Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oakland Raiders... Your Decade is Over

This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.

Today I present to you the Oakland Raiders of the 00's:

Perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders finished the 00's differently than they began them.

Entering 2000 the Raiders had a head coach in Jon Gruden that they believed it, an owner in Al Davis who had gotten in done before, and a quarterback in Rich Gannon who they believed could help them win games. On top of those key names, the Raiders also had a pair of Heisman trophy winners in Charles Woodson and Tim Brown, both performing at an All Star level, and a roster that including loads of talent.

The 2000 season was a success for the Raiders as the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1993, and the first time since moving back to Oakland. At 12-4, not only did the Raiders end up in the playoffs, they picked up a first round bye as well. On top of that achievement, the Raiders QB, veteran Rich Gannon, was named an All Pro.

The Raiders would open the 2000 playoffs by crushing the Miami Dolphins, but would lose at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens the next week. Though the loss hurt Raider nation, with a young coach in Gruden, the team had high hopes for the future.

The 2001 Raiders continues the franchises winning ways for most of the regular season, but a bad three game stretch in the waning weeks of that season prevented the Raiders from getting a first round bye. The team would pounce the New York Jets out of the playoffs in their first game, but would have to travel to New England the next week.

We could go into depth on the New England game, but we shouldn't. To understand the Raiders demise though, it's important to note that the refs called the play correctly. Although we know that Tom Brady wasn't trying to throw the ball, and that Charles Woodson did indeed force a fumble, the refs called the play as the rule was written.

And so the Raiders 2001 ended with the "Tuck Rule."

That rule was changed in the offseason, and the Raiders made some changes of their own. Jon Gruden was "traded" to the Bucaneers, and the Raiders decided to move forward with Bill Callahan.

And this is where the Raiders decade went wrong. Al Davis had a great thing going. He had the coach and the mold to build the Raiders into a team, who along with the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots, would dominate the AFC for years to come. On paper, in theory, and in reality, everything was shaping up for the Raiders in 2001, and it only made sense that they'd be great for five more years.

Well 2002 was great. The Raiders went 11-5 and cruised all the way to the Super Bowl where they lost to; The Buccaneers.

That's right, the Raiders lost to the team coached by Jon Gruden.

I'm going to briefly sum up the rest of the Raiders decade before we get into what this article needs to really focus on.

2003: Gannon gets hurt. Callahan calls the Raiders the "dumbest team in the league," is fired one season after losing the Super Bowl.

2004: Team drafts Robert Gallery ahead of Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, and Ben Roethlisberger. Gannon again hurt. Kerry Collins starts most of season. Warren Sapp comes to town. Norv Turner coaches team to 5-11 record.

2005: Turner year 2. Randy Moss comes to town, Charles Woodson leaves after season. Team goes 4-12. Turner fired.

2006: Art Shell (re)hired as head coach. Aaron Brooks hired as teams quarterback. Team loses first 5, final 9, to go 2-12. Shell fired.

2007: Team uses #1 overall pick on JaMarcus Russell. Lane Kiffin hired as head coch. Team (improves?) to 4-12.

2008: Javon Walker given obscene money. Team drafts RB Darren McFadden. Kiffin brought back, fired after four games, replaced by Tom Cable. Russell shows little signs of improvement. Cable goes 4-8, team goes 5-11. Cable brought back.

2009: Team drafts Dariuss Heyward-Bey. McFadden hurt. Russell benched. Cable punches assistant in the jaw, looks to be fired.

What do you notice from the "Tuck Rule" to 2009? That's right. You notice bad, sometimes really bad, a lot of the time awful general management. In the modern NFL it's hard to stay bad for that long. It's why the Lions are so impressive in missing the playoffs for an entire decade. It's hard to excel at being that bad for such a long time.

But as bad as the Lions were this decade, they were never expected to be great. The Raiders actually were, in fact, at one point very great this decade. And Davis destroyed them.

Personally, I always respect Al Davis. I mean, he's the one who gave Madden, Shannahan, Gruden, and Kiffin their shots. He won three Super Bowls and an AFL championship. He was a good coach, an adequate commisioner in the AFL, and as a general manager won three Super Bowls.

Qualificaitions like those give Davis, in many ways, the right to do whatever the heck he wants. Because he was a young hot shot coach himself, Davis always loved to hire young hot shot coaches, and often hit home runs with his hires. Even in the 00's.

So what went wrong for Davis? Is it his age? Did the game just pass him? Probably a little of both. The team Davis was winning with in the early 00's was comprised of some older names (Gannon, Rod Woodson, Jerry Rice), and the way to win in the NFL changed.

On top of that, Davis didn't always his home runs in the draft. JaMarcus Russell and Robert Gallery would be on a lot of peoples "top busts of the decade" list. But the draft was never Davis' strong point, free agency and trades were.

In the 2000's Davis struck out in those fields too. Misfiring on signing guys like Aaron Brooks, Randy Moss, and Warren Sapp, and then trading Randy Moss for beans.

When he was winning Davis always had good heads on his team. From 1967 to 1978 Davis had continuity with John Madden. When Davis thought Madden could no longer do the job he transitioned to Tom Flores who won him two Super Bowls.

After Flores he went to Shannahan. Shannahan couldn't do it for him so he went to Shell. From Shell to turmoil from turmoil to Gruden.

Davis knew a good coach when he saw one. Davis knew what he had in Gruden. Gruden helped build the Super Bowl team he'd beat with the Buccaneers. The question is, did Davis get too used to turmoil that he forgot why he won with Madden and Flores?

But that's irrational. The real question is, did Davis think that Flores, Madden, and now Gruden's successes were actually his own? That answer, is yes. More than any owner in the NFL Davis has a right to believe in his own genius. But more than any owner in the NFL, Davis has become an embarassment because of it.

I'd love to try to get into the logic of the 2000's Raiders, but it'll be impossible. There is no logic. Let's be honest with one another, the Raiders of the 2000's follow no form, which is why this article followed no format. The Raiders of the 2000's made a mockery of the NFL, so in turn I made a mockery of the Raiders. That's about the only logic you can sum from this team.

Personally, I don't like seeing the Raiders fail. Franchise wise, they're the most prominent and important franchise in their division, and one of the most important franchises in the league. In other words, the league is better when the Raiders are good, and that's thanks to Al Davis.

MVP of the Decade:
Charles Woodson

Notable Players: Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Steve Wisniewski, Charles Woodson, JaMarcus Russell, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jerry Porter, Jerry Rice, Barrett Robbins, Sebastian Janikowski, Ronald Curry, LaMont Jordan, Tyrone Wheatly, Derrick Burgess, Shane Lechler, Roderick Coleman, Lincoln Kennedy

Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 Years: Super Bowl XXXVII Jerry Rice

Other Decade Recaps: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills

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