You never know


By Jerry McDonald

     A few weeks ago, I watched Phillip Rivers look as good as Drew Brees ever has for the San Diego Chargers.

     This came not long after Aaron Brooks looked as bad as Donald Hollas ever has for the Oakland Raiders.

       Fast forward to this weekend. Brooks passes the Detroit Lions silly, and Rivers can’t handle a snap from center on San Diego’s first two possessions without fumbling.

      All it proves is nothing when measuring the Raiders’ chances against the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 11 at McAfee Coliseum.

      I decided in 1994 to quit paying serious attention to the pre-season after watching the 49ers slog through football in August only to open against the Los Angeles Raiders on Monday night and look as crisp and precise as any team ever has in Week 1.

     It was a playground for Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Co. at Candlestick Park and the 49ers won 44-14. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl. The Raiders, darkhorse Super Bowl candidates, finished 9-7 and Al Davis rewarded Art Shell with a pink slip.

     That said, what the Raiders have accomplished the last two weeks is fairly remarkable. Their defense has looked decent since July 25. On offense, they looked about as poor as a team could look in practice for a good two- and a half weeks.

      Don’t kid yourselves. Some of the players were concerned. While they all maintained a united front, I know of a few former teammates who have talked to some current Raiders who were wondering what the hell was going on.

      Shell, through it all, never wavered, either with his team or with the media.

      And while it’s still to way too early to formulate a conclusion, this much is clear _  leadership makes a big difference.

     Other observations as the Raiders begin to shape what will be their 53-man roster:

     — I so seldom get to be right when it comes to corrections from Raider fans. But it may interest “RFM” on the previous post that the Raiders were 5-1 in the pre-season in 1975.

     — The report on Andrew Walter _ no structural damage. That’s a good thing, but bursitis and tendonitis aren’t conditions normally associated with the shoulder of a 24-year-old quarterback.

    — Don’t expect Shell to sell out to get that unbeaten pre-season record. It sounds as if a lot of players could be sitting this one out.

    — Examples of Shell’s faith and patience include place kicker Sebastian Janikowski and running back Justin Fargas, both of whom could have been shipped out of town without a whimper of protest from Raider Nation. Each looks rejuvenated under Shell.

   — Saw defensive end Bobby Hamilton and running back Zack Crockett engaged in a serious-looking conversationin the post-game locker room. Approaching cutdowns may be tougher on veterans than rookies because they know the end is in sight. If not now, then soon.

   — For the life of me, I’ll never figure out Randy Moss. Which is probably exactly how he wants it. He treats the local media with disdain most of the time, even though for the most part he hasn’t been the target of any hatchet job that I can remember.

    He was portrayed locally last season as a guy who was hurt but wouldn’t admit to it, kind of admirable trait, really.

     Yet when Moss goes on the road, he’ll chat like a magpie, particuarly when when the national media is around. Invariably, he winds up with negative press. And he’ll do national radio interviews and shows such as “Real Sports” which target his checkered past.


    Too bad, because he often has interesting things to say and his home fans are the ones getting short-changed, although admittedly they care far more about his yards per catch than his quotes per day.

     — Jerry Porter for Deion Branch . . . nah, Bill Belichick is too smart for that.

     — Speaking of Porter, wonder if he still wants to play for Mike Martz considering how the Lions looked.

     Al Davis has a fondness for ex-Raiders, but Raider fans can be thankful he never put Matt Millen in the front office.

     — Tough to tell what was more heartfelt _ the boos for Porter or the cheers for Ronald Curry.







Have a seat


    OAKLAND _ Raiders defensive left end Derrick Burgess blew past right tackle Barry Stokes for a 10-yard sack of Jon Kitna, a play which essentially ruined Detroit’s opening drive.

     The Lions punted into the end zone.

      I’d consider putting Burgess on the bench. Until Sept. 11.

    _ Jerry McDonald


Moss madness


By Jerry McDonald

Missed another big story.

Randy Moss ripped Art Shell. Said so in the St. Paul Pioneer Press I picked up at the Minneapolis airport.

Moss was upset about being taken out in the middle of a drive, so he ripped the coach.

Except that I was standing right there, and it seemed to lack the conviction of a legitimate rip job. I have no doubt Moss is capable of doing it. I just don’t think this was it.
All Moss was doing was answering questions and being honest. He opened his statement by saying he wanted to keep things “in house” before giving an explaination of why he wished Shell wouldn’t have taken him out of the game following a 16-yard reception in the middle of a drive.

The Raiders were getting something going, Moss said, and he didn’t want to interrupt the flow. He wanted to play more. He said it all without ever raising his voice or curling his lip in a sneer.

