NFL Nation: Jim Plunkett

Before they were trailblazers joined at the hip at the heart of Silver and Blackdom, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett were simply quarterbacks -- guys who played the most important position in team sports, albeit in decidedly different eras.

The Oakland Raiders' icons -- Flores was the franchise's head coach for two of its three Super Bowl championships and Plunkett was under center for both of those teams -- were among 128 current and former QBs polled in our ESPN.com NFL Nation survey that delved into that age-old question: Where do quarterbacks come from?

[+] EnlargeJim Plunkett
Malcolm Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDespite early objections, Stanford let Jim Plunkett play quarterback. Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy before embarking on a successful career with the Raiders.
I spoke with both Flores, the first QB in Raiders franchise history, and Plunkett, as well as current San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, to understand their backgrounds -- not only in terms of the schemes they played in high school [Flores played the wing-T in Sanger, California, while Plunkett ran a pro-style offense at East San Jose (California) Lick], but also their family life.

"I was Mexican-American before anyone knew what a Hispanic was," Flores said with a laugh.

Plunkett, too, identifies himself as the son of "Mexican-American" parents, his father legally blind and his mother totally blind.

Both said they grew up "lower class," an anomaly for pro quarterbacks, with Flores working the Central California fields.

Speaking to them about the position was like looking at a snapshot in time. Nowadays, high school QBs spend thousands of dollars on instructional camps or personal training. Neither Flores, the oldest of two children, nor Plunkett, the youngest of three, spent a dime on personal QB training before high school, they said. Both played three sports in high school.

While being a minority during eras when most QBs were white might have been seen as a hurdle, neither let it stop them. Flores said he received four scholarship offers coming out of Sanger High, which would later name its stadium after Flores, ultimately choosing the University of the Pacific. Meanwhile, Plunkett chose Stanford over 20 other offers.

Yet upon arriving on campus, Stanford coach John Ralston wanted Plunkett to change positions.

"Defensive end," Plunkett said. "But I had a goal and asked him to let me stay and show him I could do it."

Three years later, Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1971 NFL draft by the then-Boston Patriots, two years after AFL lifer Flores played his final game.

They came together in Oakland after Plunkett washed out in New England and San Francisco and was contemplating retirement. Together they won Super Bowl XV, when Flores became the first minority coach to win a Lombardi Trophy and Plunkett the first Latino to garner Super Bowl MVP honors. They did it again in Super Bowl XVIII three years later as the Los Angeles Raiders.

Flores has four rings, one as Len Dawson's backup with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1969 and one as an assistant on John Madden's staff in 1976, along with his two as the Raiders' head coach. Plunkett has an AFC rookie of the year award and an NFL comeback player of the year nod on top of his two rings and Super Bowl MVP.

Where do quarterbacks come from? In the cases of Flores and Plunkett, hardscrabble beginnings that did not deter them from reaching their goals. Perhaps a better question might be: How have these two, with their stories and successes, not garnered more support for inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Marcus AllenAP Photo
Score: Raiders 38, Washington 9
Date: Jan. 22, 1984
Site: Tampa Stadium

We have a winner. The voters picked 17 Bob Trey O as the most memorable play in Oakland Raiders' franchise history, and I concur with the selection. Indeed, 17 Bob Trey O, or when Marcus Allen ran with the night in Super Bowl XVIII, is the play I consider most memorable in the long and winding history of the Raiders.

Sure, the Sea of Hands and the Holy Roller may have better monikers, but Allen reversing field on a busted play and breaking off a then-Super Bowl record 74-yard touchdown run on a play called 17 Bob Trey O tops the list.

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For one, it happened on the game’s biggest stage.

For another, it put a dagger into the defending champs and basically clinched the Raiders’ third Lombardi trophy as it gave them a 35-9 lead on the final play of the third quarter.

Plus, it was the signature play of Allen’s MVP performance, in which he ran for a then-Super Bowl record 191 yards, on 20 carries, with two touchdowns, plus two receptions for 18 yards.

Lastly, it got Allen a plug by the leader of the free world after the game, a seeming U.S. weapon in the Cold War.

“I have already had a call from Moscow,” President Ronald Reagan told Raiders coach Tom Flores in the congratulatory phone call to the locker room. “They think Marcus Allen is a new secret weapon and they insist we dismantle him.”

From his perspective, Allen said the run was like time travel, since everyone else seemed to slow down.

“You’re in such a zone and at the height of instinct,” Allen told ESPN Radio affiliate 95.7 The Game in a Super Bowl week interview this year. “You just really get out of your own way. Don’t question it and just get out of your own way and just go. And that’s what I did. It was just one of those games -- I had several of them -- but, obviously, to have it at that particular time was the greatest thing in the world.”

Allen took the handoff from Jim Plunkett and went too wide to the left of pulling right guard Mickey Marvin, and was met by safety Ken Coffey. Allen had to immediately spin to his left, reverse field, and accelerate through a hole on the right side of the line. Then he raced to the left pylon.

“To make a run like that, in a game like that, at a time like that, it was just, it was pure magic,” Allen told the NFL Network. “It was beautiful.”

Which is why it's also the most memorable play in Raiders history.

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Pro Football Hall of fame Jason Miller/Getty ImagesEach of the Hall of Fame voters often has his or her own criteria for who's worthy of enshrinement.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Of course Tom Flores was happy for Ray Guy. After all, Flores was the transcendent punter's head coach with Oakland and then the Los Angeles Raiders for eight of Guy’s 15 years in the NFL. And Flores long has championed his cause as a player who, despite his specialist position, changed the game.

Yet when Guy was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, more than 27 years after he boomed his final punt -- a 51-yard fourth-quarter beauty against the Indianapolis Colts at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 21, 1986 -- something else bubbled up to the surface.

Something bittersweet.

“I don’t know if it’s a wrong being made right as much as it’s long overdue,” Flores said of Guy’s election. “It’s not easy to be voted into the Hall of Fame, especially with the pulse of today’s voters who seem to want to just vote in guys who retired five years ago, rather than taking the time to see the history of the game.

“At least we got one more in.”

And there it is. With the endless controversies and snubs (real and perceived) that come about in the immediate wake of each new Hall class, the system in which those new Hall members are fitted for yellow jackets and sized for bronze busts in Canton has come under renewed fire.

Just about every team in the league thinks it has a legitimate gripe, that it has one, two or more Canton-worthy candidates who, year after year, get left by the wayside.

No, Flores was not pounding his chest for himself -- his two Super Bowl titles as a head coach, his standing as the first minority head coach to win a championship and his history as a player, assistant and general manager (OK, the GM part in Seattle didn’t work out so well as he drafted Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer, though he did select a future Hall of Famer in Cortez Kennedy) and four total Super Bowl rings should speak for themselves.

