
Russell agreed: "Since he's been there during all the minicamps he should have a pace on things. The way we're working, at the pace we're going now, since we have a lot of young guys, the way coach is preparing in practice, he should fit right in."
When Heyward-Bey reports, the Raiders will have to cut a player to make room on their 80-man training camp roster. The smart money is on beleaguered back-up quarterback Andrew Walter hitting the bricks.
The Raiders announced today they have reached an agreement with San Jose-based radio station La Kaliente, KZSF 1370 AM, to broadcast games in Spanish and serve as their Spanish flagship radio station for the upcoming season, beginning with the Monday Night season opener at home against San Diego on Sept. 14.
"We are delighted to work with La Kaliente as part of our ongoing commitment to our Spanish-speaking fan base," Raiders Chief Executive Amy Trask said in a release.
Sacramento media personality Armando Botello and Angel Dinamita return as announcers with Botello serving as color analyst and Dinamita as play-by-play man. Victor Zaragoza and Sal Acevedo will work as the Spanish radio team's sideline reporters.
"The Oakland Raiders have always been a favorite NFL Team of the Hispanic population in the Bay Area, and KZSF 1370 AM La Kaliente, being a Hispanic radio station, is the ideal station to transmit these exciting games," La Kaliente General Manager Carlos Duharte said in the same release. "We are very proud to team up with The Oakland Raiders. We hope for a great season."
This will be the eighth consecutive season the Raiders broadcast every regular season game in Spanish and also offer exclusive Spanish-language content at www.raidersenespañol.com. For more information, visit www.1370am.com.
Just returned from an inspiring weekend in Cooperstown, where I was covering baseball's Hall of Fame inductions and where former A's star Rickey Henderson admitted again that his childhood dream was to play for the Raiders and that, later in his career, he wanted to pull a Bo Jackson and play both sports.
Anywho, current running back Michael Bush was on my connecting flight home from Chicago to Oakland, preparing to report to Napa for training camp and All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was on Comcast Sportsnet's "Chronicle Live" show Monday evening. He had an inkling as to why high-priced acquisition DeAngelo Hall was such a flop with the Raiders last season.
"A lot of confidence in him, but one of the things that he wasn't used to was the amount of man-to-man coverage that we played," Nnamdi told the show's host, Greg Papa, who is also the voice of the Raiders. "You know, and I would talk with him during games, I would talk with him after games, during practice, and he would be just so confused. He was like, 'Why are we playing this much man-to-man? I have never done this in all of my life.' So that was the thing that he had to get adjusted to."
Cut by Oakland midway through last season, and after collecting some $8 million from Al Davis, Hall was scooped up by Washington and was resigned to a six-year contract worth at least $23-million by the Redskins.
"You know, (DeAngelo is) a zone corner but can play man in spots and he does it great," Nnamdi added. "He does what he does very well. But when you have to do man the whole time, it can get frustrating to guys."
Nnamdi also spoke on why Chris Johnson performed so well in replacing Hall.
"I wasn't surprised," Nnamdi said. "He's a little older than the other guys on the team...and his thing was, 'I have nothing to lose. I came in after DeAngelo. They wanted the world from him; we didn't get the world from him. So I have nothing to lose. What are they going to expect from me?' So that was how Chris came into each game and he played very well."
Nnamdi also laughed off rumors that the Raiders would make a move at recently reinstated Michael Vick, the disgraced quarterback who served time for running an illegal dog fighting and gambling ring.
"I usually think it's an easy thing to say," Nnamdi said. "Anytime there's a criminal or someone that's just gotten out of jail, everyone says, 'Oh, the Raiders are going to take him.'"
Greetings from Cooperstown, where I am on assignment to cover the baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this weekend. As Raiders fans, you probably care more about the goings on in Canton and why Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Ray Guy, Cliff Branch and Kenny Stabler do not yet own yellow jackets and have their busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fair enough, and yes, I think Flores and Plunkett are the biggest Raider snubs from Canton, as I also believe Jerry Tarkanian belongs in the basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield and Billy Martin should be enshrined here in Cooperstown as well.
But I digress. The Raiders have announced the times for their first week of practice and, as reported here last week (http://www.sacbee.com/raiders/story/2038913.html), they report Tuesday to the Napa Marriott, spend all day Wednesday in meetings and hit the ground running with an old school-yet-maniacal stretch of four straight days of two-a-day practices. The morning practice begins at 8:30 a.m. and the afternoon practice will get underway at 4:20. Tom Cable, entering his first camp as head coach after replacing Lane Kiffin in Week 5 last season, will address reporters on Wednesday in Napa at 12 noon.
All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has an inkling as to why Camp Cable is beginning with so much class time.