Setting aside the fact that Moss apparently has no idea what “in house” means, his complaint was one I’ve heard several times before. It came from the 49ers Steve Young, who was never satisfied with the amount of work he got in the pre-season from George Seifert or Steve Mariucci.

Only Young was never characterized as havng “ripped” the coach. He was just a guy who wanted to play, with Seifert and Mariucci saving Young from himself.

Based on Oakland’s performance against Minnesota, and the way those 49ers teams played, the inescapable conclusion is that Young was wrong and Moss is right.

Young didn’t need to play. He understood every nuance of the offense and the 49ers didn’t need to risk having their most important player injured.

Moss needs to play if for no other reason to develop a chemsitry with Aaron Brooks, the Raiders starting quarterback unless he continues his one-completion-per-game pace.

Driving across the San Mateo Bridge on the way home from the airport, I heard KNBR’s Rod Brooks saying Andrew Walter needed to play more extensively against the 49ers. I think Brooks (Aaron, not Rod) should be the one playing extensively _ perhaps even deep into the third quarter.

If Brooks can’t turn things around, maybe he isn’t a fit for an offense which places much of the decision-making in his hands and has him holding the ball for long periods of time.

If that’s the case, the Raiders need to find out as soon as possible. Their original plan, whether they admit it or not, was for Brooks to start with Walter waiting in the wings.

And while six possessions isn’t enough to jerk the rug out from under Brooks, even the most skeptical fans and media seem to be shocked at how poorly the Raiders are playing with their first team offense.

As a side note, I can’t remember a single time since training camp began having seen Brooks and Moss putting in some extra work after practice to get their timing down.

So maybe they should do it Sunday against the 49ers.


Countdown to Randy


By Jerry McDonald 

   MINNEAPOLIS _ There’s talk of a moon here and there, but the return of Randy Moss to Minnesota at first glance does not amount to much.

     The St. Paul Pioneer Press has run a “Countdown to Randy” graphic on its front sports page, with an illustration of Moss pretending to pull his pants down, as he did in the end zone so famously in a playoff game against Green Bay.

    Sunday’s graphic signified “1 day.”

    It’s getting some commerical time as well, with the local Channel 9 hyping Moss’ attempts to beat his former team deep as part of its advertising for the Raiders-Vikings game.

     But all in all, it seems pretty tame.

      As Judd Zulgad wrote in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune blog:

      “I sense no buzz surrounding Monday night’s game. Maybe I’m wrong. But this Vikings team doesn’t resemble the team Moss left and it’s hard to tell if Moss resembles the player who spent several seasons beating cornerbacks and safeties all over the league.”

       Some of the comments to Zulgad’s blog indicated fans weren’t going to get overly fired up about a pre-season game, and that if Moss were returning in the regular season, it would be a different story.

     There were a few fans who believed Moss had become injury prone and therefore expendable. Some gave him his due but had simply moved on.

      At the Raiders team hotel downtown, usually a hotbed of fans in silver and black, there wasn’t the usual pack of autographs seekers and gawkers.

      Then again, downtown Minneapolis on a Sunday isn’t exactly Times Square. At the chain Mexican restaurant across the street from the hotel, only a few Twins fans had made the trek over from the Metrodome following a win over the Blue Jays and the bartender said it was pretty much business as usual for a Sunday.

    The majority of posters on a Vikings message board seemed to think Moss would get a warm if not raucous welcome.

     Then again, maybe I’m not giving the home base enough credit.

      The Mexican restaurant, on its happy hour menu, prominently advertised its new beer selection.

     “Now serving Blue Moon.”

     Moss declined a request from Minnesota writers for an interview, much as he has done with most media members ever since disclosing to HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last year that he smoked marijuana “once in a blue moon.”

    The restaurant ad was a coincidence.

    I think.





The Raider Hall of Fame


By Jerry McDonald

      The Raiders went to Canton and made it their own, reveling in their glorious past as John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

      Speaking of making it their own, are the Raiders ever going to have a Hall of Fame or their own?’

      That was the talk when they moved back to Oakland in 1995, that some day the club would establish a Raider Hall of Fame.

       The whole thing sort of faded away in the acrimony between the Raiders and the municipality, a great idea lost amid name-calling, finger-pointing and blame assessment.

      Will there ever be one? Even a ring of honor or something along those lines would be good. Seems a shame a team that spends so much time talking about the good old days doesn’t have its own shrine.

      Let’s say it happens. Al Davis, suddenly all chatty and cozy with the media, arrives at training camp one day and says all systems are go.

      There’s nothing Davis likes more than getting suggestons from the media, so right here in this space I’ll give him his first 10 inductees.