But for every Flores, there’s a Marv Levy already enshrined after coaching the Buffalo BiLLLLs (yes, one ‘L’ for every Super Bowl loss). And for every Thurman Thomas, there’s a Roger Craig, the first running back in history with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season and part of three Super Bowl titles in San Francisco. And for every Andre Reed, voted in this year, there’s a Tim Brown, whose stats trump those of his contemporary.

No, this is not a Bills versus Raiders harangue. More likely, it’s a rage against the machine, the system itself, one that lends itself to so much second-guessing and rumor-mongering and yes, a log-jamming of worthy candidates.

One that the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself embraces and wants.

“There have been over 18,000 players in the NFL,” Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s vice president of communications and exhibits, told me a few years ago. “And there are [287] players in the Hall of Fame. It’s a pretty exclusive club. For a lot of guys, it’s not a matter of if [they get enshrined], but when.”

The process begins on a grassroots level as anyone can nominate any player, so long as said player has been retired at least five years. The 46-member selection committee -- comprised of one voter from each NFL city with New York having two because it has two teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America and 13 at-large delegates -- is polled by mail ballot to reduce a list of 126 nominees to 25 modern-era semifinalists. Then, those 25 are cut to 15 finalists by another mail ballot for a face-to-face discussion by the selectors the day before the Super Bowl.

In addition, two senior committee candidates, taken from a pool of players inactive for at least 25 years and named by a nine-person committee among the already existing 46 in late summer, join the 15 finalists for a separate conversation that involves a simple yes-or-no vote. An 80 percent affirmative gains Hall inclusion.

That’s when things can get heated in the room. The 15 finalists are presented respectively by the selector from the city in which he played the bulk of his career. The news hunters and gatherers become newsmakers, or sponsors in a way.

A vote is taken and the list of 15 is reduced to 10. Then, because Hall bylaws stipulate that between four to seven new members are selected each year, with a maximum of five modern-era candidates, the 10 are cut to five. A secret ballot of the final five is taken and whoever gets 80 percent of the votes in that group joins the senior nominee(s), who also must get 80 percent of the vote.

This part of the process is called “getting in the room” and if it evokes images of dimly lit cigar smoke-filled joints with seedy you-vote-for-my-guy-and-I’ll-vote-for-your-guy deals, then so be it.

Some see this part of the progression as the most transparent and credible Hall voting process in all of sports; others see it as a joke that 46 people sit in a room for seven hours once a year to determine history. Besides, what if a presenter believed his appointed “candidate” was not as worthy as other guys on the same team? Wouldn’t human nature lead to a less-than-spirited advocacy? One writer told me he disliked the process so much he took a pass when asked to join the committee.

Those back-room deals may have been the old-school norm but, as ESPN Insider Mike Sando puts it, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my five years on the committee.”

Sando presented the case for former Seattle Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, whose career spoke for itself and he was elected in his first year of eligibility.

The Hall debate is especially subjective for pro football. Each of the 46 selectors can, and often do, have his or her own set of criteria.

“Did he dominate for a decade? That’s a good place to start,” Sando said.

Jeff Legwold, who covers the Denver Broncos for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation and is also a member of the Hall committee, agrees with his colleague.

“I’m looking for greatness, the best of the best," he said. "Now, that can be longevity, or did he have four historical seasons in a row? Was he groundbreaking? I think that’s the problem, sometimes. We all have different ideas.”

Which is why the Hall wants the selectors sequestered to make the final picks. And it’s anything but easy. As 15-year committee veteran Legwold noted, of their final 15 one year, 10 were all-decade players. And that was not counting the contributors (non-players) who were on the ballot.

Therein lays the backlog problem ... and a potential solution. While the selectors essentially have only five spots to fill, they are going to lean toward a player more than a coach or an owner. Legwold hopes a contributors division, like the senior committee, is added soon.

“This process is what the Hall wants,” Legwold said. “I’m sure that everyone that’s willing to participate takes it seriously and puts in the time to make sure we’re doing the best we can.

“What used to be the watercooler is now the world.”

So go ahead, scream about your favorite player, coach or contributor getting snubbed until you lose your voice. The way the system is set up, if the candidate is truly worthy, he’ll get in ... eventually.

Be angry at the system, in other words, not the selectors. And if you want to put someone in Canton, who are you going to take out?

“Judge it by who makes it in,” Sando said, “rather than by who might not get in in any given year. The Hall is not embarrassed by anyone who gets in.”

But shouldn’t it be a tad discomfited if the Hall is seen as an incomplete shrine because of who’s missing, and whose time is running out ... in every sense of the word?

As such, the senior committee route seems to be the best way now for former Raiders Jim Plunkett and Cliff Branch, both of whom now belong to the senior committee pool (Flores, who coached until 1994, has a few years yet to reach the 25-year threshold for senior committee eligibility). Brown, meanwhile, has fallen behind Marvin Harrison in the receiver pool, as Brown was eliminated in the cut from 15 to 10.

Even Guy, frustrated with the two-decade wait since he first became eligible for Canton, unloaded in the week before he was selected.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to get all the pioneers in there,” Guy said, “and we’re really going to see football, what it was, what it started and what it is now.”

Until then, the bittersweet waiting game continues.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Former Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown assuredly has Hall of Fame-worthy stats.

When he retired, following the 2004 season, Brown ranked second in NFL history in receiving yards (14,934), third in receptions (1,094) and tied for third in receiving touchdowns (100), figures that, nine years later, rank sixth, fifth and tied for seventh.

Plus, the nine-time Pro Bowler, who was twice selected as a kick returner, ranked fifth in league history with 19,682 combined net yards.

And still, this is the fifth time Brown has been a finalist.

A year ago, in the wake of his "sabotage" comments about former Raiders coach Bill Callahan and Super Bowl XXXVII again coming to the forefront, Brown was among the first wave of cuts when the 46 Hall selectors reduced the finalists from 17 to 12. Receiving contemporaries Cris Carter and Andre Reed made that initial cut with Carter being voted into Canton.

Now, Brown not only faces competition as a receiver from Reed again, but Marvin Harrison is also a finalist. Plus, former Raiders punter Ray Guy is also one of two senior candidates, and 15 of the past 18 such nominees have been elected.

In a certain pecking order, it would seem that Reed is ahead of Brown, based on last year's vote. And Harrison could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A look, then, at the trio's career pass-catching numbers:
  • Harrison: 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards, 128 TDs, 190 games, 13 seasons.
  • Reed: 951 receptions, 13,198 yards, 87 TDs, 234 games, 16 seasons.
  • Brown: 1,094 receptions, 14,934 yards, 100 TDs, 255 games, 17 seasons.