"I think (Cable) wants us to be mentally prepared for camp instead of just going right into it," Asomugha said last Sunday at the Coliseum, where he threw out a ceremonial first pitch before and A's-Los Angeles Angels game. "There's a lot of injuries early on in camp if you're not mentally into it because you're thinking it's all physical and you could over-exert your muscles. He understands it, so the first day is all mental, 'Let's get back into the stuff that we've learned, keep on with the playbook and stuff and then the second day we'll get into it a little bit more.''
Asomugha also said Cable approaches the team captains individually, rather than as a group, for feedback.
"He'll grab me every now and then and just let me know what's going on with the team and how things are going," Asomugha said. "He'll do that with Shane (Lechler) as well. We haven't had a collective meeting yet. That'll happen during the season. I'm sure in camp as well."
Also, the Raiders' joint practices with the 49ers in Napa will be Aug. 18 and 19, the 49ers have announced, in advance of the Aug, 22 exhibition game between the teams at Candlestick Park.
And now, for some Raiders PSAs...
-The team announced again its 2009 Raider Nation Celebration - Family Fun Day - will be held at the Coliseum on Aug. 8, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. The event is free, as is parking, and will include a Raiders practice, appearances from current and former Raiders players and coaches, the Raiderettes, an interactive Kids Zone and the organization's three Super Bowl trophies. Fans can participate in the "Under Armour Combine," the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and vertical jump and magnet schedules will be handed out to fans. Season ticket holders can also earn 100 "Bonus Raider Rewards Points" by bringing a photo of themselves in Raiders gear and can earn 50 points for each non-season ticket holder guest they bring to the event. Also, fans interested in acquiring new season tickets are able to choose from available seat locations earlier in the day from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- The Raiders also announced the launching of its "micro-site" commemorating the original American Football League team's 50th season. The site is at www.raiders50thseason.com and will host photo galleries, interactive games and contests, merchandise, ticket promotions and videos. As one of the eight original AFL teams that began play in 1960, the Raiders will play in four "legacy games" this season - at home in the season opener against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football on Sept. 14, against the New York Jets on Oct. 25 and against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 15, and at the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. The Raiders will wear their 1963 uniforms in each of those games. Of course, 1963 is the year in which Al Davis became a Raider.
- Also as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the Raiders have started posting billboards around the Bay Area celebrating seminal plays in the team's history. Each moment lists a specific phone number for fans to call in to hear that specific radio call. Following are the currently available plays and corresponding phone numbers to hear the original radio call.
• George Blanda's game-winning 53-yard field goal in 1970: 866.508.5050
• The Holy Roller at San Diego in 1978: 877.482.5050
• Jim Plunkett's 99-yard TD pass to Cliff Branch in 1983 at Washington: 877.964.5050
• Bo Jackson 91-yard TD run at Seattle in 1987 on MNF: 877.419.5050
• Tyrone Wheatley Run in 2000: 877.934.5050
This summer, Nnamdi Asomugha has addressed the United Nations, hung out with former President Bill Clinton and taken a humanitarian aid trip to his family's native Nigeria. Sunday, he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Oakland Coliseum prior to the A's game against the Los Angeles Angels.
Asomugha, rewarded this offseason as the highest paid player in the NFL, was all smiles as he slipped on an A's cap and a personalized size 52 jersey - "Big jersey here," he cracked, "(Warren) Sapp could fit this." - complete with his name spelled correctly and No. 21 on it. And while his friends worried about his toss, Asomugha's throw was better than President Barack Obama's limp-wristed toss at this week's baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis.
With just over a week to go until the Raiders report to training camp in Napa, Asomugha spoke on a variety of team-related topics, specifically on new defensive coordinator John Marshall.
"He's got a few more coverages than we've had in the past, so he might be able to use that," Asomugha said of Marshall, who has been off limits to the media since replacing Rob Ryan.
"(Marshall is) still a dominant man-to-man guy. He never has been, but coming here he understands that's the way Mr. Davis likes it. And he sees the talent that we have and the speed so he's fallen into that. So we're still going to do man, still going to free up linebackers and other guys like that. But he's got a lot more blitzing, a lot more coverages, so we should be fine."
There had been talk that Marshall's scheme might free up Asomugha to shadow the other teams' No. 1 receiver.
"It may happen," he said. "This has never been something that we here have done. We've always just kept me where I am (on the field) and then double team whoever's on the left. I think if it's someone that's really dominant then we (move me) but nowadays the No. 2 receiver is almost as good as the No. 1. So you never know who to take."
And Asomugha's off-the-field activities this spring and summer have made him hungry for the start of camp.
"It does," he said. "It's a perfect statement; it keeps it fresh. There is no overdose (of football). Sometimes guys can max out mentally or physically. They're on something forever. So I like to take a little bit of a break and then get back into it and recharge."
Having grown up in Southern California, following the Los Angeles Raiders and being in eighth grade when they smoked the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, I figured I had heard just about every conceivable story and rumor regarding that era of the Silver and Black.
I was wrong.
