How the Raiders’ obsession with success led to prolonged failure


– Al Davis subscribed to a simple mantra, “Just win, baby.” But during the mid-90s,
the Oakland Raiders were doing a little less of that than what the man in charge was used to. Looking for a fix, Davis
brought in Jon Gruden to lead his team. Patience through two 8-8
seasons was rewarded in 2000 when the Raiders won their
first division title since 1990. Their 12-and-four campaign
came to a halt though against the eventual champion Ravens, in part due to a Tony Siragusa belly flop that knocked Gannon out
in the second quarter. A season later, the story was the same, this time, falling in even
more heartbreaking fashion to the Patriots and Tom
Brady’s infamous tuck. Having come so close, the Raiders knew they were nearly there. Rich Gannon had turned into
an all-pro quarterback, which had helped Tim Brown
continue his dominance to the tune of nine
consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. In addition to dual-threat
running back Charlie Garner, the Raiders’ offensive explosion
was aided by Jerry Rice deciding to don the silver and black. With defenses focusing on so many weapons, Jerry Porter became a key piece
as the team’s deep threat. Much of the credit for
piecing it all together goes to Bill Callahan,
Oakland’s offensive coordinator who followed Gruden to the bay. But after the loss to the Pats, Callahan stepped into
an even bigger position. Seemingly out of nowhere with Gruden’s contract up in the air, Davis traded his head coach to Tampa Bay in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-rounders, and $8 million. Callahan took the reins, looking to finish what Gruden started. And in 2002, the Raiders
looked even better. Their defense with nine new starters caught up to the offense. A linebacking core led by
newcomer Bill Romanowski helped set the tone. Like their fans in the Black Hole, they were built to
intimidate opposing offenses, which was made easier by
defensive tackle Rod Coleman bearing down on quarterbacks. Rising star Charles Woodson
was locked in at corner, while another veteran newcomer Rod Woodson made the secondary a turnover machine. Gannon put together an MVP season. Rice and Brown never lost a step. Garner did what no one else in
the league that year could do with 900-yards rushing and receiving. And after a third straight division title, the Raiders glided past
the Jets and Titans for a chance to win the
franchise’s fourth Super Bowl. And in order to do that, all that sat in their
way was a familiar face. How hard could it be? (ominous music) Super Bowl XXXVII was over before it began. The Buccaneers dominated the championship, making it 34-to-three in the third quarter before the Raiders flirted with a comeback that ultimately fell short. After a year spent recovering
from the tuck game, this result hurt even
more for many reasons, the obvious being their failure to show up on the biggest stage. But how they failed made
it even more painful and showed some of the cracks this team would need to overcome. First off, on offense, the Raiders had never changed
the language they used. Gruden had spent the
week preparing Tampa Bay for his former quarterback, even playing the role of Gannon
on the practice team himself and barking out the plays
as he knew them in Oakland. That meant anytime Gannon
looked to check out of a play, Warren Sapp or John Lynch
called out what was coming, which resulted in five picks
for the Bucks’ defense. While that’s frustrating enough, there was a belief among
some of the offense that their own coach had
sabotaged their chances. After working on one
game plan for the week leading up to the game, which would’ve made use of
their size advantage on the line and aimed to run the
ball down Tampa’s throat, on Friday night, Callahan
had a change of heart. He presented them with
new orders, air it out. This change was either the
result of or it resulted in the departure of a key Raiders piece, starting center Barret Robbins. At the time, where he was or
why he left was a mystery, but it was eventually
revealed to be the result of his mental health struggles, resulting in a stay at
the Betty Ford Clinic. Without him, the Raiders finished
with just 19 yards rushing in part due to the early hole
they could never climb out of. The lackluster performance
left some of Oakland stars asking why someone would
completely change the plans on such short notice. While it seems absurd that
Callahan would actually sabotage his own team or his
own chances at a Super Bowl, it isn’t farfetched to
believe that he would rather have been on the other team. See, when Gruden was traded to the Bucs, it was also with the agreement
that he couldn’t bring any of the Raiders’
coaching staff with him. While Callahan had found
success in Oakland, the reason he was there was Gruden who had given him his first
offensive coordinator job after working together in Philadelphia. Some of the players on the Raiders had the sense that Callahan
didn’t want to be in Oakland even when Gruden had been there. But coming off an 11-win season, Davis’ catchphrase rang even truer. Not a whole lot changed for
this team that off-season and they looked to remain in position to challenge for another division title. Before any football
could be played though, the Raiders were making headlines, some in very Raider-esque fashion. During training camp,
Bill Romanowski took issue with second-year pro Marcus Williams who was blocking the 16-year vet on your average practice rep. As the play came to an end, Romo ripped off the tight end’s helmet, then punched Williams in the face, leaving him with, among other
things, a broken eye socket. Romanowski apologized,
but it would essentially end Williams’ career and open up a lawsuit during the season. As a positive spin, it
was at least a distraction from the Raiders’ pre-season performance. Their sloppy play led to
skepticism that this was a team capable of what they’d
pulled off a year ago. And after a 2-2 regular season start, those concerns were justified. The Raiders went into
a complete free fall. Romanowski was put on IR after
continued concussion issues and Gannon joined him not long
after with a shoulder injury. Garner was limited to just nine starts thanks to injuries plus a
suspension from Callahan in the final week of the season. The offense that had fired
on all cylinders a year ago was reduced to a shadow of itself. Brown and Rice combined for
just four touchdown receptions and the defense let
opponents score at will. Raiders defensive tackle
Rod Coleman put it simply, “You go from sugar to shit in one season. “That’s horrible. “You can’t blame it all on the players.” A year after reaching the Super Bowl, Oakland managed just four wins, doing so with a roster
that seemed to finally be showing its age. Given how big of a shock
their collapse was, the moves to right the ship
weren’t major surprises. Despite all he’d done for the offense, Callahan was let go by Davis, a move that likely made both
coach and locker room happy. Davis went outside the organization to replace him with Norv Turner who made a major change of his own. Out went the West Coast offense, in came a power run focus
with a vertical passing attack that had served Turner pretty well. The trouble was, Oakland
didn’t quite have the pieces to make this work. Garner had left in free agency, signing a massive deal to
reunite with Gruden in Tampa. And as for the offensive line, the unit that had given
up 43 sacks a season ago was being reconstructed,
primarily through the draft. The good news there was
Oakland’s four wins in 2003 were tied for fewest in the league, so they earned the second overall pick. But even having 10 picks
for the second year in a row couldn’t fill the holes in the roster. Coleman, their sack leader
over the last two years, left for Atlanta in free agency. Romanowski officially retired that summer. And during training camp, the team finally said
goodbye to Tim Brown. Aside from Al Davis, Brown had
been the face of the Raiders, seemingly since he was drafted in 1988. Even when the rest of