Then there's this: Reed, an eight-time Hall finalist who caught his first career TD pass from Vince Ferragamo on Sept. 22, 1985, played in four Super Bowls, while Harrison won a ring in 2007. Brown, meanwhile, caught just one pass, for nine yards, in the Raiders' 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Still, a case could be made that Brown's accomplishments are more noteworthy considering the motley assortment of quarterbacks he had throwing him the ball. Meanwhile, the bulk of Reed's and Harrison's careers were spent catching passes from future Hall of Famers in Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning.

Brown? From Brown's rookie season of 1988 in Los Angeles through his last year in Oakland in 2003, the Raiders had 12 starting quarterbacks -- Steve Beuerlein, Jay Schroeder, Vince Evans, Todd Marinovich, Jeff Hostetler, Billy Joe Hobert, Jeff George, Donald Hollas, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon, Rick Mirer and Marques Tuiasosopo.

In the Bay Area, many Brown supporters say he would have had Jerry Rice's career had he played in San Francisco with 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.

There are 22 receivers enshrined in Canton, and Brown’s career intersected or missed by two years with eight of them -- Carter, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent, James Lofton, Art Monk, Jerry Rice and John Stallworth. Of that group, Brown’s career receiving yardage is higher than all but Rice and only Rice and Carter had more TD catches than Brown, whose 100 equaled that of Largent in that era.

But if the Hall simply is a case study in stats, then yes, Brown deserves to rock a yellow jacket. It just seems like Brown is in for a wait, especially with Terrell Owens and Randy Moss coming down the pike soon and selectors seeming to have a relatively short memory.

Or have you forgotten that former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann was a 13-time finalist before his 14th year was the one?

Which brings us back to other -- if not just as worthy but perhaps even more deserving -- Raiders candidates than Brown, whose Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame matters not in this discussion.

Guys like, well, Guy, a punter who revolutionized the game. And Tom Flores, who was the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl and actually has four rings. And Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls and has a comeback story for the ages. And Cliff Branch, who has three rings. And Lester Hayes, a four-time Hall finalist who once had 13 interceptions in a season. And Ken Stabler, a former league MVP. And Dave Dalby, who was a starting center on three title teams. And Steve Wisniewski, a first-time semifinalist this year.

Alas, in an era in which the receiver pipeline to Canton seems clogged, Brown's proponents should seemingly push his early-career success as a kick returner as he had a combined 1,542 return yards as a rookie -- his first career touchdown was a 97-yard kickoff return -- and he finished his career with a combined 4,555 yards with four TDs returning kickoffs (one) and punts (three) while rushing for another score.

The Raiders currently recognize 21 Hall of Famers to have played for them in Marcus Allen, Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Bob Brown, Willie Brown, Dave Casper, Al Davis, Eric Dickerson, Mike Haynes, Ted Hendricks, James Lofton, Howie Long, Ronnie Lott, John Madden, Ron Mix, Jim Otto, Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Rod Woodson.
Kaepernick-WilsonGetty Images49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will square off for the third time this season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks meet Sunday for the NFC title, it will mark the 18th time since the AFL/NFL merger of 1970 that teams from the same division play in a conference championship game.

But it’s only happened four times since 2002, when the Seahawks moved from the AFC West to the NFC West as part of the league’s realignment. This year marks No. 5.

Still, when the Raiders were a mainstay of the AFC title game – they played in eight such games between 1970 and 1983 – they faced a team from their division, the AFC West, a mere one step away from the Super Bowl three times.

It’s interesting to note that all three of those meetings would have happened in the divisional round today because, from 1970 through 1989, two teams from the same division could not meet in the playoffs until the conference title game.

A look, then, at those three meetings ...

Jan. 1, 1978, Mile High Stadium

Denver Broncos 20, Oakland Raiders 17

The defending champion Raiders were the AFC’s lone wild-card team at 11-3 – in those days, only the then-three division winners and the second-place team with the best record qualified for the playoffs – and were coming in off their breathtaking “Ghost to the Post” double-overtime divisional playoff win at the Baltimore Colts, 37-31.

The top-seeded Broncos, in the heyday of their “Orange Crush” defense, had gone 12-2 with one of their losses at home to the Raiders – the teams split the regular-season series, each winning on the road – and had just handled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round, 34-21.

The Broncos, who allowed an AFC-low 148 points, never trailed the Raiders, who led the NFL in scoring with 351 points, and led by scores of 14-3 and 20-10. But the Raiders, appearing in their fifth straight AFC title game, remember it for a play that never happened. At least, from the officials’ perspective.

“(Rob) Lytle’s fumble?” the late Al Davis told NFL Films. “No one saw it, so they said.”

Leading 7-3 midway through the third quarter, the Broncos set up at the Raiders’ 2-yard line and had a first-and-goal when Lytle ran into the pile and was hit by Jack Tatum. The ball popped out, Mike McCoy scooped it up and was off to the races for the game-changing touchdown. Except ...

Lytle was ruled down, the officials explained, saying that his forward progress had been stopped before the ball came free. Replays showed otherwise and then Art McNally, the former head of NFL officials, came clean to NFL Films, albeit, a decade later.

“It was a fumble,” he said, “and we were wrong on the call.”

Too little, too late for the Raiders as Jon Keyworth punched it in for Denver one play later and the Broncos led, 14-3, en route to the victory and Super Bowl XII, where they were thumped by the Dallas Cowboys, 27-10.

It was John Madden’s final playoff game as he retired a year later and Oakland would not return to the postseason until 1980.

Jan. 11, 1981, Jack Murphy Stadium

Oakland Raiders 34, San Diego Chargers 27

Five AFC teams finished 11-5 in 1980, the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Oilers, the Chargers and the Raiders.

A second wild-card team had been added to the playoff mix two years earlier and the Raiders were the top-seeded wild card. First they beat a familiar face in Kenny Stabler and the Oilers, 27-7, in the conference’s wild-card game, then they traveled to Cleveland, where the wind chill was minus-36 degrees, and upset the Browns, 14-12, in the “Red Right 88” game when Mike Davis picked off Brian Sipe in the end zone with less than a minute to play.

The Chargers, meanwhile, were the AFC’s top seed due to a better conference record than Cleveland and Buffalo and won the West over the Raiders, with whom they split the regular-season games as each team won at home, based on better net points in division games. San Diego beat the Bills, 20-14, in its first playoff game.

Oakland began the season just 2-3 and recently acquired quarterback Dan Pastorini was lost in Game 5 with a broken leg. Enter Jim Plunkett and his Lazarus act. Under Plunkett, the Raiders had won 11 of 13 games, including the playoffs, and started hot again against the high-scoring Air Coryell Chargers as Oakland opened up a 28-7 first-half lead.

San Diego woke up with 17 unanswered points , creeping to within 28-24 in the third quarter.

