Al Davis, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Braun
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 05, 2008

WHEN JON GRUDEN left for Tampa Bay, everybody who knew football knew what a loss that would be for the Raiders. What we couldn’t have known was that losing Bruce Allen was just as big a blow. The success the two had brought to Oakland lasted one more season, but after the Bucs blew out the Raiders in the Super Bowl, the whole concoction collapsed.

Allen was the front man for the organization, negotiating contracts – he was a master at massaging the salary cap – and dealing with the media. He didn’t give away any secrets, but he was an affable man who put a much-needed human face on the franchise.

Now, there is only Al Davis. There is no general manager, no personnel man, only Al Davis, who showed his negotiating skills by giving the richest contract for a defensive tackle in NFL history to Tommy Kelly, a young player coming off an ACL injury who could have been locked up with a much cheaper contract.

The last proven personnel man to work for the Raiders was Michael Lombardi, who became so frustrated with the ineptness of the Art Shell regime that he leaked information to critical media. He was fired in May, 2007, and landed a job with the Denver Broncos. Last week, he was on TV saying he was glad he wasn’t still with the Raiders because he’d probably be blamed for the Kelly signing.

That’s the key: Davis always has to have somebody to blame. When Randy Moss had his record-setting season with the New England Patriots, Davis blamed coach Lane Kiffin for telling him to get rid of Moss. In fact, as I wrote about this time a year ago, the Raiders couldn’t afford to keep Moss because his contract called for him to make $8 million in 2007 if they kept him. When Michael Huff didn’t work out as the Raiders first round draft pick in 2006, Davis intimated that Shell had talked him into the pick. Are you kidding me? Shell knew practically nothing about college players, because he’d been working in the NFL office. The Raider draft plan had been to take Vince Young if he were there (he wasn’t) with Huff as the fallback choice.

It may seem the franchise can’t go lower, but hang around, Raiders fans, and watch it fall even more. No competent personnel men will come to Oakland because they know they’ll have no authority and yet will get blamed when things go wrong. Davis had to hire Lane Kiffin last year, though he had never been a head coach on any level, because he couldn’t get a coach with any reputation to come here. Now, when he gets rid of Kiffin, he’ll have to promote one of his assistants, Rob Ryan or James Lofton, because no reputable coach, young or old, would be foolish enough to come to the Raiders.

Meanwhile, Davis’s public relations director, Mike Taylor, spends significant time (on Davis’s orders) making calls to writers or television personalities who have been critical of Davis. I guess they’ve given up on me because I no longer get those calls. Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune, another frequent critic, has apparently also been written off as hopeless and no longer is called.

It’s worth noting that Poole and I were both enthusiastic about the return of the Raiders. If we knew then what we know now. . .

When the Raiders took over the responsibility of selling their own tickets last year, Davis made a veiled threat that, if this didn’t work, the Raiders might leave again.

Some threat. When they left before, right after winning their second Super Bowl, it was a very sad time for fans in Oakland and the surrounding communities. Now, they might throw a parade to usher them out

MORE RAIDERS: Kwame Harris will benefit from a better offensive line coach, Tom Cable, and the zone blocking scheme, but he still lacks the quick feet to be an effective pass blocker. . . Jerry Porter leaves, Javon Walker is signed. Hard to see that a much more than a wash. Walker has a shade more talent but he’s just as temperamental and is coming off an ACL injury that limited him to eight games and 26 catches last season…Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is probably counting the days until his contract ends after this season, so he can go to Seattle and re-join Jim Mora, who will take over as the Seahawks head coach for the 2009 season. Knapp and Mora became good friends when they worked together on the 49ers staff, and Knapp went to Atlanta when Mora got the head job there. Mora got fired in Atlanta by another management that doesn’t know what it’s doing, but I’m sure he’ll be successful with the Seahawks, who have a much more stable operation.

WHAT’S HAPPENING? Sports Illustrated had an alarming story last week about the out of control behavior by student rooting sections at college basketball fans, complete with a recounting of death threats Kevin Love got on his e-mail, simply because Love, an Oregon prep star, went out of state to go to school at UCLA.

At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, I have to say that there’s been a serious decline in civility in public intercourse. Young people walk around with obscene slogans on the front of their T-shirts, students taunt older women on their way to games with vulgar chants.

But even with this background, the actions by college students at basketball games – Oregon is by no means the only offender – that were reported by SI go beyond the pale.

Oregon coach Ernie Kent spoke to the students before the next game, urging them to be show some respect. That’s a start, but the college administrations need to clamp down on these actions. Students who get out of hand should be expelled from the game. I don’t think it would take long for behavior to change for the better.

AARON’S CHANCE: With the retirement of Brett Favre – if he doesn’t change his mind, as Troy Aikman thinks he will – Aaron Rodgers will finally get his chance to start, and with a good team.

Rodgers is still another example of how talented quarterbacks need to be put in the right situation. I don’t know that being drafted by the 49ers, as he should have been, would have been a good thing, either, with all the problems they’ve had, but Rodgers at least was prepared for the NFL game, as Alex Smith was not. A similar quarterback, Trent Edwards, did fine when he got a shot in Buffalo. Brady Quinn also had a decent rookie season. Both have ability, but if I had to pick one of the three, Rodgers would be my choice.

COW PALACE MEMORIES: We all have athletic memories from the Cow Palace. I saw my childhood idol, Ken Flower, play there for USC in one of the long gone college doubleheaders. I also saw Elgin Baylor, whom I had just seen for the first time in an earlier sub-regional game at Berkeley, sink a shot from past what is now the three-point line to give Seattle a win over USF in the finals of the Western Regional in 1958.

But my fondest memory is not sports, but political, from the 1960 Presidential campaign..

When John F. Kennedy took his campaign to San Francisco, I was sports editor for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. I had become close to members of the county Democratic party, so I went up as a member of their delegation to the Cow Palace that night, not as a reporter.

There was an overflow crowd that night, so they put chairs up on the stage, and I sat in one of them, perhaps 15 feet from Kennedy. I was only 24, and I was awe-struck.

The next morning, I was describing my experience to the R-P’s managing editor, Ward Bushee, father of the new Chronicle editor. “Don’t talk to me, write it,” Ward told me.

So, I did. Apparently, I did a good job because, when Richard Nixon made an appearance in San Jose shortly after that, I was assigned to cover it.

That was the end of my political writing career, but it was great while it lasted!

GOODBYE, BEN? One of the silliest claims I’ve seen was from a Chronicle columnist who thinks Cal fans are unhappy with Ben Braun simply because he’s been around 12 years. In fact, in college sports, successful coaches often have long careers at one school; John Wooden and Lute Olson are Pac-10 examples. Cal supporters know that Braun is a bad coach who is getting worse and needs to be replaced as soon as this miserable season is over.

I will say this about Braun: He’s eased the traffic situation on game days. It took me only 17 minutes to get from my Oakland home to the parking lot before last Saturday’s game, still another loss. All to0 reminiscent of football game days when Tom Holmoe was the coach.


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