NFL@L.A.: Al Davis

Palmer, Raiders take control of Chargers

November, 10, 2011

SAN DIEGO – This is why the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer.

This is why no one trusts that the San Diego Chargers will ever live up to expectations.

In an entertaining and unpredictable start to what could be a spectacularly wild second half in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders took ownership of the division by setting the tone offensively and defensively against a home San Diego team that can only be described as floundering.

In a game featuring big-armed quarterbacks, it was Palmer who outdueled a still-sagging Philip Rivers in a 24-17 Oakland win.

In the process, the Raiders raised their record to 5-4 and are now alone in first place in the AFC West. San Diego has lost four consecutive games and is spinning out of control at 4-5. Kansas City is 4-4 and it hosts Denver, 3-5, on Sunday. If the Chiefs beat the Broncos, who beat Oakland last week, they will be technically ahead of Oakland owing to Kansas City's victory over the Raiders in Week 7.

This game had the feel of two teams scrambling to stay alive.

The reality of the three-way tie in the division was that no team had established itself as a quality squad, nor had any team showed that it was ready to be anything but first-round playoff fodder for stronger AFC competition come January.

Oakland had lost consecutive divisional games at home by a total of 42 points — and with a rusty Palmer and without star running back Darren McFadden, was lacking an identity on offense.

San Diego entered the game losers of three in row, games they could have easily won and in which Rivers made crucial mistakes.

The Raiders made necessary adjustments in a short week. The Chargers added to their misery.

“It had a feel of a desperate game,” Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “We talked all week about just letting it go and doing whatever we could to get this win.”

The Raiders followed a formula they have used against San Diego for the past three years — they punched them in the mouth and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Raiders used a beautiful combination of Palmer converting key long passes and McFadden caddie Michael Bush jamming the ball down the Chargers’ throats. Bush, one of the best backups in the NFL, had 157 yards rushing on 30 carries. He had 78 yards on13 carries in the first quarter.

Thursday night represented a return of the Oakland offense that was clicking so well in the first six games, before former starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. In the first six quarters of the Palmer era – Oakland acquired him from Cincinnati two days after Campbell was hurt in exchange for two premium draft picks – Oakland’s offense was out of sorts.

They couldn’t run like the NFL's best running attack, and Palmer looked just like what he was – a guy coming off his couch after a nine-month layoff, with completely new teammates.

If Thursday night’s crisp offensive showing by Palmer and the Oakland offense is any indication of things to come, the Raiders must be considered the favorites to win the West for the first time in nine years.

You have to think Palmer will keep getting better as he continues to practice with his stable of new, young receivers.

“I like what he is bringing to our team,” Seymour said. “We needed another leader and you can see the affect he is having on the young guys. … It’s good to have him here.”

Palmer threw for 299 yards and made some terrific passes when needed most. He did commit two turnovers – he has eight in 10 quarters with the Raiders – but he clearly is getting on track in Oakland. He and rookie receiver Denarius Moore connected five times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Palmer was 4-for-4 on passes of 21-plus yards for 146 yards Thursday night. The late Al Davis would be proud of the new Oakland quarterback who showed his arm is still a top weapon.

“What he is doing is phenomenal,” Oakland coach Hue Jackson said of Palmer.

While the season's second half started on the right track for Oakland, San Diego is mired in problems. As the Raiders' offense dominated the Chargers' defensive front, the Oakland defensive line did the same to the battered San Diego line, which played much of the game without three starters.

Four days after being humiliated by the Tim Tebow option runaway train, Oakland teed off on Rivers. He was sacked six times and it was an Oakland jailbreak on nearly every play. Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had four sacks himself. He said the constant pressure took a “toll” on Rivers.

“We knew it was on us,” Seymour said. “We wanted to get in Rivers’ face on every play.”

It worked. Now, Rivers has to face the fact that his team is no longer that 4-1 squad in need of a wee bit of tweaking — but rather under .500 and leaking oil fast. After the game, Rivers, who threw another fourth-quarter interception Thursday, again had no answers for the problems.

Rivers and San Diego had better figure out something soon, or this once-perennial Super Bowl contender is going to be on the outside looking in come January for the second consecutive year and potentially facing major changes in the offseason.

Oakland has already endured major change during this season, and it is starting the stretch run better for it.

Palmer's debut with Raiders not so simple

October, 23, 2011
Palmer/JacksonAP Photo/Paul SakumaRaiders coach Hue Jackson, right, tried his best to tutor quarterback Carson Palmer during the game, but it was a rough debut.

OAKLAND -- In simpler times, when both Hue Jackson and Carson Palmer were younger and the colors they wore were cardinal and gold, not silver and black, Jackson had a saying to calm his young protege down.