“Ted Hendricks grabs me by the jersey and he starts shaking me and says, ‘Keep scoring. We can’t stop them,’” Plunkett told NFL Network.

A pair of Chris Bahr field goals gave the Raiders some breathing room before Rolf Benirschke’s field goal made it a one-score game with less than seven minutes to play.

The Raiders' offense did not heed Hendricks’ advice this time; it simply ran out the clock on a 15-play drive that included 14 runs and four first downs.

“That game in the end, when all was said and done, came down to our offensive line and Mark van Eeghen,” Matt Millen, then a rookie linebacker, told NFL Network.

The iconic image of the game, then, is of left guard Gene Upshaw’s heavily padded right arm holding the game ball aloft as he exited the field. The Raiders went on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, in Super Bowl XV as Plunkett was named the game’s MVP and Tom Flores became the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Jan. 8, 1984, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Los Angeles Raiders 30, Seattle Seahawks 14

The 1983 Raiders are considered one of the best teams of all time and yet, they lost four games that season – one at Washington, in which an injured Marcus Allen did not play, a head-scratcher at home in the penultimate week of the season to the St. Louis Cardinals and two to, yes, the Seahawks.

Indeed, all you NFL newbies, the Raiders were in L.A. from 1982 through 1994 and the Seahawks used to live in the AFC West (from 1977-2001) and they were even a little chippy and, yes, lippy back then.

“Seattle knew us so well,” Allen told NFL Network. “It’s no secret, I mean they even knew our plays. I looked across the line of scrimmage at Kenny Easley, I shook my head, I said, ‘I’m coming right there.’ I think he shook his head back and said, ‘OK.’”

The Seahawks had swept the Raiders that year by scores of 38-36 in Seattle and 34-21 in L.A. over a three-week period. The sweep got the Seahawks into the playoffs as the top wild-card team at 9-7 and they beat rookie John Elway and the Broncos, 31-7, in the wild-card game at Seattle before upsetting another ballyhooed first-year QB in the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino, 27-20, at the Orange Bowl.

The top-seeded Raiders had just thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-10, before a crowd of 92,434 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and awaited the Seahawks.

“We had lost to Seattle twice,” Howie Long told NFL Network. “We took that as we had gotten our ass kicked and it was time for redemption.”

It was an alley fight of a game and the Raiders, who led the AFC with 442 points scored, dominated Seattle, the conference’s second-highest scoring team with 403 points. L.A. jumped out to a 27-0 lead as Allen, playing with a mouse under his right eye, finished with 216 yards from scrimmage, with 154 yards rushing on 25 carries and 62 yards receiving and a TD on seven catches.

“All I remember was coming out with a black eye and seeing stars,” Allen said. “But I wasn’t going [to stay] out of the game.”

L.A.’s defense picked off five passes from Seahawks quarterbacks Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn, with two interceptions from Mike Davis, and the Raiders also had five sacks, two by rookie Greg Townsend.

The Raiders then went to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XVIII and beat defending champion Washington, 38-9, with Allen winning MVP honors on the strength of a then-record 191 rushing yards on 20 carries, including his reverse-field 74-yard touchdown run.

It is still the Raiders’ most recent Super Bowl title.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- While Tim Brown is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fifth consecutive year and is deserving of being inducted, the former Oakland Raiders receiver may not be the most, let’s say, worthy candidate of former Raiders.

Now, that’s not a slap at Brown, who certainly had a Canton-worthy career with eye-popping stats. It’s just that the manner in which the Hall’s 46-member selection committee chooses the enshrinees sets up a logjam that have many just-as-deserving candidates biding their time and waiting for the seniors committee to come their way with a life preserver.

That’s how Ray Guy, the punter who changed the game, is likely to get in this year ... as one of two senior candidates to join the 15 finalists the committee votes on to elect its class the day before the Super Bowl. It will be a class of between four and seven members.

One observer’s opinion, then, of 10 Raiders deserving of having busts in Canton, and garish gold jackets in their wardrobe ...

[+] EnlargePlunkett/Flores
AP PhotoCoach Tom Flores and QB Jim Plunkett won Super Bowl XV and XVIII together.
1) Jim Plunkett -- The ultimate Lazarus tale who won not one, but two Super Bowl titles after being given up on by not one, but two franchises. The quarterback’s career stats compare to those of Joe Namath’s and, oh yeah, Plunkett won twice as many titles as Broadway Joe. You cannot tell the story of the NFL in full without mentioning Plunkett’s tale. His fate now rests with the seniors committee.

2) Tom Flores -- The first minority coach to win a Super Bowl (I bet you thought that title went to Tony Dungy, right?), Flores won two titles as the Raiders’ head coach and, truly, it’s hard to separate him from Plunkett as they accomplished so much together. Still, Flores owns four rings total (two as head coach, a third as an assistant on John Madden’s SB XI-winning staff and the fourth as Len Dawson’s backup in SB IV).

3) Ray Guy -- A trailblazer who made opponents plan for a punter, Guy likely gets in this year as a seniors committee nominee. If so, it would be an honor long overdue and he would be the first true punter to get into Canton. Oh yeah, and he was also a first-round draft pick, was on all three Raiders Super Bowl championship teams and his athletic punt in SB XVIII was a game-saving play.

4) Cliff Branch -- Speed kills, right? A key member of all three of the Raiders’ Super Bowl title teams, the receiver’s snub remains a mystery. Especially when you compare his stats to those of Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. Branch caught 501 passes for 8,685 yards (17.3 yards per catch average) and 67 TDs in 14 seasons; Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 yards (16.3) and 51 TDs in nine seasons.

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Al GolubTim Brown is No. 5 all-time in receptions (1,094) and No. 6 in career receiving yards (14,943).
5) Tim Brown -- Spare the "what if Tim Brown switched places with Jerry Rice" arguments and simply admire Brown’s body of work. No, he never won a Super Bowl, but he did amass 1,094 receptions for 14,943 yards and 100 TDs in 17 years. He deserves a spot in Canton, no doubt. It’s just, among former Raiders, he should take a number.

6) Ken Stabler -- The Snake was the embodiment of the 1970s Raiders as an unorthodox left-handed quarterback. Winning only one Super Bowl shouldn’t be held against him, right? He’s already been a finalist for the Hall three times but his legend is getting lost in the fog of time. Someone had to throw all those passes to the already-enshrined Fred Biletnikoff and Branch in the Disco Decade.

7) Lester Hayes -- The Judge was a self-described Jedi Knight of Silver and Blackdom. Opponents simply saw him as a physical cornerback dripping with Stickum who intercepted 13 passes in 1980. He’s been a Hall finalist four times already, but not since 2004, and was second-team all-1980s by the Hall despite retiring in 1986. With two rings, he was an impact player.

