Cal's Problems; Al Davis/Eddie DeBartolo; A's Future; Monta Ellis
Before Sunday’s walk-through, Tedford told his team that they had to put that game behind them and focus on the USC game at Berkeley this Saturday. “But we are still facing questions about last Saturday,” he said, “so we have to deal with that.” And, of course, many of the questions in the group session for Tedford, and for quarterback Kevin Riley later, focused on the Oregon loss.
After the group session, I asked Tedford if there was any indication last week that players were looking ahead to USC. “Absolutely not,” he said. “They knew how good Oregon is and how tough it is to play them in that stadium.” That’s the message players were giving to the media last week, too.
Still, no matter what they said or what they did in practice, it would have been hard for players not to have the USC game in their minds because there had been so much talk about Saturday’s game essentially deciding the Pac-10 champion.
It’s easy to forget that these players, no matter how good they may be, are very young men, some of them not even out of their teens. This is not the NFL, where football is the priority. College players have many other things on their mind, including class work (Florida schools excepted), love problems and questions about their future.
Consequently, emotion plays a much stronger role in college football than in the pro ranks. When the Raiders started slowly against the Denver Broncos, their apologist announcer, Greg Papa, said they had come out flat, which was nonsense. This game was supposed to be for first place in the AFC West. A pro team does not come out flat in that kind of game. The Raiders are simply bad.
But that kind of emotional deadfall is common in college football, which is why you see so many upsets. Though improved, Washington is still in the bottom half of the Pac-10, but they beat USC two weeks ago because they were on an emotional high.
Last Saturday in Eugene, the Ducks were the team on an emotional high. They’d lost four of their last five to the Bears and, largely because of that, had slipped behind Cal as the supposed leading opposition to USC in the Pac-10. They played at their absolute peak and destroyed the Bears.
Oregon is certainly a very good team, but the Ducks will not go undefeated in conference play. My guess is that they will probably lose a couple of games when they play away from Autzen Stadium, which is so friendly to them and so hostile to visitors.
Now, there are two questions for the Bears:
1) Will they have the same plunge as in 2007? That year, the Bears started 5-0 and would have moved to No. 1 in the country if they’d beaten Oregon State at Berkeley. But they lost to the Beavers and, including that game, lost six of seven before finishing strong with a win in the Armed Forces Bowl.
As he has before, Tedford yesterday took the blame for that, saying he focused too much on the X’s and O’s and not on the emotions in the locker room. He changed his focus last season and promised he would continue to do that this season, trying to bring the team together.
Riley said players are taking responsibility for the Oregon defeat, which they didn’t do in 2007. “The team was split in half, ” he said. (At least part of that was because of the quarterback debate over Riley and Nate Longshore). The players who were on that team and who are here now are determined not to let that happen again.”
2) Did Oregon expose this Cal team as overrated?
Those who think this – interestingly enough, some in the media who were convinced before last Saturday that the Bears were the best team in the conference are now taking about their weaknesses – say the Bears’ early success was illusory. They beat a weak Maryland team and a Division 2 team in their first two games. Beating Minnesota in Minneapolis was a good road win but nobody knows yet how good Minnesota is.
We’ll know more after Saturday because USC, as always, has great talent, especially defensively, where they’re allowing an average of only 1.7 yards per rush. That will put pressure on Riley to make plays – and on his offensive line to give him time, which didn’t happen against Oregon – so it won’t all fall on Jahvid Best’s shoulders.
My estimate of the Bears hasn’t changed: I still believe they are potentially the best team Tedford has had at Berkeley and that last Saturday was simply an aberration. Saturday, we’ll know if I’m right.
RAIDERS AND THE MEDIA: Last week was a disaster for the Raiders off the field as well as on.
First, they tried to ban Rich Gannon from doing interviews with players and coaches on Saturday before the Raiders-Broncos game because Gannon had been critical of the Raiders operation. Gee, I wonder why.
The NFL quickly informed the Raiders that the league has a contract with the networks allowing these interviews. So, John Herrera had to make a statement saying Gannon was bitter because he had “the worst Super Bowl for a quarterback” when the Raiders lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Of course, Gannon was the league MVP that season and the calalyst for their AFC championship. When he went down with an injury the next season, the Raiders began their record six straight seasons with double digit losses.
I’ve known John Herrera since I was on the Raiders beat in the late ‘60s and he was a ball boy at training camp. He is not the kind of person who would make that statement on his own, but when you work for Al Davis, you have to allow yourself to be degraded.
After Sunday’s disaster, Lowell Cohn, who has written a column for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat since he left The Chronicle in the ‘90s, was interviewing Raider defensive end Richard Seymour about his personal foul penalty when he was approached by Mike Taylor, the alleged media relations director.
“He told me I had to get out of the dressing room,” Lowell told me when we talked at the Cal football luncheon yesterday. “Seymour was laughing. He was willing to answer my questions. But, Taylor wouldn’t let him. And later, when I was trying to write in the press box, Taylor came up and harangued me for 10 miutes.”
There’s a sense of desperation about this. The Raiders appear to be on their way to their seventh straight season with double digit losses and even the most dedicated employes have to be realizing that the emperor has no clothes.
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A’S FUTURE: The A’s have made a nice run in the second half of the season, especially in September, their first winning month since June of last season. That’s an indication they will have a more interesting season next year than they’ve had since they were last in the postseason in 2006 but there are still some questions to be answered before they can be viewed as contenders.