"Just run the old brown shoe," he'd tell him. Palmer would nod, knowing exactly what his offensive coordinator meant.

"Yeah," Palmer recalled. "He'd always say, 'You could just run the old brown shoe and win.' "

In other words, keep it simple and let your talent take over. The plays, the offense, the protections don't matter. Just play, don't over-think it.

A decade later, and a whole lot more at stake, Jackson would have been better served heeding his own advice.

Palmer never had a chance to make much of a difference in Sunday's game, a 28-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

He had time to learn only three or four protections and a small fraction of the team's plays. He's still learning his receivers' names, let alone their tendencies. Oh, and the first time he'd thrown in pads in 10 months was Sunday, when he entered midway through the third quarter.

Jackson knew all this. So did Palmer. Heck, so did the Chiefs.

But instead of buying Palmer and the Raiders some breathing room by saying Palmer would need a week or two to acclimate after a daring blockbuster trade last Monday, Jackson elevated the expectations for immediate success by calling it "the greatest trade in football," then playing coy about whether Palmer would start.

Gamesmanship, Jackson called it afterward. And it would've been great if the Raiders had won.

Instead it seemed like Jackson faked out his entire team -- including Palmer, who said afterward he was never expecting to play this week.

"I didn’t think I was going to play so I didn’t have much expectation," Palmer said. "I expected to get a feel for watching from the sidelines, seeing coverages unfold, seeing protections be picked up and watch the running game, different play action things to watch from the boundaries.

"But as soon as it’s time to go, it’s time to go. When your number’s called, you’ve got to be ready to go."

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NFL@LA Mailbag

October, 20, 2011
Welcome back to the NFL@LA mailbag where I’ll be answering your NFL in Los Angeles questions every Thursday. You can send me a question in the comments section below, on Twitter or you can find me on Facebook. We’re pretty flexible around here. And remember if you didn’t get your question answered or want to discuss anything further we will have an NFL@LA chat on Friday at 1 p.m.

Why not demolish the Coliseum and build a new stadium?
-- Ivan Gutierrez

Well, first of all, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is registered as a National Historical Landmark and cannot simply be torn down to make a new stadium. That’s a big reason why whenever there has been talk of a new Coliseum over the last 15 years each design essentially included gutting the building and keeping the historical exterior, including the peristyle entrance and torch. This was, in some ways, the idea of the renovation of Soldier Field, where they basically built a brand new stadium inside the old one which towered above the old Greek style columns, which was the primary remnant of the old Soldier Field. The design disgusted the National Register of Historic Places so much that it delisted Soldier Field after construction was completed.

The Coliseum is out of the NFL business after giving USC first right of refusal on any other team that would play there and will essentially hand over the building to USC by the end of the year when the school will get the master lease to the Coliseum. USC will refurbish the building and return the Coliseum to the condition that made it the home of two Olympic Games and two Super Bowls although it would not be suitable to be the permanent home of an NFL team. The needs of an NFL stadium with hundreds of suites and club seats and seating capacities of only about 65,000 to prevent blackouts don’t exactly equate into what makes a great college football stadium.

What are the chances of having a successful fan base for a team that is neither the Chargers nor the Raiders? Are there plans to re-brand a team and if so what are the names and mascots being proposed?
-- Matthew Zavala

Unless the Raiders and Rams return to Los Angeles, I think the team moving to Los Angeles would be best served to completely rebrand themselves. Although the Chargers began in Los Angeles in 1960 playing at the Coliseum, I’m not sure that would still mean anything in Los Angeles if they moved back over 50 years later. And as far as the Vikings, Bills, Jaguars or any other team that has been talked about, a complete rebranding goes without saying. Obviously there haven’t been any specific talks about a name or mascot until they figure out which team is moving here and if the majority owners (should they still be majority owners) want to re-brand the team.

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Tom Flores, former Oakland Raiders coach who led the Silver and Black to two Super Bowl victories, talked to 710 ESPN's Mason and Ireland on Tuesday about Al Davis' funeral on Monday and Al's son Mark making his first decision Raiders' move without his father: acquiring Carson Palmer.

The Raiders gave up a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder in 2013 to the Cincinnati Bengals for Palmer who will replace injured quarterback Jason Campbell.

"Without revealing the exact mechanics behind it, Mark Davis was very involved. He was in the room along with Hue Jackson and some other people involved, and that's about all I'll say on that. Mark was very vocal. The ownership has been dropped in his lap. So, being the owner he does have final say," Flores said.

Flores was one of a small handful of people close enough to Al Davis to be invited to pay last respects at his funeral.