8) Dave Dalby -- He replaced Jim Otto and started at center for all three of the Raiders’ title teams. Dalby, though, was unappreciated as he was selected to just one Pro Bowl, in 1977. He was the anchor of a line early in his 14-year career that had Hall of Famers on his left in guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Art Shell.

9) Steve Wisniewski -- “Wiz” was a Hall semifinalist this past year for the first time and the left guard is sure to get more love in the future as the selection committee gives the grunts on the O-line longer looks. The eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro only missed one game in his 13-year career.

10) Jack Tatum -- One of the most ferocious and intimidating hitters of any era, hence the “Assassin” nickname, the free safety also had 37 interceptions in his 10-year career. Many critics, though, think he did not show enough remorse after his paralyzing hit of New England receiver Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game.

Bo knows Al Davis Flame

November, 19, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There are certain images that pop into your head whenever the topic of Bo Jackson, the running back who played football as a "hobby" for the Los Angeles Raiders, is brought up.

[+] EnlargeBo Jackson
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsBo Jackson, who threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field in April, will partake in a Raiders pregame ceremony when he lights the Al Davis Flame.
You know about him disappearing into the Kingdome tunnel after his 91-yard gallop down the left sideline on Monday Night Football on Nov. 30, 1987.

You know about him plowing through Brian Bosworth at the goal line in the same game.

You know about his star-crossed football career coming to an end in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 13, 1991, when he dislocated his right hip on a seemingly innocuous tackle by Kevin Walker.

And while Jackson never knew Oakland as his home, Bo will know something new before this weekend's game against the Tennessee Titans -- what it's like to light the Al Davis Flame before kickoff.

Jackson, who played for the Raiders in L.A. from 1987 through 1990 and entered this season with three of the four longest runs in franchise history, will be the latest to light the torch in memory of the late Raiders owner at the invitation of Davis' son Mark, joining the likes of Marcus Allen, Jon Gruden, Art Shell, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett and John Madden.

"When I'm running, I can't hear a thing," Jackson said on last December's ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, "You Don't Know Bo."

"I can only hear wind going by the holes in my helmet. I can't hear the people cheering. It just goes silent."

He is sure, though, to hear much more Sunday at the O.co Coliseum.

Jackson, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft as the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn, chose baseball and the Kansas City Royals over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A year later, the Raiders took a flier on him with a seventh-round pick, No. 183 overall.

In the documentary, Jackson said his agent at the time asked him if he was interested in playing football again. Jackson said it depended on the team. He was told it was the Raiders.

"Hell yeah," Jackson said.

"I know that Al Davis was always fascinated with great size and great speed, tangible numbers," said former teammate Howie Long, "and Bo had that in spades."

It made for a good problem to have for then-coach Flores in Jackson's rookie year, seeing as how the Raiders already had Allen in the backfield.

"Whatever comes after baseball season is a hobby for Bo Jackson," Jackson said at the time, "just like fishing and hunting."

Jackson remains the only player in history to be selected for both the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the NFL's Pro Bowl.

In 38 career games with the Raiders, 23 starts, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry while scoring 16 rushing touchdowns and two more through the air.

And until Terrelle Pryor broke off his 93-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season, Jackson's 92-yarder against the Bengals on Nov. 5, 1989, was the franchise record for longest run.

It all ended, though, when he took the pitch from Jay Schroeder and burst up the right sideline for a 34-yard gain on the second play of the third quarter in that postseason game. After the tackle -- Jackson was so powerful he literally yanked his own leg out of its socket trying to break out of Walker's grasp -- Jackson stood up before collapsing on the grass. He said on a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 25.

"I could have easily stepped out of bounds, but I didn't," Jackson said in the documentary. "That's just the nature of the beast."

Heisman no longer bad omen for QBs

April, 19, 2012
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Sam Bradford/Cam NewtonUS PresswireSt. Louis' Sam Bradford, left, and Carolina's Cam Newton have helped change the thinking that a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback won't be successful in the NFL.
There was a time -- like pretty much the last 50 years -- when a Heisman Trophy wasn’t a very good thing for a quarterback to have on his résumé as he entered the NFL.

When Baylor’s Robert Griffin III gets taken early in next week’s NFL draft, he could be the latest piece in the trend of turning around the apparent curse on quarterbacks who won the Heisman. It has started to change only recently, but all of the sudden it’s looking like the trophy isn’t an anchor guaranteeing NFL mediocrity or obscurity for a quarterback.

Look back at 2010 winner Cam Newton. He was last year’s offensive rookie of the year for the Carolina Panthers and set all sorts of rookie passing (and rushing) records. There’s big hope in St. Louis that 2008 winner Sam Bradford can get back to the promise he showed as a rookie after struggling through a rough 2010 season. Then there’s 2007 winner Tim Tebow. He couldn’t throw spirals in Denver, but he won games. That at least created a market for Tebow to get traded to the New York Jets, where it remains to be seen if he’ll ever be able to win the starting job away from Mark Sanchez.

But there’s at least hope that Griffin, Newton, Bradford and Tebow can go on to have long and prosperous NFL careers. Before they came along, there were decades of evidence that suggested quarterbacks should just quit the game after winning the Heisman.

Remember Troy Smith, Eric Crouch, Danny Wuerffel, Charlie Ward and Gino Torretta? How about Ty Detmer, Andre Ware or Pat Sullivan?

They had little to no success in the NFL.

And remember Jason White?

I honestly did not at first. I had to go back and look up White, who won the trophy not all that long ago. He won it in 2003 while putting up some gaudy numbers at the University of Oklahoma. White didn’t even get drafted and quit football altogether after a short training-camp stint with the Tennessee Titans. He never even played in a regular-season NFL game.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireRobert Griffin III threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
Guys like White, Smith, Crouch, Wuerffel, Ward, Torretta, Detmer, Ware and Sullivan all had some things in common. In general, they were able to win the Heisman because they put up big statistics at programs where they were surrounded by elite players. They also had limitations -- usually in size, speed or arm strength -- that prevented them from being taken very seriously by NFL talent evaluators.

But those same evaluators also missed on some Heisman winners who seemed to have what the NFL wanted. Remember Matt Leinart?

He came from one of those football factories (USC), where he was surrounded by guys like Reggie Bush, but Leinart was supposed to be the one whose college success could transfer to the NFL. That’s why the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the first round. But Leinart was nothing short of a tremendous disappointment.

When he flopped, it looked like there really was something to the Heisman Curse.

Prior to Tebow, Bradford, Newton and Griffin, you’ve got to look at a list of 18 quarterbacks who won the Heisman before you find one who really made it big. You’ve got to go all the way back to Roger Staubach, who won it for Navy in 1963. He went on to have a great career for the Dallas Cowboys and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since Staubach won the Heisman, other quarterbacks have had to settle for just getting into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Sure, there have been a few Heisman winners to come out and have some success. Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls, but his career didn’t really take off until he landed with the Raiders after mediocre stints in New England and San Francisco.

