The Raiders once had a fiery quarterback typecast as a backup who went on a surprising run of victories under coach Jon Gruden.
A year later, Rich Gannon arrived.
Bruce Gradkowski has breathed some life back into the Raiders, winning over fans and teammates with his energy, quick feet and a knack for producing in the two-minute drill.
It’s drawn comparisons with Gannon, which Gradkowski addressed Thursday, correctly noting it was far too soon to put him anywhere near the level of a quarterback who delivered three consecutive division titles, an AFC championship and a Most Valuable Player award.
It’s also entirely possible, although not nearly as optimistic, that once teams begin zeroing in on Gradkowski with specific game plans, he might not be quite the operator he’s been through two of his three starts in Oakland.
Consider the case of Donald Hollas.
In 1998, Gruden’s first year with the Raiders, Hollas won the job as backup quarteback to Jeff George, with veteran Wade Wilson at No. 3.
George went down with a serious groin injury in Week 3, with Hollas taking over at quarterback. Relying heavily on its defense, and Hollas running a fairly conservative offense, the Raiders won road games in Dallas and Arizona and escaped with a 7-6 win over San Diego when Hollas was ineffective and Wade Wilson emerged to throw a 68-yard touchdown pass to James Jett with 1:28 to play.
Hollas went back in the lineup and the Raiders beat Cincinnati 27-10 and Seattle 31-18.
In the Seahawks game, Holllas completed 12 of 22 passes for 237 yards, at one point standing up in the face of a murderous rush and throwing a 47-yard strike to Jett on a post. It was his best game as a pro. Following a 13-10 loss to Baltimore, Hollas beat future Hall of Famer Warren Moon for the second time in three weeks, completing 20 of 31 passes for 266 yards (with a pair of interceptions).
At that point, Hollas (including the San Diego game, which was won on Wilson’s pass to Jett) had started seven games and won six. You want Gruden’s biggest achievement as Raiders coach? That might be it. Friendly and soft-spoken off the field, Hollas on occasion would openly argue with Gruden during games.
Hollas’ star dimmed considerably afterward.
The Raiders lost big in Denver, with George deemed healthy enough to start against the Redskins the following week _ whiich coincidentally is the last time Washington has played in Oakland. George looked slow and unsure of himself in the first half and Hollas replaced him in the second half of a 29-19 loss in a game in which the Raiders were favored.
When Hollas came in to start the second half, the Coliseum crowd roared with approval.
Miami came to town next, and it was a nightmare for Hollas. He completed 12 of 35 passes, threw six interceptions and twice threw passes out of his own end zone that were returned for touchdowns.
Hollas was never again a starter in the NFL and was out of football after the 1998 season.
Gradkowski is 26, four years younger than Hollas in 1998. His skill leading the Raiders from behind is not one Hollas exhibited in his brief run.
The NFL, as Gradkowski said, is full of stories of quarterbacks like Gannon, Jeff Garcia, Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme who became accomplished starters without a prototypical pedigree.
It’s also has its share of guys like Hollas, who had a few weeks of success and then through talent level or circumstance are never heard from again.
Gradkowski could end up either way.
As Russell said Thursday, “Time will tell, time will tell.”