"It's not the best of times right now because I lost a friend and the Raiders lost their longtime leader. It's going to be a different world without him around.

"Pretty sad yesterday when we said our final goodbyes to him. It was a small group because they didn't want to open it up because it would have been crazy with too many people showing up," Flores said.

Listen to the full podcast here.

It is an empowering moment, no matter which cards you're holding and how good the percentages of actually winning the hand are. There's just something about wrapping your hands around the sides of your chip stack, shoving them into the middle of the table in a no-limit poker game and letting everyone know this is it.

No one says "All in" softly. You say it fast and you say it strong or you don't say it at all.

I imagine that's how things feel in the Raider front office this morning as the group of people stepping in to replace the late Al Davis made a bold move to acquire Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer for what could be two first-round draft picks.

It was a move Davis would've loved. A 60-yard touchdown pass over the head of the safeties when everyone was expecting a run.

It feels great in the moment. Empowering, strong, aggressive. Like you just grabbed some control over a game rooted so deeply in chance.

It feels even better when you make that move from a position of strength. To continue the poker metaphor, with a big chip stack to intimidate the other players, or the best hole cards at the table.

The Raiders have neither.

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Palmer trade good for Raiders?

October, 18, 2011
Herm Edward believes both sides win in the Bengals trade of Carson Palmer to the Raiders.

Shelburne: Raiders on the clock

October, 17, 2011

The transition was never going to be easy. Life without Al Davis was going to be sad and strange for the Oakland Raiders no matter what. But they must have thought they would have some time before big decisions needed to be made and a new direction needed to be established.

Time to grieve and mourn. Time to adjust and get their bearings. Time to figure out whether Mark Davis really wanted to assume his father’s role, and whether former coach John Madden might want to become more than a trusted voice from the past.

Well, that time is up. After what appears to be a season-ending injury to quarterback Jason Campbell, the Raiders future begins now.

What happens next will give the rest of the league a pretty clear picture of who will run the franchise in Al Davis' stead, the way they will run things, and just how different life after the cantankerous legend will be.

Kyle Boller can probably get the Raiders through the next few weeks, but nothing he's done in his NFL career suggests he's the guy to lead a team to the playoffs.

Rookie Terrelle Pryor is still in the project stage of his career and months away from being ready for game action.

And the NFL's trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon, so any effort to pry Carson Palmer away from Cincinnati owner Mike Brown's stubborn grip will need to happen stat.

There are other options on the free agent market out there: David Garrard, Trent Edwards, Brodie Croyle and Jake Delhomme are available, and Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn could probably be taken off Denver's hands for a set of decent draft picks.

But the Raiders don't really have any of those until 2013.

None of these options would really look any better if Davis were still running things. (Actually, if Davis were still in charge, I suspect Daunte Culpepper would already be booked on a flight to Oakland.)

And yet somehow it seems worse now. The uncertainty of how involved Mark Davis wants to be going forward, the timing so soon after Davis' passing, the real promise the team had begun to show this season.

Campbell's injury, in one swift fall, has brought home the reality of Davis' death.

The Raiders need to do something big, and they need to do it quickly. This team is too good to stand pat and hope Boller and Pryor can do the job.

Darren McFadden and Michael Bush make up arguably the best backfield in the NFL. Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey are making plays. Tight end Kevin Boss looks like a brilliant free agent replacement for Zach Miller. The Raiders defense is young, talented and hungry. Coach Hue Jackson has won the locker room over. Nobody has mentioned Robert Gallery in a while. And Nnamdi Asomugha's name only comes up in passing.

The Raiders aren't yet great again or even sniffing that level, but after so many years of being so bad, there is reason to believe in them.

Though Davis had been deteriorating for years, his death felt sudden.

But now, the time for being sad or stunned has ended. The Raiders might not be ready to move on, but they have to now. Whoever is calling the shots in Oakland has a big call to make.

It can’t wait.

EXTRA POINT: The NFL is such a specialized game, you wonder sometimes how much influence a head coach really has. Maybe most are like political candidates; good at the big picture, locker room speeches, and managing the many competing voices within an organization. But two very different men proved something Sunday. Coaching still matters.

The Philadelphia Eagles won for embattled coach Andy Reid. And the San Francisco 49ers might just have won because of new coach Jim Harbaugh.

All last week, the Eagles players defended Reid to his critics. Sunday, in an ugly, gut-it-out kind of win over the Washington Redskins, they walked that walk to give Reid his first bit of breathing room in months.

In San Francisco the story -- and the reputation (for good and bad) of Jim Harbaugh -- is growing by the game. His bluster, toughness and attention to detail have transformed this team into a contender in the NFC West faster than anyone could have imagined. His team clearly believes in him. An entire city is starting to.