Vinny Testaverde had an extremely long NFL career and the longevity led to some impressive career statistics. But Testaverde never had the kind of career so many people imagined when he was coming out of the University of Miami and taken No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.

Guys like Steve Spurrier and Doug Flutie bounced around and had some success. Then there’s Carson Palmer, who has had some bright moments, but still is trying to fully live up to the Heisman hype.

But Newton, Griffin, Tebow and Bradford finally might be able to put a stop to the near-half-decade drought of Heisman Trophy winners truly excelling in the NFL.

“Cam Newton is the best thing to ever happen to Robert Griffin III,’’ former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said as we discussed this year’s crop of quarterbacks back in February. “Just like Drew Brees is the best thing to happen to [Wisconsin draft prospect Russell Wilson]. Cam showed that a big, athletic quarterback that can run can be great in the NFL. Brees showed that a guy that’s not 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 can throw for 5,000 yards in an NFL season. We all know the NFL is a copycat league. Cam’s success and Drew’s success helps the draft stock of guys like Robert and Russell.’’

Ironically, Weinke’s name is another one on that Heisman list. His story might be the most unique of all the Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Weinke enrolled at Florida State after giving up a minor-league baseball career. He won the Heisman in 2000 and seemed to have the talent of a classic drop-back passer, but the fact he would turn 29 in his rookie training camp, pushed him into the fourth round of the 2001 draft. The Carolina Panthers took him and he started under coach George Seifert as a rookie, but never could quite won over John Fox, who took over the next year.

Weinke spent the next five seasons as a backup in Carolina and finished his career in 2007 with San Francisco.

These days, Weinke has carved a niche as a quarterback guru. He is the director of football operations at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He has worked extensively with Newton and some other quarterback prospects over the past few years.

Weinke says he’s seen the game change just since his playing days ended. Like just about everyone else, he says the NFL has become more driven by quarterbacks. He says natural talent is a prerequisite for NFL success and he points to guys like Newton and Griffin, saying they could be a new prototype. And he goes back to his point about the NFL being a copycat league.

“People are always looking for what works,’’ Weinke said. “Cam obviously had a fantastic rookie season. So people look at Robert and say he can do the same thing because the skill sets are similar.’’

For Griffin, Newton and Bradford -- and perhaps even Tebow in his own way -- maybe the skill sets are so good that it no longer matters if a quarterback is lugging around a Heisman Trophy.

Al Davis' greatest hits

October, 8, 2011
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Let’s look at some of the biggest moves Al Davis -- who died at the age of 82 Saturday -- made since he joined the Raiders in 1963. We’ll go in chronological order:

Hiring John Madden: This set the program in motion. Davis and Madden were a great team. Both men had an eye for talent, an ability to handle renegade players, and a thirst for winning. The Raiders were an elite team in the 1970s and their Super Bowl XI victory over Minnesota in Jan. 1977 is probably the greatest moment in team history.

Acquiring Jim Plunkett: The quarterback was one of the poster boys for Davis’ factory of recycled talent. Plunkett enjoyed career resurgence in Oakland and his presence helped pave the wait for the Raiders’ second and third Super Bowl titles.

Drafting Marcus Allen: Davis selected the running back with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1982 draft. He quickly became a catalyst for the team and he was a key to the Raiders’ third Super Bowl title. He became a face of the franchise. It’s stunning that Minnesota took Stanford running back Darrin Nelson three picks ahead of Allen.

Moving back to Oakland: After a 13-year field trip to Los Angeles, the Raiders moved back to their Northern California home in 1995. This is where the Raiders belong and it was the right move by Davis to bring them back.

Hiring Jon Gruden: Davis hired the young offensive guru in 1998 and Gruden breathed life to the Raiders’ organization. They later added quarterback Rich Gannon and the three men helped lead the Raiders to prominence again. It all culminated in Davis’ final Super Bowl appearance in Jan. 2003, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Raiders. The team he traded Gruden to the Bucs in 2002. As much life Gruden’s hiring brought Oakland, his trade brought despair to the team for much of the last decade.

Hiring Hue Jackson: Davis’ last coaching hire (he had 11 coaches since 1978 when Madden retired) has the look of a good one. Times have been tough in Oakland for the past nine years, but Jackson is a talented, energized coach who is proud to be connected to Davis. Watch for Jackson to dedicate his time in Oakland to restoring the glory of Davis’ era. If Jackson is successful, it will be a tremendous final act by Davis.

I’m sure you have memories. Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

History doesn't favor Cam Newton

September, 2, 2011
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Now that we’re getting down to some real football, I’m happy that I can start interacting more with my friends at ESPN Stats & Information.

They supply some wonderful stuff, much of which you can’t get anywhere else, and we’ll lean heavily on them during the regular season. Heck, we’ll start it a little before the regular season.

Now that we know for certain Cam Newton will be the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers on opening day, it’s time to look at some history.

Here’s a look at quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall (since 1966) who started a season opener and how they fared in that game.
None of the above finished the season with a winning record as a starter. In other not-so-encouraging news in this department, all rookie quarterbacks starting an opener since 1970 are a combined 10-16. But, hey, there’s one bit of good news for Carolina fans. One of those 10 wins came by Carolina with Chris Weinke in 2001.
NAPA, Calif. -- In his first year as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Hue Jackson wants his players to understand the history of the franchise and the importance of restoring the winning tradition.

So Jackson turned on the film. And he pressed the way-back machine.

Jackson had a film produced that featured interviews with several of the team’s all-time great players like Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett and Jim Otto. Several other former Raider greats were featured including current coaches Steve Wisniewski, Rod Woodson and Greg Biekert.

Players spoke of what it meant to them to be a Raider. There were also plenty of highlights. To provide extra motivation, Jackson showed the team some highlights from the current players which he deemed were up to the standard of the Raiders of the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We’re chasing greatness,” Jackson said. “Not everyone is a Raider. I wanted them to see what it is and what it means to be a Raider. This is a special organization. There is history here and I want these guys to live up to being a Raider.”

Defensive lineman Richard Seymour said the message came through loud-and-clear.

“You could feel it,” Seymour said. “Just watching the film, showed the guys all the tradition of the this team. For me to see guys like Howe Long and Lyle Alzado, it was really inspiring.”

Jackson said it was especially powerful when film of Woodson, Wisniewski and Biekert were shown.

“Guys could look around and see those people in the room,” Jackson said. “Being a Raider is an opportunity. It’s a family.”
Ben RoehtlisbergerESPN.com IllustrationBen Roethlisberger can bolster his HOF credentials with a third Super Bowl victory.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When it comes to the Hall of Fame, three or more championships is the magic number for NFL quarterbacks.

