If any team in the NFL represents the idea of “rogue,” it’s the Oakland Raiders. The team’s long-time owner Al Davis built the team that way from the day two swords and a football helmet-wearing one-eyed pirate appeared on silver and black. Davis himself was rogue, with a reputation of aggressiveness in the early days of the American Football League and with his own team following the AFL/NFL merger. Davis established himself as a man that would do what needed to be done “by any means necessary.” It worked for decades as the team built a reputation in the 1960s, 70s and 80s as a band of brutal misfits, colorful characters and castaways that did whatever it took to beat opponents. The motto “Just Win, Baby” became the personality of the team that painted the Oakland Raiders as a crew of pirates with Al Davis as the captain of the ship.
It’s hard to let go of the past, and it seems the media, football fans, and in many cases, Raider Nation have failed to accept the fact that the Raiders are no longer “that team.”
Since Al Davis’ death in 2012, new Raiders’ General Manager Reggie McKenzie has set a different tone, such as the establishing the foundation that winning franchises are built through the draft, not by signing high-priced players in free agency to long-term guaranteed contracts. McKenzie also moved to bringing in, what he described as, “football players that want to be here.” He made moves to bring in players that not only fit the system, but believed in the coaches and the game plan, changing to a “system first” mentality rather than forcing players onto the head coach and having the coach’s system change to adapt to players.
Although these moves during the first two years have largely been restricted due to salary cap issues, McKenzie still laid down the profile as to what he wanted to see in players and, indirectly, what he didn’t want to see. The outlaws, the thugs, the outlandish and brash players that signified the Raiders of the past were no longer going to be the identity of the team. None of this should be a surprise. When he took the job, McKenzie discussed what his vision was and it clearly pointed the Raiders going in a new direction. Although he never said he was going to rewrite what the Raiders do, it was clear that from his comments he was going turn away from Davis’ philosophies and fundamentally change the identity of this team.
No one believed him in 2012… and they still don’t today.
Since Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came into the national spotlight with his brash attitude, off-field NCAA violations, an alleged drinking problem and his on-field mocking of other players and the NCAA penalties levied against him, his name has come up countless times when the Raiders have been mentioned.
It makes practical sense. The Raiders need a franchise quarterback and they have the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft. However, the main story coming from the media and football blogs had little to do with the game played on the field. The Raiders and Manziel have been seen as a perfect fit, not because of some football “plan,” or on-field schemes experts have evaluated, or some other tangible connection between Manziel’s skill set and the Raiders’ system, but rather because Manziel’s personality and the historical personality of the Oakland Raiders are a perfect fit.
The media, the fans and the football world just ignored everything McKenzie has done and simply put the two together for no other reason than he is “Johnny Football” and the “Raiders are the Raiders.”
In January, McKenzie addressed Manziel and the media jumped on it. Within hours, dozens of stories linking the Raiders and Manziel were published, suggesting he was a high priority on the Raiders’ radar simply because McKenzie said “He’s a playmaker.” However, the media totally ignored the rest of the sentence that followed, where McKenzie said “Whether it’s him or one of these other guys, when you can add a playmaker, that’s what you shoot for.” At the heart of the statement, McKenzie never suggested he wanted Manziel and, in fact, really gave a neutral and completely unrevealing response that basically said any of the top prospects could be “the guy.” Even though the Raiders had been heavily linked to Fresno State University quarterback Derek Carr, who the Raiders reportedly have a “crush on,” the link between Manziel and the Raiders keeps surfacing without any real evidence, comments or actions that suggest they like Manziel over any other player.
When Manziel was at the combine, the Raiders were mentioned above other teams. During his pro day, the Raiders were mentioned above other teams. When Manziel visited the Raiders in Alameda, it was all over the news as if this was another clear indication of the Raiders’ intent. All of these “moves” are routine for any top prospect and teams with top picks in a draft. However, when it comes to the routine process that involved Manziel and the Raiders, it’s turned into something more.
This same thing surfaced when pro-bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was immediately linked to the Oakland Raiders. For one, the Raiders have a lot of money and need a lot of talent, so the pairing was obvious on that level. However, the link between the two was more about who Jackson was which seemed to catch more news coverage versus the actual need at the position. The media latched onto the predictable storyline about a speedy wide receiver with a risky off-field life, which may include ties to gangs, and the Raiders.
Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson was asked in an interview if Al Davis would have gone after Jackson, in which Woodson replied emphatically that Davis would have went after him, saying that Jackson is the type of player that Al would bring in, commenting that Jackson’s off-field associations and behavior is something Al Davis wouldn’t concern himself with too much, provided the evidence clearly showed he wasn’t directly involved in criminal behavior. Although plenty of other players from the other teams interested in Jackson were asked about having him on their team, all of the questions to those players revolved around what could Jackson bring to their team in terms of winning. Only Woodson was asked direct questions about Jackson in terms of character, and thusly, indirect questions about the Raiders’ mystique and how Jackson would fit into that mystique. The fans even jumped on board starting the hashtag #DJaxToOakland in an attempt to lure the wide receiver to the team, despite the obvious changes in atmosphere that McKenzie has instituted, virtually ignoring the reality that McKenzie would not likely bring this guy in because of his reputation.
Throughout this entire process with both Jackson and Manziel, McKenzie has said very little about his moves versus what Al Davis would have done… he just does what he said he was going to do when he took over the team two years ago. While reports came out that the Raiders did background checks, discovering Jackson has some minor ties to gangs and former teammates claiming he was cut from the Eagles because he was insubordinate and a poor teammate, the mainstream media virtually ignored this. Stories poured out about the Raiders losing an opportunity rather than a story about how this isn’t the Raiders of old and they simply didn’t want a player like DeSean Jackson.
McKenzie seems to operate in the mind-set that actions speak louder than words. He has never addressed the media’s continued insistence that they are still the Raiders of old. Even though the Raiders have not made any moves reminiscent of Al Davis, gutted the team Davis left behind, shown financial responsibility unlike Davis ever did, focused on quality players with leadership rather than “high risk,” flashy, raw-talented players, the media continues, along with football fans everywhere, to still pigeonhole the Raiders as “that team.” Why do people continue to act as if Al Davis never died and Reggie McKenzie is some figment of our imagination?