Their strength will obviously be in their pitching. They’ve had a very young starting rotation and, as difficult as it’s been for them, they’ve gained valuable experience. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill were not even on the roster going into training camp and were barely 21 when the season began (Anderson’s birthday is in February, Cahill’s in March) but they emerged as the two top starters. The A's have plenty of other young candidates for their rotation, too, though I would expect Vin Mazzaro, who just turned 23, to be in the mix. The bullpen is also solid.
Offensively, the A’s are much different than they’ve been in the past, with the running game being a big part of their offense. The biggest surprise has been Rajai Davis. Watching him with the Giants and last year with the A’s, I was convinced he’d never be a major league hitter, but as of today, he'’ hitting .306 in 369 at-bats, which is enough of a sample size to say it’s not a fluke. He’s also stolen 41 bases and has a near 80 per cent success rate.
The A’s are also taking the extra base often and finding ways to win games when they don’t get a lot of hits. But, that won’t be enough if they don’t get more power. The model should be the Angels, who are known for going first to third on base hits but also have hitters in the 20-30 home run range up and down their lineup.
Usually, the biggest power hitters are the corner outfielders and infielders, but there’s nobody on the current roster who fills that bill. Ryan Sweeney, an excellent right fielder who should be a .300 hitter, hasn’t yet developed power, though he seems to have the build for it. The A’s have a glut of young outfielders but none are big power hitters. They may have to trade to get the power they need.
In the infield, the A’s have two prospects who might do it, third baseman Brett Wallace and first baseman Chris Carter. Scouts have questioned Wallace'’ defensive ability, but they also thought Eric Chavez was terrible defensively as a minor leaguer, so the Wallace assessment may not be accurate, either. Right now, the thinking in the A's organization is that it would be better to start Wallace and Carter at Sacramento and bring them up 2-3 months in the season, but that thinking could change if Wallace and Carter, who is playing winter ball, have good springs.
The strategy of bringing in veterans to jump start the offense has been dumped, after the failure of Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday, both of whom have thrived after going to National League clubs. Owner Lew Wolff, who had urged general manager Billy Beane, before this season, to bring in some name players who fans would recognize, has publicly announced that program is over.
AL/EDDIE: Al Davis will be inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame next spring and, though nobody more fervently wishes that he would sell the Raiders, I believe this is an honor he deserves.
Davis is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the tests for that is whether you could write the history of a sport without mentioning him and obviously you couldn’t do that in football with Davis. He made the Raiders viable when he came here in 1963, at a time when it seemed the Raiders would be moved, probably to Portland. When he left briefly to become AFL commissioner, he devised the strategy of going after NFL quarterbacks which forced the NFL to merge with the AFL into one league, which started the golden era of pro football which continues to this day. Back with the Raiders, he oversaw a team with great and exciting players that was at or near the top in the 1967-83 period, winning three Super Bowls.
His big mistake was in moving the Raiders to Los Angeles, leaving a faithful fan base for the lure of the big city. The Raiders were never more than third in the L.A. area to USC and the Rams. Since returning to Oakland, the decline has been precipitous. But, like an aging athlete who can’t leave the stage, that doesn’t diminish what Davis accomplished at the top of his game.
What I don’t understand is the adulation of Eddie DeBartolo.
Let’s review the facts. In 1977, the DeBartolo Corporation bought the 49ers and Eddie, then just 30, was put in charge. His first act was to put in Joe Thomas as general manager, causing Monte Clark to quit.
Both the DeBartolo purchase and the Thomas appointment had been engineered by Davis, who wanted to thwart his old rival, Wayne Valley, who had tried to buy the Niners, and to ensure that the 49ers would not provide serious Bay Area competition for the Raiders.
Davis’s master plan worked perfectly at first Thomas wrecked the 49ers and did all he could to destroy the team’s history and standing in the community. In desperation, Eddie paid attention to my campaign for Bill Walsh and hired Walsh, who developed a dynasty.
What did Eddie do, besides harassing Walsh after losses? He spent his father’s money. That made him popular with the players but distressed his father, who sent Keith Simon out to watch the money and Carmen Policy to try to moderate Eddie’s reckless life style.
I can understand the nostalgia 49er fans have for that period, but Walsh was the one who created the dynasty. The DeBartolo money was helpful in the latter part of the ‘80s because the 49ers could stockpile good players at important positions – they once had quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Young and Steve Bono – but they had one of the league’s lowest payrolls when they won their first Super Bowl and were in the middle for their second Super Bowl season. There was no salary cap at the time but Walsh would have been successful if there had been.
WARRIORS PROBLEMS: Monta Ellis says it won’t work for him to play with Stephen Curry. Fine. Make him the backup guard, let Curry play 30-35 minutes and then bring in Ellis – until he quits pouting.
That’s the way this would be handled with a baseball or football team, but of course, it won’t happen that way with the Warriors, because this is the NBA.
The Warriors have gone out of their way to make Ellis feel important, with coach Don Nelson and general manager Larry Riley even visiting Ellis in Memphis before the draft, knowing they’d probably draft Curry. None of it worked. In today’s NBA, it’s what the players want, not what the coaches, the general manager, the owner or the fans want. And that’s exactly why my interest in the NBA has waned.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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