Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to bury the Oakland Raiders.
Rest In Pieces.
For Raiders Haters everywhere, 1/26/03 shall be blessed: The day
the big, bad Raiders turned into a lukewarm tub of Metamucil.
'Twas the day all the helmet spikes went limp. The day the Silver
and Black came in like a checkpoint doberman and left like Joan
Rivers's poodle. Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.
In the Black Hole that was the Raiders' postgame locker room,
73-year-old owner Al Davis ambled from locker to locker in his
black silk sweat suit with silver lettering, and with enough oil
in his hair to lubricate a 1978 Chrysler New Yorker. He shook
hands and whispered to each player, as if at a wake.
Maybe it was. It had been 19 years since the Raiders were last in
a Super Bowl. And now, weaknesses laid bare, a projected $45.4
million over next season's salary cap and with more aging
veterans than the local VFW, it may be 19 more before they're
back. Just when, baby?
The Evil Emperor doesn't get around like he used to. Staffers say
Davis takes a lot more naps. Still, his mind is sharp, and he's
as charming as ever. When a sportswriter approached his dinner
table one night last spring with hand outstretched, Davis
snarled, "I'm not gonna shake ya hand. I got food comin'."
But even Davis doesn't deserve a weekend like this last one. On
Saturday morning one of his least favorite people, Marcus Allen,
was voted into the Hall of Fame. Then his Pro Bowl center, Barret
Robbins, who had missed a Friday-night team meeting, was AWOL for
When the Prodigal Son finally showed up less than an hour before
the Saturday-evening team meeting, looking disoriented and shaky,
he was not forgiven. Raiders coach Bill Callahan "dismissed" him
from the game and sent him home. Reportedly Robbins, who has been
treated for depression, then entered a San Diego hospital.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, four
teammates, all speaking on condition of anonymity, said that
Robbins spent Saturday in Tijuana.
Who among us, after achieving our lifetime dream of finally
making a Super Bowl, wouldn't disappear into Mexico 48 hours
before the game? Maybe bring back a colorful ceramic burro with a
clock embedded in its belly?
Robbins's teammates were torqued. "I ain't welcoming him back,"
said guard Frank Middleton. "I thought we had a bond on the
offensive line. I thought we lived and died for each other. And
then he goes and does that? Man, that's like spitting in our
In 1996 the 320-pound Robbins was found staggering around a
Denver hotel the night before a game against the Broncos. He was
hospitalized and was said to be suffering from a chemical
imbalance complicated by the flu.
On Sunday night Raiders guard Mo Collins was asked whether he
would have more compassion for Robbins if he knew that Robbins
was suffering from an illness. "Like what?" Collins answered.
Once the game started, things got worse for Davis's beloved
Raiders. They got schooled by Jon Gruden, the coach Davis had
sold to Tampa Bay for $8 million and four draft picks last
February. Looks like Davis got rooked. Gruden so outcoached his
replacement, Bill Callahan, that it seemed as if Gruden was
calling plays for both teams.
"We'd come to the line and we'd audible," said Oakland fullback
Jon Ritchie. "Then you'd see their linebackers all turning to
each other, going, '93 Willie! 93 Willie!' It's like they knew
what it was."
This made the evening longer than Kiwanis Poetry Night for
Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, 37. After 15 years of waiting
for his golden moment, he went out and delivered an absolute
Glitter--five interceptions. Gannon threw for five touchdowns:
three to the Bucs and two to the Raiders. Oakland would've been
better off if he hadn't thrown at all.
As Gannon was packing his bag after the game, he forlornly
reached into a blue cardboard box lunch the team had packed for
the players, flipped a packet of plain potato chips and a cookie
into the bag, and zipped it up. "Dinner," he said. Right then he
didn't particularly look like the 2002 NFL MVP.
Life seemed just as Siberian for Tim Brown, 36, who also waited
15 years to get to this game, only to catch one pass, for nine
yards. "We couldn't have beaten the worst team in the league
tonight," he groused.
Lincoln Kennedy, 31, the freezer-sized Pro Bowl tackle, was
morose. "I'm never watching films of this game," he said. "I
don't particularly want to watch us peeing down our leg."
There was one happy face nearby--in the Qualcomm Stadium jail,
where the lone prisoner, 21-year-old Richard Craig, sat grinning.
During the halftime show he had sprinted to an open area of the
field in nothing but a black Victoria's Secret bra, thong and
these words painted large on his chest: RAIDER NATION SUCKS!
Sometimes, the naked truth is ugly.
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER