Friday, February 09, 2007

It's Alive?

After the 2005 season, after three seasons of being a bottom dweller in the AFC West, Al Davis attempted to reach back to the rise of a Bay Area dynasty. Believing that the brand of football Davis brought with him to Oakland in the 1960s was still viable in today's NFL, in fact still used by some, Davis rehired the last Raider coach to make it work. In the late 1980s, Davis failed in his attempt to modernize the Raider philosophy with the hiring of Mike Shanahan. He replaced him with a Raider legend, a HOF left tackle and offensive line coach.

Art Shell had been a fixture in the Raider organization for the better part of two decades. The quiet man was well known by the players and front office alike. The players understood every nuance of an Art Shell expression. They understood "the look" which forced the instant recollection of every instruction Art Shell had ever given a player, and the look was all that Art Shell needed. He and his players were one. They would always endeavor not to disappoint him, nor he, them. So Al reached backward to that former place, hoping to regain what had been lost in time.

Many of us, riders on the bus of Raider glory in years gone by, cheered with the hope that nostalgia brings. We, along with Al, failed to consider the organizational restructuring required to foundation such a commitment. While we understood that Art Shell had been out of coaching for many years, and expected a certain amount of rust, we failed to understand that "the look" was no longer possible. A quiet man, a man who motivates and teaches with an economy of words and energy, is a difficult man to get to know. When Shell was named coach in the 80s, his players knew every detail of Shell. When he returned in 2005, the strangers who occupied the Raider locker room knew only that Shell was in the Hall as a player and had been a reasonably successful coach in a time before any of them had been old enough to sit up and watch a football game. "The look" meant nothing to them, and Shell, it appears, failed to offer them more.

The Raiders of 2006 were a team with potential, and potential offers more questions than answers. Art Shell is a leader by example, charged with building the potential of a team which had never laid witness to the example. To a degree, Art Shell understood his limitations in communication. He surrounded himself with coaches who knew him, and knew what he wanted. They were, like Shell, former players and coaches from a different time, also unfamiliar to the players and, more importantly, also unfamiliar WITH the players. Ultimately, the team collapsed in a 2-14 orgy of miscommunication.

Somewhere in this confusion, it appears that Al Davis found a moment of clarity. It wasn't the vertical offense which created the most feared team of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. An effective offense isn't the cause of a wide open, gambling style. The style of a team is created by its personality. A team's personality is created by its leader. Al understood, and I now understand, that the Raiders of that earlier era were not born out of the Gilman offense, but from the mind, the tenacity, the arrogance of Al Davis. In order for that earlier team to return, it would require a brash, 30 something, Al Davis to recreate it. A moment of remarkable clarity seems to have shown Al that if he can no longer tinker like Lombardi to reclaim a team lost in time, perhaps he can tinker like Frankenstein and make a monster. The replacement for that team, born in an earlier era, can be born anew from the mind, the tenacity, the arrogance of the 30 something Davis Monster.

Davis had begun his rise on the semi-pro-like coaching staff of USC. There he studied the rising talent of college athletes throughout the country. After leaving USC, he worked and studied under Sid Gilman, innovating the most advanced vertical offense of his day. When he came to the Raiders, he utilized both. He taught the team his offense and, becoming Commissioner of the AFL, signed the best college talent in the country to insure the survival of a league. In Al Davis' moment of clarity, he understood that this would be the blue print for the return of Raider glory.

After firing Art Shell, Davis began looking for the monster's new brain, again reaching back to the past, but in an entirely new way. He searched the breeding grounds where he had been born, looking to find what had been born again. It was only natural that he would begin at USC. He started first with what he knew.

Davis began talking to the young, former Raider quarterbacks coach who had returned to USC to build championship contenders. After speaking to Sarkisian several times, testing his knowledge, his desire, his ambition, one suspects Al eventually put the big question to the young coach. "I came to a team in a similar condition to the Raiders right now. I built a team that appeared in a Super Bowl in every decade but the 90s. I built one of the most feared teams in all of professional sports. I built a team with the best record of every professional sports franchise, not just football. I was not much older than you are now. Can you do the same?" And it is, perhaps, at this point, where Sarkisian balked.

Davis had asked another question that Sarkisian did answer. "Who would you choose as an offensive coordinator?" Sarkisian identified Kiffin, also at USC, who shared a similar background with Sarkisian and Davis. Apparently there was a spark, a recognition, if you will, when Davis and Kiffin met. Their minds, their tenacity, their ambitions embraced. The Davis Monster's brain had been found, and Davis has allowed it to select it's own body, arms and legs, and in April it will acquire its heart.

Come summer, the body parts of this monster will be stitched together. We eagerly await September. Perhaps some stormy autumn night, as lightning strikes the HOT, we will collectively shout, "It's alive! It's alive!"


Blogger nyraider said...

"Ultimately, the team collapsed in a 2-14 orgy of miscommunication."


Good job BR. That's was a nice read. I think everyone has a sense that the "right" direction is being undertaken for 2007. Al did a 1-80 on 2006 and has impressed the hell out of me (and the Raider Nation based on what I've read)... so much so that if this thing doesn't work now, I can't imagine anyone pointing fingers. It's more like, we'll collectively scratch our heads and say we gave it a hell of a good try. Regardless, the old man still has it!

2:55 PM  
Blogger janfran said...

Great last 2 posts. It has been a while since you last posted so I haven't been checking in regularly. I esp like the feb 5 post.

My mom recently met Lamonica at a golf tournament. She said he bought everyone drinks and told stories about how much fun he had as a Raider. With a few exceptions it doesn't seem like football players are having much fun. It seems like they are forgetting that they play a game for a living and what a blessing that is. It shows in the faces of the coaches. Parcels looks like crap-- for his health I'm glad he retired. Even Gruden is showing some wear and tear. After the superbowl Dungy and Manning looked more relieved than happy to win.

Back to the Raiders, I just hope next year to see a "team" on the field, happy to be there, ready and willing to play. And winning would be nice too.
I always enjoy your thoughts. Keep up the great posts.

11:03 AM  
Blogger RaiderRealist said...


Good to see you back in action! Yes, there is a difference between players back in the day and now. Now there's more of a sense of entitlement wherein back in the day the players were just glad to get what they had. Of course, the players did not have nearly the power they have today.

On another note have you noticed how so many of those clamoring for change withing the Raider organization won't to stick to the same old "let's get a free agent QB" so we can win right now? Haven't we just come through losing with Kerry Collins and Aaron Brooks, and now they want to bring in David Carr? Ironic isn't it?

4:32 PM  
Blogger TheFreakingPope said...

Best post to date!

It didn't hurt that you borrowed the narrative from my favorite novel of all time.

Keep up the great work BR!


6:40 PM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

BR - You are on a roll. This is one of your most entertaining posts. Let's hope that the "heart" transplant in April starts with the following words...
"And with the 1st pick in the 2007 NFL Draft....the Oakland Raiders select JaMarcus Russell from the University of Louisiana". Now if we could only get Mel Brooks or Marty Feldman to make the annoucement from the podium...
Cheers! Calico Jack

8:06 PM  

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