The Raiders and Jon Gruden went with a hard sell on the good ol’ days. Be careful what you wish for, though.
The scene portrayed by those on-site in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, and those observing from around the NFL, was like a Raiders highlight film; the only thing missing was a clip of the Sea of Hands catch and of Marcus Allen reversing field in the Super Bowl.
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Most of all, it was a time capsule of the previous Gruden era, from 1998 to 2002, the last time the franchise was a consistent winner, unquestionably on the rise, and not definitely planning to leave town in a couple of years.
You can’t really blame them — “them” meaning Gruden and owner Mark Davis, who spoke often about his dream of bringing Gruden back and, in a surprise, about how it was his late father Al’s dream, too.
Problem is, the Raiders actually have a little more to sell than a glowing image of the past. There’s still reason to believe that their 12-win season in 2016 was the real thing, not the mirage, and that the fall-off this season was the exception. Reggie McKenzie didn’t lose the touch that put that team together, and obviously Gruden and the Raiders know it, or else he wouldn’t be around for the start of the new regime.
Recreating the early 2000s may not be necessary to get the Raiders winning again. That Davis and Gruden are so convinced that it is necessary puts them on a dangerous path.
It’s so seductive, though.
Washington fans probably recognized the scene Tuesday — that was them in 2004, when Joe Gibbs came back, handed the keys by another longtime fan-turned-young-owner, Dan Snyder. The buzz lit up the whole metro area. It didn’t last.
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The appeals to the glory days rarely do, right down to the reunions of the great names in team history, hanging around and reminding all of how it used to be — and serving only to make the current days look even worse.
The Raiders don’t need that. They need to find out what Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and the rest got right last year and what they got wrong this year. There might be coaches out there with the right touch and smarts and skills to bring it out of them. The Raiders, very publicly, had no interest in looking for them (and not just the minority candidates who the Raiders went through the motions to interview to avoid getting fined).
Gruden might be that guy. What he definitely is, though, is the one the owners love, the one the fans are drinking up and the one whose ex-players are volunteering to be his cheerleaders. The Raiders do need that as they fight to keep stave off a muntiny among their Oakland fans. But they need a lot more than that.
Gruden was Gruden on Tuesday, never more truthful than when he said during his introductory press conference that he has not changed much since his contentious departure. He began by telling one of the assembled legends, Charles Woodson, that the notorious fumble he caused in Foxborough that fateful night, overturned by the Tuck Rule, “was a fumble.’’
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He was asked about the pressure of living up to the massive hype of his return, and while he said he knew how big the target on him was, he again dipped into the bottomless nostalgia bucket for a reference: “I worked for Al Davis in 1998. That was pressure. I was 34 years old.”
(Note: He’s not working for Al Davis now, it’s not 1998, he’s not 34.)
And, Gruden later admitted, “There is unfinished business.’’
The Raiders might need to finish turning back the clock and look forward more than they’re looking back.
Maybe they will. Maybe they got the highlight film out of the way on Day 1. There’s only one way to find out.