|ESPN.com: Wojciechowski||[Print without images]|
|Players like Lester Hayers were encouraged by Al Davis to do whatever it took.|
"You know, these are really good chicken tenders."
"Thank god Art Shell isn't alive to see this."
Something has happened to Davis' once-feared, once-respected Raiders organization. It not only has lost its way but has lost its soul, its identity. Anybody who knows football knows that's even worse than losing games.
The lasting Raiders images are now of a 77-year-old man sitting stoically behind a pane of luxury suite glass as his franchise, the one he built from table scraps five decades ago, evaporates into irrelevancy. Davis' team is so unfathomably unwatchable you almost wish the NFL would consider giving it a bye week every week.
Did you see Monday night's loss against the Seattle Seahawks? The Raiders were so dreadful that ESPN actually considered changing its MNF slogan to, "Is it Tuesday yet?" That's how badly you wanted it to end.
Hey, it wasn't ESPN's fault the Raiders' offensive linemen were never introduced to a blocking sled. Quarterback Andrew Walter got sacked so many times (nine) that he wanted to call fair catches on shotgun snaps. He spent more time on the turf than the yard markers did.
Meanwhile, poor Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann did everything but sing show tunes. As the Raiders' ineptness reached new lows, the fellas in the booth took turns welcoming Christian Slater, Brian Bosworth and Michael Wilbon to the broadcast. Had the game lasted much longer, you might have seen Martha Stewart up there teaching the boys how to make a delightful dinner-table centerpiece out of used ankle tape.
Without question, the 2-6 Raiders are the worst team in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals have a worse record, but they also have an excuse: They're the Cardinals. They're supposed to be in last place.
Not the Raiders. You can't double-click an icon on their team Web site without being subjected to another self-congratulatory reminder about their past. They love telling everybody they have the best winning percentage in pro football since 1963.
That's great. But since losing to Tampa Bay (led by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden) in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have won just 15 of their past 56 games. That's a .268 winning percentage.
I'm only half joking when I say Ohio State, USC or Texas could challenge the Raiders for at least a half. And after watching them stumble around in the rain against the Seahawks, I'm not positive the "Friday Night Lights" high school team couldn't cause some matchup problems.
The Raiders are last in the NFL in total yards per game, scoring, passing yards per game and passing touchdowns, and are next to last in rushing touchdowns and the all-important turnover ratio. They've scored an offensive TD in only three of their eight games. So dull is the Raiders' offense that management is considering a daring new promotion: Score a TD, get a Raiderette.
|From 1960 to 2002, the Raiders were 406-261-11, with four AFL/Super Bowl titles and 17 division titles. Since? It hasn't been pretty.|
The good news -- for us and them -- is that the Raiders don't make another Monday Night appearance this season. The FCC won't allow children to be subjected to one more moment of that Raiders offense, which has now failed to score in its past 167 minutes, 3 seconds of MNF airtime.
Not only do the Raiders lose, but they lose poorly. Just ask Oakland defensive end Tyler Brayton, who resorted to kneeing Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens in the manhood area. Brayton got tossed, but at least admitted afterward that he screwed up. Of course, he has to stand in line these days.
The sad, simple truth is that the Raiders aren't the Raiders anymore. The team logo ought to have the pirate wearing black patches over both eyes -- that way he doesn't have to see what's become of the franchise.
The O-line can't block. Walter can't complete a pass. Randy Moss slouches on the bench and pouts. Davis watches from above in tired disbelief.
If nothing else, Davis' organization could always be counted on to pursue excellence. His franchise's heartbeat got its strength from being anti-establishment, from taking has-beens and squeezing one last football miracle out of them, and from drafting speed and characters. Always speed and characters.
Davis was never afraid to take chances. Just like his offenses of the past, he'd rather die vertically than live horizontally. Attack. Attack. Attack.
But it now seems that Davis has lost whatever touch he once had. For the first time in the history of the 47-year-old franchise, the Raiders are about to record their fourth consecutive losing season. And Davis seems incapable of stopping the free fall.
One other record is in danger of being broken: Nobody ever has felt sorry for Al Davis.
But we're getting dangerously close.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.