It paved the road to Canton for Dallas Cowboys great Troy Aikman, whose three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s marked one of the NFL's most recent dynasties.

Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw became legends with four titles. In today's group, quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is a lock for the Hall of Fame after winning three championships.

Could three rings do the same for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?

Just seven seasons in, it's officially time to open the Hall of Fame discussion for Pittsburgh's franchise quarterback. At 28, Roethlisberger has a chance to go 3-0 in Super Bowls on Sunday when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium.

With the exception of Brady, who is still playing, every starting quarterback who's won at least three Super Bowls has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Although not as conventional a player as Brady, Roethlisberger has a chance to put his name in that elite category Sunday.

ESPN.com's AFC North blog surveyed Hall of Fame voters during Super Bowl week to get a feel for Roethlisberger's candidacy and where it would stand if he leads Pittsburgh to a third championship.

"If you ask me if Roethlisberger deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, I would say without a doubt," said veteran NFL writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. "To me, Ben doesn't have to win a third ring. But if Ben wins [Sunday], that's all that matters for a quarterback. I can't imagine there would be any hesitation."

Opinions varied from those who will eventually make the final decision.

"There's too much of a rush to judgment, not only with the Hall of Fame but with the whole world where everything that's the latest becomes the greatest," explained longtime Hall of Fame voter Ira Miller. "But the first question I always ask is, 'Can you write the history of the game without this player?' Then the second thing is, let's put him in perspective among the quarterbacks of his era.

"Is Ben the best quarterback of his era? No. Is he the second best? No. Is he the third? Maybe. He's had a nice career so far. Maybe he will win two more Super Bowls, but we don't know that."

There's no question Roethlisberger will present an interesting case for the Hall of Fame committee when he becomes eligible five years after he retires. He's a quarterback who's put up less-than-gaudy numbers in the high-flying age of fantasy football.

Roethlisberger has never led the NFL in passing yards or touchdowns. He admits he probably will never win an MVP award. But Roethlisberger also has never had a losing season and has been to four AFC title games and three Super Bowls.

Roethlisberger's playoff record is 10-2, which is a higher winning percentage than both Brady (14-5) and Peyton Manning (9-10), who are considered Hall of Fame locks from today's group of quarterbacks.

In fact, the trio's dominance has been astounding. In the past eight Super Bowls, the AFC has been represented by either Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger. No one else has had a chance to even compete in the big game. In contrast, the NFC has been represented by eight teams and eight different quarterbacks over the same span (Brad Johnson, Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Rex Grossman, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees).

"It drives [Steelers] Coach [Mike] Tomlin crazy, because he wants me to put myself in that category," Roethlisberger said of joining Brady and Peyton Manning. "But, I don't know, I guess I like being the hunter, not the hunted."

The biggest case against Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame candidacy appears to be longevity. Seven seasons present an unfinished résumé.

"When I'm looking at Hall of Fame guys, I'm looking at whether he's one of the best at his position over an extended period of time and does he have longevity," said former receiver James Lofton, who played 16 seasons and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2003. "It's obviously a great start, but Ben has a lot of football left to play. I think he could play a minimum of 12 years."

Although there are exceptions -- such as Gale Sayers, Dwight Stephenson and Doak Walker -- most enshrinees have had long careers that spanned at least a decade. But Roethlisberger is winning big right away, which has prompted this early discussion.

"If Roethlisberger gets his third ring, he's on pace, just like in the case of Troy Aikman," Hall of Fame voter and ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said. "He's obviously a difference-maker. At the same time, he's not there yet. He's still 28 and longevity is very important."

Roethlisberger's recent off-the-field issues bring up another interesting debate. He has been accused of sexual assault twice in the past two years, and although never convicted of a crime, Roethlisberger was suspended four games this season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Several voters brought up the case of former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who has repeatedly run into legal issues but was a first-ballot Hall of Famer as one of the greatest linebackers of all time.

"Remember, our bylaws say only what happens on the field counts," McClain said.

But voters on the committee are human, after all, and it may weigh in the back of some people's minds.

"The Roethlisberger situation is a bit tricky," said Hall of Fame voter Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Yes, he could have three rings, but he wasn't great in Super Bowl XL. (Roethlisberger was 9-for-21 for 123 yards and threw two picks.) And even though the off-field stuff is not supposed to enter into the conversation, it definitely is going to be the white elephant in the room."

Roethlisberger chose to wear jersey No. 7 because one of his favorite players growing up was Denver Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. It's fitting because Elway, in many ways, was Roethlisberger before Roethlisberger.

Elway never had the prettiest or most conventional style of quarterbacking. In terms of numbers, his career passer rating was a modest 79.9. But Elway was one of the most clutch players ever and managed to win two Super Bowls and five AFC title games.

Although his book is unfinished, Roethlisberger is building a similar case for the Hall of Fame and can add another storied chapter Sunday against Green Bay.

"I think Ben Roethlisberger is well on his way to having a Hall of Fame career. If he plays a leading role in winning this Super Bowl, he's that much closer," said Hall of Fame voter and ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando. "But I think the legacy is still pending and there's a reason we wait. There's a reason we don’t vote players in right after they retire, let alone while they're still playing. I think this will be best judged when he's finished playing and we've had five years to figure it out.

"So far, though, so good."

Jason CampbellWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJason Campbell was sacked four times as the offensive line failed to protect their new quarterback.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a familiar scene for the Oakland Raiders, and that's a problem.

In one end of a sullen locker room sat the Raiders’ quarterback and his receivers. They didn’t say much. They were beleaguered after a completely ineffective performance in a 38-13 thrashing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, who were by far, the superior, most prepared and most efficient team on the field Sunday.

Jason Campbell may be in and JaMarcus Russell may be out at quarterback, but the ineffectiveness that saddled and defined the Raiders last season still hovers over the team like an unforgiving and unrelenting stench.

“When I woke up this morning I didn’t think this is how the day would go,” Raiders tight end Zach Miller said.

The Raiders thought they had moved beyond this type of performance.

They thought they had turned the corner from being one of worst organizations in the league and had become a legitimate playoff contender. That is one of the reasons why the Raiders pranced around in T-shirts predicting they’d win the AFC West this year.

However, as they fly across the country Sunday night, the Raiders must realize that true NFL turnarounds occur on the playing field, not in the draft room or on the training-camp practice field.

It was only one game, but the 2010 Oakland Raiders look like more like the 2003-09 Raiders, who lost 11 or more games for a record seven straight seasons, than the team Oakland thought it already had become.

After Week 1 of the NFL season, we cannot talk about the addition of a new, effective quarterback or a shiny new draft class that changed the defense. All we can talk about is that the Raiders are now 29-84 since advancing to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. For now, the misery in Oakland continues.

