You'll get no argument from me when you say Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is an NFL icon and is partly responsible for the sport being "America's New Favorite Pastime."
Davis helped make the NFL the most popular sport in America. Quite frankly, he's a living legend in all of sports. But is it time for Davis to hand over some of the control and decision-making to others?
I've been with the Raiders a very, very, very long time. I go way back kids. As a youngster growing up in the Midwest back in the day, and I mean the "real day," the Silver and Black were always the late game on CBS on Sunday afternoon. This was long before DirecTV, Fox Sports and the app on your iPhone.
I remember a much younger Davis standing on the sideline decked out in silver and black leather jackets and pull-overs. He was wearing bling before today's youngsters were born.
No. 3, Darryl Lamonica, hurling the ball down field to a streaking wide receiver. I loved the "Mad Bomber," as Lamonica was called back then. If he couldn't get it done, kicker George Blanda would come off the bench and throw the winning touchdown.
Those were the good ole days. Davis was in charge, as he is now, and the Raiders were almost unbeatable. But those days are long gone and we now have forgettable memories such as JaMarcus Russell and Lane Kiffin.
Those were Davis decisions, and as much as I hold him in the highest regard, they were extremely bad decisions. Decisions that hurt the franchise.
Look, I know Mr. Davis has hired various people over the years to help him make front office decisions. Bruce Allen was the Raiders general manager a few short years ago. Others have also held the position.
But we all know the final answers always came from Davis and Davis alone. He had the ultimate say on draft choices, front office personnel, trades and contracts. Unfortunately, some of those moves were horrible and no one has the "you know what" to stand up to Davis and tell him he's wrong.
The drafting of Russell was clearly the biggest mistake the Raider franchise has ever made. Four years after the silver and black drafted him overall number one, Russell is out of football. Sipping cough syrup in his spare time and spending his cash.
He walked away from the Raiders with a signing bonus of more than $30 million. $30 million!! And the guy isn't even playing football.
Davis has always been one of the smartest football minds in professional football, and for the life of me I can't understand how he made such a bad decision.
I mean, here's a guy who signed Kenny "The Snake" Stabler when most teams thought he was too slow and lacked the arm strength coming out of the University of Alabama. Stabler led the Raiders to a Super Bowl win.
Remember Jim Plunkett? No one wanted this guy after he bombed with the New England Patriots, and all he did was go to the Bay Area and lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins.
Great players. Marcus Allen, absent benching and a long-running feud with Davis, was one of the greatest Raiders ever. Ever. Cliff Branch, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, the list goes on and on.
At one point the Raiders had a 93 percent winning percentage on Monday Night Football, and won nearly 70 percent of their regular season games. What happened?
I'll tell you what happened. Davis continued being Davis as free agency, changing player attitudes and the league began changing around him. That's okay if you're winning, but they're not. They've become a revolving door with players such as Warren Sapp, DeAngelo Hall, Richard Seymour and Jason Campbell. So many of these guys have come and gone or soon will depart.
What about a strong number two who can look Davis in the eye and say: "We're not giving JaMarcus Russell a $30 million signing bonus!" Or perhaps, "We need a more proven coach instead of a Lane Kiffin."
Difficult questions and difficult calls. But these are calls, in hindsight, that could've saved the Raiders millions, and could've lead to the signing and drafting of more talented Super Bowl-type players.
With Davis' knowledge, experience and money, the Raiders could get back in the game if they had some fresh, new ideas from a new front office vice president working directly under the big guy. Davis, I believe, isn't above sharing a little of the power, given a new VP has the skills to transform the Raiders into a 2012 playoff contender and beyond.
Wait a minute before you rake me over the coals! How dare I question Al Davis!
Believe me, I do it with great apprehension. I admire the guy and respect who he is and what's he's accomplished in his life, but unfortunately, it's not getting the job done.
Going 8-8 with Campbell at quarterback last year was promising. But I don't see him going all the way to the Super Bowl. Playoffs maybe. Maybe.
They need some serious upgrades, and I'm just wondering whether the current front office personnel can get jiggy with it. My guess is no and the Silver and Black will be mediocre at best this year. And then we get more of the same.
I want the glory years of the Oakland Raiders to return. Dominance. Superiority. Winners, Super Bowls. Fear the Silver and Black. That's what I want and I believe it can happen, given immediate changes in the Raiders hierarchy. Davis deserves another Super Bowl or two.
But the biggest Raider of them all will have to look in the mirror and ask himself what's really important: winning or control?
I think I know enough about Al Davis to say winning has always been his priority. If he wants to truly restore the Raider legacy of "Just Win Baby!", he'll soon have to make some of the toughest decisions of his life.
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