Monday, January 28, 2008

Aaron's iFAQ #2

"What's up with your Raiders and why come they don't get the Oakland love that you give the A's?"

This ridiculous story officially "broke" over the weekend, but it's been rumored in the local press going back to October/November.

Not that the opinion of a Raiders fan from San Diego – who doesn't even infrequently attend games either down here or up north – matters much, but if team owner Al Davis forces Oakland head coach Lane Kiffin out the door, I'm done.

And, by "done", I mean "done" until Al Davis no longer owns the team.

And, by "no longer owns the team", I mean that I'm now rooting for Al Davis to…

Jesus, how'd it get to this point?

Once upon a time, the Raiders were the only team I followed with any passion. In the early/mid 1980s, my dad was stationed on the east coast. This was well before sports became a 24/7 news cycle, accessible across dozens of electronic, print and broadcast media.

The Raiders were one of the "it" teams – part of a rotation that, at the time, included the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. Conversely, my Oakland A's could only be seen when one of them was represented at the All-Star Game (hey, Bill Caudill!) or with an "(n)" next to their game in the morning paper.

Those Raiders teams won a Super Bowl in 1984 and were the marquee AFC team with televised games all the time. However, in late 1985, everything changed.

My family moved back to California just before the end of the '85 regular season. It was then that I learned all about the NFL's blackout rules. Y'see, the Raiders played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – an outdated, archaic facility that was built with the intention of honoring World War I vets and holding the 1932 Olympics.

Capacity was north of 90,000 and while the Raiders were drawing well enough, I was often reduced to listening to the late Bill King call their games on the radio. Even in that pre-HD age of picture tubes and only 80 cable channels, going from TV to radio was like a bullet train back to the slave days.

That '85 team was arguably as strong as their championship 1983 team. RB Marcus Allen won the MVP award that year and the Raiders won their last six games en route to the AFC's #2 seed. A match-up between the Raiders and Dan Marino's (4,000+ yards passing, 30 TDs) Dolphins seemed inevitable in the AFC Championship…until the New England Patriots waltzed into town and ended the Raiders' season.

In 1986, the team lost four straight to end the season and missed the playoffs – highlighted by an excruciating loss to the Eagles at home, when Allen fumbled deep in the red zone in overtime, which Philly returned for a touchdown. The following week, the Raiders dropped a 37-0 stinkbomb on Monday night in Seattle (a game my boy, Vig, remembers with mocking clarity).

While still a fan of the team, it was brutal to follow them through scratchy AM radio and infrequent game highlights on the 11PM Sunday night local news.

Then, things got weird.

The Raiders pushed head coach Tom Flores upstairs and hired a young Mike Shanahan to helm the squad in 1988. He finished 8-8 in his first year with an aging, injury-riddled outfit that at least boasted an exciting young core (RB Bo Jackson, QB Steve Beuerlein, WR Tim Brown, DE Howie Long and DE Greg Townsend).

Then, four games into the '89 season, Al Davis fired Shanahan and hired former Raider Art Shell – the first Black coach in league history.

Shell was a pleasant enough guy, but a terrible, terrible coach. He got an extended media pass due to (1) the soft local press corps and (2) that whole "first Black coach in league history" thing. His strategic shortcomings were further handicapped by Al Davis' bizarre, inexplicable feuds with his own players.

After showing some promise in a starting role in 1988-89, Beuerlein was benched – at Davis' direction – for the entire 1990 season for reasons that have never been explained. That Raiders team did make it to the AFC Championship game, but QB Jay Schroeder would never have another decent season in the NFL. Beuerlein was traded to Dallas in 1991.

Around the same time, Davis began an embarrassing one-sided feud with future Hall of Fame RB Marcus Allen. As the washed-up remains of Roger Craig and Eric Dickerson led the Raiders in rushing in 1991 and 1992, the Raiders finished a combined 16-16 with a healthy Allen averaging about 290 yards and just 65 carries in each of the two seasons.

Cutting off his nose to spite his fans has become a f*cking art form for ol' Al.

He idiotically opened the vault for non-talents Desmond Howard and Larry Brown just because they each lucked into a Super Bowl MVP award.

He signed the notoriously self-serving, coach-killing QB Jeff George in attempt to bring back the vaunted "vertical game" approach – which went extinct for a reason in the early '80s.

He fired/traded head coach Jon Gruden after four seasons at .500 or better.

And, we haven't even touched on Davis' unapologetic embracing of the Los Angeles gang element during his stay in Southern California, the ruinously shady deal that brought the team back to Oakland while fiscally crippling the city's infrastructure or his brazen employment of open steroid abusers like Bill Romanowski and Dana Stubblefield.

I think I've put up with a lot in more than 25 years of following this team. But, if Al Davis forces out the one guy who can bring respectability back to what's become an absolute laughingstock of a franchise – and in exchange for Dennis Green, no less – I'm out.

Anyone know how to add "obituaries" to an RSS feed?

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