As a guest on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's "Chronicle Live" last Thursday, I was privy to an interview host Greg Papa (yes, the voice of the Raiders) taped earlier in the day with Raider nemesis John Elway, who was playing in a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. Of course Elway being engaged to a former Raiderette sends shudders through Raider Nation. As it should.
"I met her at Marcus Allen's golf tournament," Elway told Papa. "I went to the Dark Side, and it's O.K. over there."
Which opened the door for Papa to drop the bombshell.
"Well, Al Davis thought he had a trade to get you away from the Colts before you went to Denver," Papa said. "So you almost were a Raider, weren't you?"
After picking my jaw up from the floor, flashing back to 1983, when the petulant Elway forced a trade from the Baltimore Colts to the Denver Broncos, and wiping images of Marc Wilson, Jay Schroeder and Todd Marinovich from my mind, I listened to Elway's reply.
"I would have been and I would have loved to have been on the Dark Side, especially back in those days," he said with a smile. "Those were some good football teams and so, there are those things where you look back and say, 'What If?' And that was one of those What Ifs?"
Papa added: "Al Davis brings that up all the time, 'Had I gotten that trade and (then-Commissioner Pete) Rozelle didn't veto (it), we could have had Elway.'"
Later in the show, I wondered aloud if Elway was actually playing in the golf tournament or serving as Terrell Davis' caddy, because, if it wasn't for Davis showing up in Denver to give the Broncos a legit running back, Elway would NEVER have won a Super Bowl.
Papa called me an "Elway hater" and smiled. I said I was just keeping it real.
One of the best names in the game has reportedly been waived by the Raiders, though the team has no comment on the status of defensive end Stryker Sulak, Oakland's sixth-round draft pick out of Missouri and the team's Web Site makes no mention of it on its transaction page.
Instead, the Raiders have posted that back-up safety and special teams player Keith Davis, who was signed on May 21 after appearing in 84 games over six seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, has been released.
Sulak's fate, meanwhile, was reportedly news to him and his agent, according to profootballtalk.com (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2009/07/13/no-explanation-from-raiders-on-decision-to-cut-rookie-draft-pick)
When Sulak was drafted, Raiders coach Tom Cable said he planned to play the 6-feet-5, 250-pound rookie at strong side linebacker, even as the three-time All-Big 12 selection had 55 tackles, 15 ½ for a loss, with 10 ½ sacks and led the NCAA with six forced fumbles his senior season. But during the media availability portions of mandatory minicamp and voluntary OTAs, Sulak was at defensive end and playing with the second and third team defenses. The Raiders' signing of Greg Ellis to bookend with Derrick Burgess and the emergence of last year's sixth-round pick, Trevor Scott, might have meant Sulak was simply caught in a numbers game when the Raiders badly need to solidify the middle of its D-Line in run defense.
Did the Raiders 'stryke' out and waste a sixth-round pick? Depends on your perspective. A roll call, then, of the team's sixth-round draft picks since relocating to Oakland in 1995, while keeping in mind the team might have had multiple sixth-rounders in some years, no sixth-round selection in others: T Eli Herring, RB Tim Hall, DB Calvin Branch, DT Grady Jackson, DT Daren Yancey, DT Chris Cooper, S Keyon Nash, RB Larry Ned, T Dustin Rykert, DE Shawn Johnson, LB Cody Spencer, DT Anttaj Hawthorne, LB Ryan Riddle, T Pete McMahon, OL Kevin Boothe, FB Oren O'Neal, Scott and Sulak.
Inflated stats? Or just making the most of a limited opportunity?
The Raiders, no doubt, feel defensive end Greg Ellis still has plenty left in the tank, otherwise they would not have signed him on June 16. His previous team, however, the Dallas Cowboys, were so through with him during the 2008 season that teammate DeMarcus Ware used to hide on the sidelines so Ellis could get some playing time, despite his starting all 16 games at linebacker. So said Ellis Thursday on Michael Irvin's ESPN radio show (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4316014).
"It's a disgrace when DeMarcus Ware comes off the field just so I can get in the game and when the coaches tell him to come on the field, he tries to hide so I can play," said Ellis, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Cowboys. "And you're telling me we're trying to win the Super Bowl?"
Even with the purported hide-and-seek hijinks, Ware had 20 sacks. And, perhaps with Ware's cloak and dagger help, Ellis saw enough time to get eight sacks of his own.
According to the NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora, JaMarcus Russell has made good on his promise to hold that retreat with receivers. Russell has flown into his native Alabama second-year pass catchers Will Franklin and Todd Watkins and unsigned rookie Louis Murphy, the Raiders' first fourth-round draft choice out of Florida.
Good for Russell. It's another step in his path to assuming the mantle of leadership for Oakland in this, his crucial third season as a pro.
Former Raiders defensive lineman Warren Sapp, though, is not impressed. He said he expects Jeff Garcia to beat out Russell as the starting quarterback. Keep in mind, though, Sapp likes to tweak the Raiders at every turn. Here is the link to the NFL Network report -
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."