Just lose, baby
I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies. – Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II.”Al Davis was one of the best owners in professional sports in the ’70s. Now he’s just a meddling owner in his late 70s.This is good news for Broncos fans, who have Davis to thank for firing Mike Shanahan, only to have him emerge as the Mastermind in Denver and lead the Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl victories.Davis, if you remember, also parted ways with another talented young coach, Jon Gruden, only to watch as Gruden’s Bucs beat his Raiders in the Super Bowl the following year.For Shanahan, Gruden, and everyone else who despises Davis, things couldn’t be sweeter than right now. Since that Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders have gone a combined 13-39 during the past four seasons and enter Sunday’s game at Invesco Field riding a 10-game losing streak.Even the most devoted Broncos fans wouldn’t wish such a string of ineptitude on their fiercest rivals. OK, just kidding. Really, how much fun is it watching former Raiders like Howie Long and Tim Brown squirm on national TV when asked about the state of their former team? It’s not easy having to answer if the old man – once arguably the brightest mind in football – has finally lost it. The irony in all this is that, above everything else, Al Davis prizes loyalty. Like a Mafia Don, or an unpopular dictator, he cherishes those whose support has been unwavering over the years. That list includes John Madden, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell – all members of the Hall of Fame and each one of Davis’ trusted foot soldiers. Everyone else is an enemy: the NFL, Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue, Pat Bowlen, Shanahan, Gruden and, of course, Marcus Allen.And since Davis lives by Mafia law, all enemies must be dealt with. Harshly.You want loyalty, baby?Who can forget: Davis not allowing former Broncos linebacker and current ESPN analyst Tom Jackson into the Raiders facility to report a story because Davis thought Jackson might be trying to steal team secrets. Davis replacing All-Pro running back Allen with Bo Jackson in the prime of his career, and then leaving Allen in purgatory for years, until he finally escaped to the Chiefs in 1993. Davis filing an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL to move his team to Los Angeles, which he subsequently won in 1982. Davis testifying on behalf of the USFL against his fellow owners. Davis urging the NFL to place asterisks next to the Broncos’ two Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999 because it was later discovered the Broncos manipulated the salary cap during their championship runs.According to a couple of reports, Davis is such a control freak that he has run background checks on reporters. When Shanahan was coaching for him, he allowed him to hire only three of his 12 assistants, and stepped in and overruled Shanahan when he wanted to fire a number of them, including Shell.Davis’ backward tactics also did in the Raiders’ two previous coaches, Bill Callahan and Norv Turner. Both lost control of their teams because the players knew who the real boss was. Now, Davis is stuck with Shell, who was seemingly the only man in America who wanted to take the Raiders job – the NFL’s equivalent of running the Cuban Army.The question is, how long can Raiders fans be loyal to Davis, whose hubris and micromanaging methods have run their team into the ground? Members of Raider nation, for the most part, remain loyal to the Don. If you don’t believe me, just check out some Raiders fans sites. (Which also happen to be great for tracking down some of America’s Most Wanted.) Raiders fans celebrate Davis’ birthday – which happens to be July 4 – as if it’s a national holiday. They point to his pioneering moves as an owner, from helping to broker the AFL-NFL merger, to setting the precedent for other teams to pick up and leave cities for better deals.Like their leader preaches, loyalty is more important than anything – except winning, of course.It would be sacrilegious for Raiders fans to smite the face of the franchise. And anyone who does deserves to be punished. (Although I doubt any Raiders fans will be reading this from their jail cells.)Look closely, however, and you’ll see holes in the body armor of Raider Nation. You could see it in the Monday Night opener, when Davis’ team was utterly embarrassed by the Chargers and the NFL’s unruliest fans were turned into quiet kittens by halftime. You can see it in the body language of the team, from the top down. Even Raiders fans have to wonder how Davis and Shell agreed to let Randy – “I play when I want to” – Moss be named a captain. Maybe the best Raiders Nation can hope for is to go 0-16. Seriously. It would mean this season, this team, would go down in history, albeit dishonorably. They can be the NFL’s best losers, the first to fail in every contest in a 16-game season, trumping the ’76 Bucs regular season record of 0-14. As my former editor pointed out to me, going 0-16 in today’s NFL is just about as hard as going 16-0. He knows. He’s a 49ers fan.A perfect imperfect record would ensure that the Raiders would get the top draft pick in the draft next year. It also might be enough to convince Davis that it’s time to step down.Wait, what am I thinking? Al Davis give up? Give in?Never, baby. Never.Sports editor Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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