In the short term, people will remember the 49ers’ win over the Lions Sunday for the post-game altercation between Harbaugh and Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz (I have no idea how Pete Carroll had enough self-control not to tweet anything in reaction, by the way), but if San Francisco keeps playing winning football, the win will mean a lot more than that.

What's Harbaugh's deal? He can coach.

Rapid Reaction: Raiders 24, Browns 17

October, 16, 2011
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A look at an emotional day for the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: It wasn’t pretty -- and the team lost quarterback Jason Campbell -- but the Raiders Just Won, Baby, 24-17 against the Cleveland Browns in their first home game since owner Al Davis died Oct. 8 at age 82. There were several tributes to Davis on Sunday, and the greatest one was presented by the team as it improved its record to 4-2. The Raiders are now a half-game behind San Diego, 4-1, in the AFC West race. The Chargers had their bye Sunday.

Tomorrow’s talker: It’s all about Campbell’s injury. He left the game in the second quarter and went straight to the locker room. The Raiders have said only that his collarbone is being evaluated, but there are reports that he broke it and is out for the rest of the season. He was replaced by Kyle Boller. Rookie Terrelle Pryor will be activated from the roster exemption list Monday after his NFL suspension ended last week. He likely will back up Boller for now if Campbell is out.

How about Hue: First-year Oakland coach Hue Jackson is becoming quite the trickster. He has had called several trick plays this season. The Raiders sealed Sunday’s win when Shane Lechler threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss on a fake field goal late in the third quarter. The Raiders are fast becoming one of the NFL’s most entertaining teams.

Heyward-Bey impresses again: Third-year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had his third straight nice game, catching six passes for 82 yards. The No. 7 overall pick in 2009 is really making strides.

What’s next: The Raiders will host Kansas City next Sunday. They'll then have their bye week and return home to host Denver. The Raiders are in line to go 6-2 if they can stabilize their quarterback situation.

NFL@LA mailbag

October, 14, 2011
Welcome back to the NFL@LA mailbag where I’ll be answering all your NFL in Los Angeles questions. You can send me a question in the comments section below, on Twitter or you can find me on Facebook. We’re pretty flexible around here. And remember if you didn’t get your question answered or want to discuss anything further we will have an NFL@LA chat on Friday at 1 p.m.

You have pointed out that the Jaguars stadium lease make them unlikely candidates to move to LA. Can you provide some more details on what makes that arrangement so prohibitive for a move out of Northeast Florida? Are there any potential loopholes there?
-- Sean Lawton

Well, first of all, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said he has no plans to sell the team or move the team. All the other teams that are rumored to move have owners that would either sell the team or move the team if they don’t get a new stadium. Jacksonville is always brought up presumably because it’s, well, Jacksonville. The Jaguars' lease to play at EverBank Field runs through the 2029 season, and if the Jaguars wanted to leave before then, they would be required to prove they had lost money in three consecutive seasons or convince a local judge that the city was failing to properly maintain the stadium. The odds of any NFL team losing money in any year, let alone three consecutive years, or a judge allowing the local NFL team to leave town are remote. Of course, leases can usually be broken for a negotiated price, but it seems the penalty would be too steep considering the other candidates available.

If Farmers Field is built in Downtown Los Angeles, How will the tailgating situation turn out with the lack of parking in Downtown? I read that the number of the parking lots in use now around LA Live will be further reduced by a number of construction projects (hotels, condos, etc.) that will take place in the future.
-- jamills21

Great question and it’s honestly the biggest problem AEG and Farmers Field must tackle along with finding ample parking, especially if they play weeknight games. AEG officials have said there will be room for tailgating and that there will be 32,000 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of Farmers Field. The problem with that parking number is that it is good on weekends but many of those spaces would be occupied on a Monday or Thursday night for a game. And while there may be tailgating areas around Farmers Field it wouldn’t be like the ample room you’d find at the Rose Bowl or the projected stadium in the City of Industry which is being built in the center of 600 wide open acres.

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Covering Al Davis' L.A. Raiders

October, 11, 2011

AP Photo/Nick Ut
Al Davis always kept it interesting for those who covered his team.
In 2001, I wound up sitting next to Al Davis in his second favorite place, a courtroom. For those opponents -- and there were many -- Davis couldn’t battle on the field, he wouldn’t hesitate to call in the lawyers.

On this occasion, he was suing the NFL, claiming it had sabotaged his efforts to build a football stadium at Hollywood Park.