The complete beating shocked the Raiders and their coaching staff.

Oakland was convinced this season would be different, and maybe it still will be. But there is now a serious dose of doubt that was not present during the offseason.

[+] EnlargeRaiders
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe defense couldn't stop the Titans as Tennessee put up 24 straight points in the first half.
The Raiders hired the respected Hue Jackson as their offensive coordinator. They traded for Campbell and cut Russell. They had a solid, smart draft. They performed, for the most part, solidly in the preseason.

All systems were go. Until kickoff. Then, the Raiders reverted back to being the same old Raiders.

Oakland’s Yamon Figurs fumbled the opening kickoff and the Raiders barely recovered the ball. But it was a sign of things to come. Oakland was sloppy and was outplayed on both sides of f the ball.

The Raiders never truly seemed to be in the game even though they took a 3-0 lead after a Vince Young turnover in Titans’ territory.

Oakland, who compiled some garbage-time yardage after trailing 31-6 after three quarters, had 136 yards of offense in the first half. Tennessee sacked Campbell four times in the first half and batted down three of his passes. He never had time to set up the deep pass and many of his 22 completions came on check-downs. Their longest pass play was for 27 yards and no other went for more than 16 yards.

They were 0-for-7 on third-down conversions in the first half. Starting receivers Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey combined for five catches for 39 yards. Heyward-Bey, the 2009 first-round pick whom Oakland has high expectations for this season, had one catch for 11 yards.

Campbell finished 22 of 37 for 180 yards. He looked hesitant and didn’t appear to completely trust his line, which was anchored by rookie center Jared Veldheer, a converted tackle. Campbell fumbled twice, losing one deep in Oakland territory. His one interception was nearly brought back for a touchdown.

Campbell wasn’t Russell. But he wasn’t Jim Plunkett circa 1980, either. Oakland owner Al Davis compared Campbell’s arrival to Plunkett’s arrival -- which sparked a title in the 1980 season. Jackson is supposed to revive an offense that scored only 17 touchdowns last season. Yet, the Raiders, who were penalized 10 times for 77 yards, didn’t score their lone touchdown Sunday until 9:58 remained in a blowout.

“We’re not proud of how we played today,” Campbell said. “I thought they were more detailed today than we were … it’s deflating.”

Defensively, the Raiders gave up too many big plays. While Oakland did a decent job of stopping rushing king Chris Johnson at times, he ended up with 142 yards in 27 carries. He had a 76-yard touchdown run and the Titans also had a 56-yard passing play for a score.

To his credit, Oakland coach Tom Cable -- who will once again be the subject of hot-seat talk if this type of play continues -- was clearly perturbed. Cable has earned a reputation for being an eternal optimist in his tenure as Oakland’s coach. Cable, who is now 9-20 as the Raiders’ head coach, didn’t paint a rosy picture Sunday.

“I’m very disappointed in this one game,” Cable said. “We were very hesitant in all three phases early in the game, and never seemed to get out of it.”

Again, it’s only one game, but it’s painfully obvious to Oakland that it is not out of the abyss yet.
What's the best attribute Jason Campbell brings to Oakland?

Very simple: He’s not JaMarcus Russell.

Campbell, after a fairly undistinguished career in Washington, has legions of believers in Oakland. The Raiders believe Campbell can lead them to places Russell couldn't. Russell’s three-year tenure in Oakland was soiled by his reputation for being unprepared and apathetic. Meanwhile, Campbell has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his professionalism and his makeup.

[+] EnlargeCampbell/Russell
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Raiders are confident Jason Campbell (8) can do what JaMarcus Russell (2) couldn't.
Again, no one in Oakland seems to care that Campbell has never shown Pro Bowl ability. He has shown them he wants to be their leader and he wants to be the man behind a revival in Oakland. That goes a long way.

Even early in training camp, the book on Campbell by his teammates was that he was a dedicated worker. Again, it was a clear dichotomy from Russell, who was cut in May three years after he was the No.1 overall draft pick. Russell was 7-18 as Oakland’s quarterback and he was benched last year.

“He’s dependable,” said Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens of Campbell, in a loud-and-clear shot at Russell. “It’s really great to have a hard-working guy here every day. He has taken over this offense.”

The excitement over Russell starts at the top. Oakland owner Al Davis compared Campbell to Jim Plunkett, who after a so-so start to his NFL career elsewhere became the Raiders' starting quarterback in 1980. He eventually led the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles.

Davis' comparison might be pie-in-the-sky, but the point is Campbell has brought stability to the quarterback position in Oakland, which hasn’t been the case since Rich Gannon left after the 2004 season.

Oakland starts the Campbell era in Tennessee on Sunday. Oakland coach Tom Cable says this team has playoff potential. The team wears T-shirts that proclaim the Raiders as AFC West champions. That’s bold talk for a team that has lost 11 or more games for seven straight seasons, which is an NFL record.

Last season, Cable made it clear that he thought Oakland would have made a playoff run if it weren’t for Russell’s terrible play. Campbell is the missing ingredient -- at least, that’s how the Raiders feel. The Raiders will enter Tennessee knowing that their quarterback likely won’t make the mistakes to take them out of games.

The Raiders aren’t the only believers in Campbell.

Special ESPN.com contributing writer Roy S. Johnson believes Campbell’s addition in Oakland is perhaps the most intriguing storyline in the NFL. That might be a stretch considering Campbell led Washington to four wins last year and he was jettisoned by the new regime there. Still, in Oakland, Campbell’s addition is, indeed, big.

Campbell has the type of arm that can excel in Davis’ vertical passing game. Campbell was Washington's starter the past three seasons. He threw for a career-high 3,618 yards with 20 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions last season. Again, those are not Pro Bowl numbers, but Oakland will take Campbell and his average stats.

“He’s a pro, he’s been there,” Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “He’s a guy who can help us win.”

Oakland’s genuine welcome should provide a spark to Campbell’s career. He wasn’t wanted by new Washington coach Mike Shanahan, who opted for an aging Donovan McNabb to run his offense instead of Campbell.

Campbell, 28, didn’t have much stability in Washington or at college at Auburn. He’s had eight different offensive coordinators in the past eight seasons.

He’s fine making it a ninth season directed by a different coordinator, this time Oakland's Hue Jackson. “One day I can be an (offensive coordinator) and draw from nine different playbooks,’’ Campbell quipped early in camp. He can now joke about his flux because he knows this might be the beginning of stability in his career.

“This is a good change for me,” Campbell said."I look forward to playing in the Raider Nation and bringing a winner back to Oakland.”

The feeling is mutual. After the Russell failure, the Raiders fully believe Campbell is the man to bring life back to Oakland football.

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