the offense sputtered, he’s shown as one of the League’s best. Along with Brown went Rod Woodson. While his time in Oakland was short, he helped take the 2002
squad to another level as he tied for the league
lead in interceptions. As they lost a handful of
veterans, one of the younger guys who had cemented himself as a top corner missed training camp
with a contract dispute. Charles Woodson didn’t wanna
play on the franchise tag. The club didn’t wanna pay
him what he wanted long term, but they had no trouble shelling
out elsewhere on defense. Like other aging players before him, Warren Sapp joined the
Raiders for a hefty fee. It was symbolic of Oakland’s struggles. Whether blinded by recent
post-season success or Al Davis being Al Davis, players past their prime were favored to the talent that could
provide a future rebound. Although Woodson would eventually
sign and play on the tag, nothing was saving the Raiders’ defense. They spiraled even further, ranking near the bottom
in all major categories. It was a similar story on offense
where they were once again forced to go without
their star quarterback. Gannon injured his neck in
the third game of the season. It sent him immediately to injured reserve and led to his retirement
the following year. In place of the 38-year-old came the comparatively
youthful Kerry Collins who many had thought would
threaten Gannon’s starting spot before the season. In his 13 starts that year, Collins proved why that
hadn’t been the case. It was once again a long year. One star who was spared was Jerry Rice. The receiver was flipped to the Seahawks after a lackluster six games. While most of his career had been spent in a different part of the bay, he formed a terrifying duo with Tim Brown and deserved a fair share of credit for those postseason runs. With little threat of an air attack, the ground game which was
especially key in Turner’s offense never got on track. As a team, the Raiders had more turnovers than offensive touchdowns in 2004. But a silver and black lining
was they actually improved on their win total from a
year ago, just by a win, baby. Now, here’s the thing. Oakland essentially completed
their collapse in record time. That Super Bowl team was more or less gone just two years later. But a big part of Oakland’s collapse is the fact that once they were down, it felt like nothing they
did could get them back up. While they only had nine wins
over the previous two seasons, they’d done so with a
roster decimated by injury. The bigger problem was
that it was a roster also decimated by bad decisions. They had accumulated loads of draft picks, but rarely were taking players
worth a second contract. From top to bottom, depth was an issue. For receiver, once Rice was traded away, Porter became the de facto number one. Sure, he had a career year,
but it was hard for Davis to go from two of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game to, well, you know. Sorry, Jerry. As a result, Al Davis made
an extremely Al Davis move. He went and got himself Randy Moss. The Vikings’ star
receiver became available after he displeased
Minnesota’s organization. Moss pretended to moon the crowd. He exited a game with two seconds left. He even shouted at some
Vikings corporate sponsors. So some pretty bad stuff. But the Raiders, as had
always been the case, took their chances if
the talent was there. They sent Napoleon Harris
plus a first-round pick in exchange for Moss. It was a move viewed as
extremely on-brand for Oakland, gambling on a mercurial
receiver with a high price tag who was coming off his
worst season as a pro. At his introduction, though, it seemed like Moss was
happy to have a fresh start. He said he was in love,
heaping praise on Al Davis and the entire Raiders organization, even putting his own spin
on the owner’s catchphrase. In addition to the receiver, Oakland upgraded their running game by bringing in LaMont Jordan. They were moves that showed a
commitment to Turner’s scheme and even led to some optimism for what this team was capable of. Once the season began, Moss got
back to his 1,000-yard form. Jordan did the same on the ground. But with up and down play at quarterback, a team that led the League in penalties for the third straight year and a six-game losing
streak to finish the season, the Raiders were stuck in reverse. After just two years, Davis called an end to the Norv Turner experiment. They also cut ties to
their veteran quarterback in a move partially for the
sake of freeing up cap space. One area that extra cash wouldn’t be used was for Charles Woodson. The Raiders drafted Woodson
fourth overall in 1998 and the accolades poured in immediately. But after two years playing
on the franchise tag and a 2005 season that
ended with a broken leg in the sixth game, he was
more than ready to move on. From there, Oakland fell further into a cycle of dysfunction. Davis brought Art Shell back for a second head coaching stint. Shell knew it wasn’t the easiest task, given the locker room he was taking over, but he had a fairly simple mindset. If there was a mutual respect
between players and coaches, this team could turn a corner. But in his very first
meeting with Jerry Porter, that proved to be easier said than done. As Shell pushed for Porter
to stay in California and work out with the
team that off-season, the receiver grew agitated. Things got more heated
when Porter admitted that he didn’t like how things
were going around there. At that point, Shell
understandably lost it. Porter asked to be traded. The Raiders asked for way too much. So nothing changed other than Porter getting suspended by the team. But this team was so low that at the time, it still felt like there
was nowhere to go but up, as even John Clayton wrote
in his 2006 season preview that while they weren’t back, they were finally heading
in the right direction. Instead, Oakland
delivered one of the worst offensive performances in NFL history. The 2006 Raiders scored
just 12 offensive touchdowns and had seven games
where they were kept out of the end zone entirely. A revolving door at quarterback
spat out 24 interceptions, while the team lost an absurd 22 fumbles. The sad part was the defense
actually turned the corner. Sapp reached double-digit sacks and they gave up the third
fewest yards in the League. But despite those efforts, Oakland sunk to their
worst records since 1962, their third season in existence. Shell was quickly shown the door again. The Raiders were sent to pick
at the top of the draft again and Moss made his
frustrations known again. His 2006 was as disappointing
as any other Raider and after just two seasons,
was clearly no longer in love. While rumors swirled of a
Moss-for-Aaron Rodgers deal, he got the freshest of
starts in New England. By the time he was a Pat, the Raiders had a new
face in the franchise, having selected JaMarcus
Russell first overall. The LSU star was paired with first-year head coach Lane Kiffin. Long story short, neither
edition worked out. They brought in more speed. Didn’t help. They tried coach after coach after coach and it wouldn’t be until 2016 that the Raiders had
their first winning season since their Super Bowl
defeat 14 years prior. But unfortunately, Al Davis
wasn’t around to see it. The man who had served
the Raiders since 1963 passed away during the 2011 season. He had spent his time
building up the team, feuding with commissioners,
and doing things his way. The struggles continued without him and his final years were a far cry from the heights he had
raised the organization to. But even though they
couldn’t win at all in 2002, when the Raiders were good,
they were really damn good. The best part about this collapse was that after beating the
Raiders, Jon Gruden and his Bucs also went through a collapse of their own. Check that out here or learn
about how awesome Al Davis was in his beef history with Mike Shanahan. Subscribe to SB Nation and hit
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26 thoughts on “How the Raiders’ obsession with success led to prolonged failure”