In covering the Raiders in their final three years in Los Angeles for the L.A. Times, I had formed a unique relationship with Davis. He fiercely disapproved of the Times’ coverage of the Raiders, but he still wanted an avenue to vent his feelings in one of the nation’s largest newspapers. So, during my tenure on the beat, he gave me a lot of access.

On that day in 2001, however, seven years removed from the last Raiders game in Los Angeles, his feelings had changed.

“When you first joined the team,” he said to me during a lull in the testimony, “we thought you were one of us. But you turned out to be one of them.”

“What do you mean by them?” I asked.

“You know exactly what I mean,” he said in a menacing tone, flashing the glare that has melted friend and foe alike.

Former Lakers coach Pat Riley used to refer to the media as “peripheral opponents.” To Davis, no opponents were peripheral. You were either on his side or on their side. And the media was no exception.

For Davis, who died Saturday at 82, the key to his all-consuming passion for his beloved Raiders, the measuring stick by which he judged those around him, wasn’t yards gained or tackles made or even games won. It was loyalty.

He demanded it, rewarded those who demonstrated it and shunned those who did not.

Marcus Allen was one of the most complete players to ever put on a Raiders helmet, a Heisman Trophy winner, Super Bowl MVP, game-breaking runner, skilled receiver and highly effective blocker. Yet for reasons unexplained, Davis turned on Allen and benched him, robbing the team of one of its most valuable weapons.

While Davis may have been a complex character riddled with quirks, history will judge him by his accomplishments that will extend well beyond his lifetime. He helped create the merger that turned the NFL into most powerful entity in American sports.

In defying the NFL by moving to L.A. for 13 seasons beginning in 1982, Davis launched a colorful, rewarding era in the city’s sports history, an era that many local fans still cling to. It’s been almost 17 years since the Raiders returned to Oakland, yet every Sunday when the team is home, L.A. fans pack flights headed up to the Bay Area, dressed in their silver and black, loudly proclaiming their belief in “the greatness of the Raiders.” Silver and black is still prevalent everywhere in L.A., rivaling the purple and gold in popularity.

While fans in droves have deserted the Dodgers, mired in mediocrity and controversy, local Raiders supporters remain steadfast for a team long gone. It is that loyalty that has been a driving force in the effort to bring pro football back to L.A.

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Shelburne: Why the Raiders are my team

October, 10, 2011
I've thought many times over the years why the Raiders are my team. I'm not rebellious or litigious or cantankerous. Not an outlaw or an outcast. When I've been to games in Oakland, I've taken pictures with the hard-core fans dressed in Raiders gear; I haven't joined them.

I did grow up in Los Angeles when the team was here from 1982-94, but the move to Oakland should have turned me off, not made my heart grow fonder.

I've never really found a decent answer for it, so for a long time I settled on the idea that the Raiders were my team for the same reason that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas: because maybe it's good to get away from yourself a little bit, do something that doesn't make a lot of sense but still feels good, and make no apologies for it.

Then Al Davis died over the weekend.

I finally got it. It was Al.

I'd never met him. I didn't need to. There was something so authentic about the man and the team he built in his image. Something so human and real, in the best and worst of ways.

He was shrewd and mean and controlling and brilliant and tough. His ego got in his way as many times as it pushed him toward greatness. His loyalty was as legendary as his temper. The next time he kissed up to someone would have been the first time. Same goes for apologies.

But was he real.

If he said something, he meant it. If he did something, there was a reason. If he felt something, it came from his gut or his heart. You could question his motives or his logic, but there was never any doubt about his sincerity.

When people talk about the Raiders being Al Davis' team, that's what they mean.

How many teams, in any sport, are as consistent in their image and spirit as the Raiders? From era to era, through thousands of players and hundreds of coaches, across decades and in two different homes, the Raiders' soul has always been the same.

Most teams are defined by their stars or their legends. Their brand changes as the faces who lead them move on. They adapt to their surroundings, taking on the characteristics of the town that cheers for them.

The Raiders never change, because Al was always Al. No matter where they go or who coaches them, no matter who throws passes or catches them. Their linemen always jump offside or pick up stupid holding penalties. Their linebackers always get whistled for personal fouls. Their quarterbacks always throw deep. They hire who they want to hire, regardless of the color of their skin or the length of their resume. They fire who they want to fire, and always, “with cause.”

It’s something to latch on to and love. The reason I can’t give them up.

It felt strange watching the Raiders play the Houston Texans on Sunday, knowing Al Davis was not there to celebrate the 25-20 win. I'm sure it felt even stranger for the coaches and players who knew him best.