       — Al Davis. He’s got to be first. Otherwise, it will never happen. Besides, what would the Raiders be without Davis? They haven’t been good for awhile now, but they’ve never been boring.

   —  Jim Otto. Toughest man alive. If the Raiders ever break with tradition and retire a number, it will be “OO.” When Tim Brown called himself  “Mr. Raider,” he wasn’t thinking clearly.

    — Art Shell. One of the best left tackles ever, he ought to make it as a coach if he turns this thing around.

    — Gene Upshaw. Davis doesn’t believe in locker room chemistry, but there’s little doubt Upshaw’s leadership _ plus his abiity to pull and combine with Shell to block out the sun _ were key components in Oakland’s success.

   — Willie Brown. Charles Woodson never did his number 24 justice. Maybe Michael Huff can.

    — Fred Biletnikoff. When was the last time you heard anyone say, “He reminds me of Biletnikoff.” A style all his own.

    — Jack Tatum. They used to change the rules in the NBA to try and deal with Wilt Chamberlain. The NFL changed the rules on physical play in the secondary largely because of Tatum.

    — Dave Casper. In today’s NFL there are receiving tight ends and blocking tight ends. Casper was the last to be truly great at both.

    — Marcus Allen. Had the greatest single season any Raider has ever had, and saved his most memorable run for the game’s biggest stage. Have him sit at the opposite end of the row from Davis.

    — Bill King. An announcer? Look, the guy belongs in someone’s Hall of Fame, and in the days where the NFL policy was to black out all home games _ regardless of whether they were sold out _ there are a lot of people whose most cherished Raiders memories are King’s calls of famous plays.

    Notice there are no coaches in the first class. That’s in keeping with Davis’ reputation as a player’s advocate. Madden and Tom Flores can go in with the second class.



A walkthrough in the park


By Jerry McDonald

NAPA _ The Oakland Raiders held a practice so light it could have joined the hot air balloons which occasionally float over the picturesque wine country.

I’ve never understood the worth of the walkthrough, players don’t even bother to wear numbered jerseys and mill about in what appears to be no more than a lollygag session.

It’s been explained that it’s a dress rehearsal of sorts for a coming game, although it’s doubtful that Shane Lechler will face the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night at quarterback.

That’s what Lechler did against the defense, taking a few snaps, dropping back at half-speed and even launching a few passes. Lechler, like Ray Guy, still has a good arm, by the way. Cornerback Chris Carr learned the hard way when he took one off the face mask.

Another strange thing about the walkthrough _ the Raiders held it in the morning, and then had a normal practicein the afternoon. Usually, the walkthorugh is the last practice before game.

Bits and pieces from Thursday’s real practice:

— Quarterback Andrew Walter continues to alternate good passes with bad ones, throwing a sideline strike to Johnnie Morant for a would-be touchdown on one play and missing Kevin McMahan on a short wobbler the next.

— Marques Tuiasosopo didn’t fare any better in his bid to be the No. 2 quarterback, at one point suffering an interception by Stanford free agent Timi Wusu, a linebcaker buried on the depth chart who is likely to be among the early cuts.

— Expect the Raiders to take a long look at Stanford Routt, particularly as a slot corner, against Philadelphia. Tyrone Poole is unlikely to play with a hamstring injury, and although the Raiders love Poole’s experience and know-how, Routt, at 6-foot-2, has the size suited for the position.

More important, Routt has put together a handful of solid practices of late, making plays on the ball as well as an occasional interception.

On play over the middle, Tuiasosopo had McMahan open, only to have Routt, trailing the play, deflect the ball with a jab even though his back was to the quarterback.

— The darkhorse bid of tight end John Madsen to make the roster has stalled temporarily. Madsen suffered an oblique strain he says will leave him “day-to-day.”

— Camp quarterback Kent Smith, a left-hander from Central Michigan, got more drill work than usual Thursday and had some rough moments, including one interception by Fabian Washington.

— LaMont Jordan, who someone inexplicably admitted Tuesday he played last season without paying much attention to the blocking schemes, continued to run well _ albeit against a defense which isn’t allowed to tackle him.

Jordan had his worst game as a starter last season in Week 3 against Philadelphia, gaining only 19 yards on 16 carries.

— Getting lots of feedback on Al Davis’ cryptic statement at his Tuesday press conference regarding the nine players he has introduced to the Hall of Fame. Davis said he had a “love affair” with all of them except one.

To review, the players Davis has already introduced in Canton, Ohio, are Lance Alworth, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell and Ted Hendricks.

He introduces John Madden Saturday.

So which one had some sort of falling out with Davis?

Probably none in terms of something serious. But some in the organization believe his relationship with Biletnikoff, while built on respect and trust, has occasinally been more combative than the others.