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Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Commentary: Davis drags down Oakland Raiders

January 30, 2008

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If we have learned anything about Al Davis during our time together, it's this: The only thing he enjoys more than the sound of another man's bones beneath his boots is the historical relevance of his beloved Raiders.

It explains the team's parade of similarly themed media guide covers, often featuring three silver Super Bowl trophies against a black background. It also explains the relentless propaganda:

Commitment to excellence.

Team of the decades.

Professional sports' winningest organization (except for leap years with a Democratic president and games decided by lousy officials' calls).

There was a time when Davis' twin passions were not mutually exclusive. He dominated. He won. He sued the NFL from one end of the 1980s to the other. He won some more. He fired Mike Shanahan in midseason and left Marcus Allen to rot on the bench. And he won some more.

Times have changed, though you wouldn't know it by Davis' wardrobe or mind-set. Now his clinical dependence on imposing his authority on others comes at a cost. Yes, it's time to play the legacy card.

We have no way of knowing how the current drama, pitting Davis against head coach Lane Kiffin, will play out. We have our suspicions - since Davis runs the team and the past six Raiders head coaches celebrated their dismissal by burning rubber out of the parking lot, it seems likely that Kiffin is a goner.

But that's just a guess. Here's something we can quantify: even as Davis reasserts his control over the organization, he perpetuates the chaos that marginalizes his own existence. He's turning himself into the king of nothing.

Let's cut to the data. For years the Raiders trumpeted their success, declaring it unmatched in the four major professional leagues in the period A.D. (After Davis). As recently as their 1998 media guide, they listed themselves with the highest winning percentage in the wide world of sports (.632), ahead of hockey's Montreal Canadiens (.631), basketball's Los Angeles Lakers (.628) and baseball's Baltimore Orioles (.548).

Then, for obvious reasons, they narrowed their scope to the NFL. Lately you don't hear much about how they stack up against anyone.

A recalculation of the records illustrates the startling decline of the franchise. It still stacks up well over the long haul. From Sept. 7, 1963 (Davis' first game as coach of the Raiders) through Saturday night's NBA schedule, the Raiders ranked third in the NFL with a .573 percentage of regular season games won. They were sixth in the four major team sports.

But if you start with Sept. 3, 1995, the first game of their return to Oakland, it starts to get ugly. Between then and now, the Raiders are tied for 26th in the NFL (at .418), and tied for 100th among the 122 teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.

If you refine your focus to the day after their Super Bowl XXXVII beat-down, the Raiders are the worst team in or out of the NFL. Since that day, they are 19-61 (.238) - six games worse than the runner-up 49ers.

This is where Davis is headed, dragging the Raiders behind him. Tilting at any challenge (perceived or real) to his authority, unwilling to consider hiring a strong-minded, accomplished general manager or coach, he is the unquestioned leader of a lost civilization.

He wins battles inside the bunker at the expense of winning games on the field. Thus, he has presided over the decline of the Raiders from pro sports most successful franchise to its worst.

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