But it felt right that the Raiders won, and fitting that some of the players he took the biggest chances on played the largest role in the victory. Sebastian Janikowski -- the portly kicker he blasphemously used a first-round pick on in 2000 -- kicked four field goals, three of them over 50 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the speedy wide receiver he foolishly reached for with the seventh pick of the 2009 draft, had a career day with seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Michael Huff, the safety from Texas he drafted ahead of Matt Leinart in 2006, sealed the win with an interception in the end zone.

Al Davis' last years were not his finest years. He'd grown old and frail. His body was crumbling from the inside and the outside. It seemed, on far too many occasions of late, that his iron grip on the Raiders was squeezing them too hard and into a sad, strange place they should not be.

But when the end comes, the last bit of life fades and matters little, and the entirety of a man, in this case a legend, becomes large again.

Al Davis will be recognized as a pioneer

October, 9, 2011
He was born on Independence Day in 1929, just before the Great Depression, at a time when this nation was desperately in need of those with maverick, innovative mentalities. For the young among us, rife with short memories, limited historical perspective and abound with cynicism, Al Davis was old and beyond his prime, deemed as someone who should’ve left the Oakland Raiders -- and the game -- long before he eventually left us all.

But in the hours after his passing at 82 on Saturday, as a football nation reflected on all the things he did, we learned that history will be much kinder to the iconic figure who single-handedly personified Raider Nation over the past four-plus decades.

As well it should.

On this day, and undoubtedly in the days to follow, we won’t hear too much about seven consecutive years of double-digit losses, laughter at slogans like Commitment to Excellence and Just Win Baby, or lamentations about the Raiders wasting a No.1-overall pick on JaMarcus Russell. What we’ll hear instead is something a bit more apropos for a man recognized as an aficionado and a pioneer, as responsible for progress in the NFL as anyone, even if most of it occurred before the past decade.

We’ll hear about the championship game appearances and three Super Bowl titles. We’ll hear about the mystique of the Silver and Black and how Davis relished the Raiders’ menacing reputation. But what we should hear about most is Davis the pioneer, of his fearless approach toward integrating minorities on an elevated level from the playing field, ensuring that one’s character and productivity weighed more heavily than one’s ethnicity and gender.

“That’s what I’ll remember most about him,” ESPN analyst and former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson said on "Sunday NFL Countdown."

And to that, all of us should hum a collective “Amen.”

Long before the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities, Davis had already hired Tom Flores, who is Hispanic, in 1979 and won two Super Bowl titles with him.

Long before Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl in 2007, Davis had already hired Art Shell in 1989 as the first black head coach in NFL history.

And at a time when no one in the male-dominated NFL fraternity thought about women contributing to their game, Amy Trask, a former intern in Oakland, was brought into the Raiders’ organization fulltime by Davis in 1997. She serves as the only female chief executive officer in the NFL.

It was nice to hear Mike Ditka credit Davis for the league being “one entity” in this day and age, recognizing that the NFL and American Football League would not have merged had it not been for Davis’ willingness to pursue NFL players when he was serving as AFL commissioner in 1966. Several football analysts made sure to do the same throughout Week 5 of the NFL season Sunday, as every home team dedicated a moment of silence to pay homage.

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NFL keeps word on close games in L.A.

October, 9, 2011
The NFL kept its word and Los Angeles got to see the ending of perhaps the most emotional game so far this season.

As reported last month, the NFL decided to rethink its television rules and allowed Los Angeles to see the conclusion of the Oakland Raiders-Houston Texans game instead of switching to the start of the San Diego Chargers-Denver Broncos game.

Although Los Angeles is the secondary market for the Chargers and obligated by league rules to carry all Chargers road games in their entirety, KCBS 2 in Los Angeles stuck with the ending of the Raiders-Texans game, which came down to the final play when Raiders safety Michael Huff intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s pass in the end zone with no time remaining to clinch a 25-20 win for Oakland.

The game was dedicated to Raiders owner Al Davis, who died Saturday at the age of 82. There was a moment of silence for Davis before the game and Raiders players and coaches wore a black Raiders patch with “AL” written in silver in the middle to honor Davis.

With 3:43 remaining in the Raiders-Texans game, Oakland held a 25-17 lead with Houston driving as the Chargers’ game against the Broncos kicked off. At that time a scrawl came on the screen that read, “We will be going to the Chargers/Broncos game immediately following the conclusion of the Raiders/Texans game.”

It was the first time the league decided to tweak what had been a non-negotiable rule regarding primary and secondary television markets for over 35 years. Los Angeles is the secondary market for the Chargers and league rules require "all secondary markets must carry in their entirety all road games of their local team."

The Chargers are deemed Los Angeles' "local team" and therefore a "secondary market" because "its affiliates' TV signals reach within 75 miles of the Chargers stadium," NFL spokesperson Dan Masonson said.