  1. My favorite thing about this (that I didn't have time to squeeze in) was that in 2008, the Raiders were so bad that four of the five teams they beat then immediately got rid of their coach. Thinking about starting a blog on sbnation.com where we can post details like that or go deeper into aspects of this that didn't fit the video. Would y'all read that sort of thing?

  2. crazy how Jon Gruden is like thanos with " You couldn't live with your failures so where did that bring you? Back to me" – Jon gruden

  3. As a life-long (30+) Raiders fan, this was probably the most painful YouTube video I've ever watched (took me a while to even watch it). Now I know what the Saints fans felt like watching the "Noooo!!!" video

  4. Team of the '90s Atlanta Braves, from peaking in '95 with a World Series and leading 2-0 in '96 to the end of the streak of division titles.

  5. Rich Gannon was the Raiders last good QB. The Raiders need to hurry up and draft Tua Tagovailoa in next years NFL draft. Tua Tagovailoa will make the Raiders great again.

  6. For a next collapse video you outta do the Kansas City Royals. I mean look at them they won a World Series 4 years ago and now their utter trash.

  7. The problem with the Raiders became Al Davis' draft strategy as they headed into a decline as a franchise. His criteria was literally if you're black and fast, you're fit to be a Raider. Never mind scheme fit, actual position talent, locker room fit, or any of the other silly stuff that builds a great team. That isn't racist, it's a fact.

  8. Imagine if that Moss for Rodgers deal got done. I remember when that was going on and hearing just how close it came to happening

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