The NFL decided to change its television rules in Los Angeles after it forced KCBS 2 to leave the final 27 seconds of the Sept. 18 Raiders-Buffalo Bills game to show three minutes' worth of commercials and the opening introductions of the Chargers-New England Patriots game.

At the time of the cutaway, the Raiders were holding a 35-31 lead but the Bills drove down and scored the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds left on a fourth down pass, leaving Raiders fans in Los Angeles furious, not just because of the outcome but because of their inability to watch it live.

The league will now monitor the early game and see if the result is still in question before deciding to leave it for the late game.

What was Al Davis' succession plan?

October, 8, 2011
Few, if any, owners in sports had a stranglehold on their team the way Al Davis had on the Oakland Raiders. He controlled every facet of the team until his final days -- from the players the team drafted and signed to the way the field and uniforms looked on game days.

There was no aspect of the organization that wasn’t under the watchful eye of Davis, who did everything his way, regardless of what anyone, even the NFL commissioner, thought.

The Oakland Raiders, however, as we have known them since 1963, are no more after Davis passed Saturday at the age of 83.

After the well-deserved tributes and reverences are made in the coming days, the attention will turn to his succession plan and the future of the Raiders.

Davis had previously said control of the team would go to his wife, Carol, and son, Mark, when he died.

During a press conference on Aug. 1, 2006, Davis also mentioned former Raiders coach John Madden could play a role in helping the franchise’s transition after his passing.

“If something happened to Al, I'm sure (Madden) would be someone that Carol Davis and Mark Davis would call, along with several others who have been Raiders most of their lives and still have a tremendous loyalty to it," Davis said. “That's if I don't outlive them. ... Time runs by you. My life goes on. We're still here and we want to win.”

Davis met Carol in 1950 when he was 21 years old and began his coaching career at Adelphi College on Long Island. He was only there two years before he went into the Army, and as a private, coached the Fort Belvoir football team.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated on Nov. 4, 1963, Davis said about Carol, “A friend introduced us when I was coaching at Adelphi. He thought she could handle me. You know, I wasn’t a bad looking kid and not a poor boy.”

When Carol suffered a severe heart attack in 1979, Davis talked hospital officials into giving him a bed in the intensive care unit and slept there for two weeks to be next to her.

“She’s a good girl,” Davis told Sports Illustrated in 1963. “I swear somebody’s going to steal her sometime. She worries that I don’t spend enough time with our son, Mark. I tell her I didn’t spend an awful lot of time with my daddy, but we were close. I really loved my daddy. It’s not how much time you spend, it’s what you do with the time you’ve got.”

Mark, who is now 56, graduated from Chico State and has been around the team more in recent years.

When the San Jose Mercury News asked Davis what Mark’s role was with the team on Sept. 30, 2008, he said, “He’s business and perhaps he’s doing some work on the stadium -- business and stadium. He doesn’t want to get involved in football. He used to know all the players. He still does. They were his vintage – Cliff Branch and all those guys, Fred Biletnikoff, all those guys. He never understood how I could let someone go. He just doesn’t want to get into that part of it. But he will own it someday. That is… if they let me go to my maker. ”

It is not yet known if Carol or Mark would want to have anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the Raiders. Amy Trask, the Raiders’ CEO will likely take a more prominent role with the team now and help with the transition and life without Davis.

Davis had owned 67 percent of the Raiders but that percentage dropped to 47 percent in 2007 when he sold a 20 percent minority interest to a group of investors, led by East Coast businessmen David Abrams, director of the Abrams Capital investment firm, Paul Leff, founder of the Perry Corporation money management firm, and Dan Goldring, managing director at Perry Corp. The deal gave the group no control of the franchise at the time of the sale or in the future. Davis said he made the deal for estate planning purposes.

That percentage became available to Davis when he settled a lawsuit with the heirs of one of the team’s co-founders, E.W. McGah, which reportedly included the sale of the McGah family’s 31 percent stake in the Raiders.

Davis became the third general partner of the Oakland Raiders when he purchased 10 percent of the team for $18,000 in 1966. Ever since then, Davis has slowly built his shares to become the managing general partner of the team with most of the minority shares divided among the heirs of the eight original general partners.

Last month Forbes magazine valued the Raiders at $761 million, second lowest in the NFL only behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Raiders have unsuccessfully tried to get a new stadium in Oakland since moving back from Los Angeles in 1995 but continue to play in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the third oldest stadium in the league. Since returning to the Bay Area, 83 of the Raiders' 130 home games have been blacked out on TV after failing to sell out.

There had been talk recently of the San Francisco 49ers and Raiders possibly partnering on a new stadium in Santa Clara but nothing substantial has come from preliminary discussions. Both teams shared Kezar Stadium in 1960.

When former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartalo and team president Carmen Policy were rumored to be interested in buying the Raiders in 2006, Trask came out told the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis would always control the Raiders.

“Al Davis currently has, and will continue to have, total control of the Raiders,” Trask said. “And that will continue into perpetuity.”

Shelley Smith excerpt: Elusive Davis

October, 8, 2011
The following is excerpted from Shelley Smith's upcoming book: Al: An Unauthorized Biography of Al Davis.

A few days after I let the Raiders and Al Davis know I had a publishing contract to write a book on him, I got a phone call from a 510 area code -- Oakland area -- and someone using a voice scrambler started shouting at me.

It took a few minutes to figure out who was calling about what and why, but once they ratcheted down the scrambler, I heard, “Mr. Davis would appreciate it very much if you didn’t write this book. He can’t have his reputation damaged.”

I explained that I wasn’t out to damage anyone’s reputation, just to write the truth.

“Well, he doesn’t want it. It’s all he can talk about, all he can think about.”

I started in again, on how seriously I was taking this project, how I promised to be fair and balanced . . . and then heard a dial tone. I called back the number and got the “number not in service” response. It was obviously a dummy phone number, or fake or both.

Al Davis was arguably one of the most intriguing and powerful sports figures of the last four decades. And yet, he was one of the most mysterious sports figures as well, shunning the public spotlight, the media, consumed only with the love of power and winning.

Davis was largely responsible for making the NFL what it is today, the most powerful league in existence; a multi-billion dollar corporation. With the Raiders, he won 13 divisional championships from 1967 to 1985, one AFL championship and three Super Bowls. He was a rising and powerful voice in labor disputes and he challenged authority as if it owed him an audience.

He also became one of the most despised, if not hated, owners in the league. Stories of his battles with the NFL and commissioner Pete Rozelle are legendary, as is his how he gained majority ownership of the Raiders by essentially selling out his partners. Over the years he hired and fired dozens of coaches at will, intimidated and threatened staff members, terrorized everyday workers at the practice facility, and ruled his empire like the dictators he has admired through history, fascinated with those who had total control of those he loomed over.

It is a story that needs to be told. And so I took on the project of my life.

A few months after the voice-scrambler phone call, I called the Raiders PR office to say I was coming to training camp in Napa, to try and speak with Al.

Mike Taylor, the head of PR, called me back and said, “It would not be good for you to come here.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He doesn’t want you writing this book,” he said, his voice rising. “You don’t have his permission or his blessing.”

I calmly replied that, no matter what he said, I was coming to Napa and would be staying at the same Marriott as the team. And I told him that I was writing the book whether the Raiders or Al cooperated or not, while making sure he knew, I was still welcoming them to tell me their stories, their experiences, their thoughts on one of the most intriguing owners in the NFL.

“What gives you the right to write a book about someone who doesn’t want a book written on his life?” Taylor asked me angrily.

“It’s called the first amendment,” I said.

I had sent numerous faxes and letters and even photos of my parents at the Masters -- I had used part of my book advance to fulfill their lifelong dream. After hearing nothing back and after that last conversation with Taylor, I went to Napa and set about trying to find Mr. Davis and, always the optimist, I was hoping for some time.

After practice one night, I waited for him to make what I had been told was a nightly ritual at 9 p.m. sharp, to walk down the hallway at the hotel to the restaurant for dinner. I had known him, sort of, for years and we had always been friendly because I had become friends with his son, Mark.

I was hopeful that once he saw me, he’d remember that and, perhaps, give me a few minutes of his time. I watched as he maneuvered his walker down the hallway, fans coming out of the sports bar to gawk. He was slow, he was deliberate, and people revered him.

As he got close to where I was standing I said, “Hello Mr. Davis.”

He looked up and paused.

And then he started yelling for his bodyguards.

“Move her out of here,” he yelled frantically. His bodyguards looked stunned, embarrassed by the outburst.

“Get her away from here. Get her out of here.”

I moved aside and he continued screaming on his way to the restaurant. I took my laptop to my room, but undaunted by his outburst, I went in to the restaurant and had dinner a few feet away while he glared from his private dining room. I was there the next night, too, just in case he had a change of heart.

He didn’t.

This book is the most difficult project I’ve ever undertaken. Many people were afraid of him, afraid to tell their stories. Some weren’t. Some have been incredibly bold, and his story will be told. I’m just very sad I won’t learn things from him first hand. It’s the way he wanted it, obviously.



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