Raiders

Derek Carr shares special bond with Oakland, where he came of age in NFL

Derek Carr shares special bond with Oakland, where he came of age in NFL

ALAMEDA -- On Christmas Eve last year, Derek Carr took what he thought might be his final lap around the Coliseum after the Raiders' 27-14 win over the Broncos.

He soaked it all in, not knowing if that would be his goodbye to the hallowed grounds that housed the Raiders' glory days and the start to his career in silver and black.

It wasn't.

The Raiders returned to Oakland for one more season, hoping to give those who live, eat and breathe silver and black a final year to remember.

It got off to an optimistic start, with the Raiders sitting at 6-4 with a 4-1 record in the Coliseum through 10 games. But the wheels came off the playoff bus, and now Carr and the Raiders must focus on ending a three-game winning streak and making the Coliseum finale a fitting one for Raider Nation.

"Yeah, I think we talked about it last year, right?" Carr said on the emotions of the Coliseum finale. "We played Denver, it was like maybe, so try and soak it in and all those kinds of things. So, I guess you erase those memories and take on these ones I guess because of all of the players that have played here, this organization’s history, all of those things.

"I was here for [Charles Woodson] last game. There was some pretty cool memories that I have just of my own being on the team, but I think this one will rank right up there. I expect it to be crazy and loud and all those kinds of things, so we’re going to go out there and give our best effort. I promise you that.”

Most people come of age in college. But for NFL quarterbacks, it happens in a different in a cauldron. One that mixes intense pressure with expectations and little room for error. One that is ferocious and can chew people up and spit them out without warning.

The Coliseum has been Carr's arena. It has been the theater of some of his finest moments, memories he'll forever remember. It also lifted him after he broke his ankle at the end of the 2016 season, a moment that showed him all the blood, sweat and tears he has given to get the Raiders where they need to be, has not gone unnoticed.

"I broke my ankle and you could just feel the air go out of the stadium," Carr said of the injury that ended his 2016 season. "I remember sitting there and as I was driving away just the applause and the cheers -- it was like, for whatever reason, in that moment I felt the love back. That's something I'll always remember because I give everything I have for our team, and you give so much it's always nice to hear it back."

A number of Raider greats have called the Coliseum home. From Ken Stabler to Jim Plunkett to Daryle Lamonica to Rich Gannon, Carr will be the final quarterback to don the silver and black in the famed arena. His place in Raiders history is not lost on him and No. 4 still is amazed at where he finds himself.

"Just to put in perspective, like a little kid from Fresno, California is playing somewhere where his dad’s favorite football team did," Carr said. "Like let’s be real about it, it’s pretty awesome. That was a dream come true. Every kid that I’ve ever talked to that’s on a football team, ‘Who wants to be in the NFL?’ Everyone raises their hand. How many of those kids actually get to do it, right? There is very few. It’s hard.

"It’s a hard business to do and do for a long time, and so to be able to be here and play on the same field as all of those legends played on and to actually know some of those guys, talk to those guys, call those guys friends, like that’s kind of weird, but it is a really cool thing.”

When he takes the field Sunday as the Raiders face the 4-9 Jaguars to close out the Coliseum's run, Carr will have one final chance to deliver for those who have adored him ever since the Raiders drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Carr loves the fans, both those that will come with the team to Las Vegas and those who feel jilted and have since turned their backs. If you ask him, only one fanbase has the word "Nation" after the team name. It's Raider Nation.

Likewise, they've loved him back. They've fiercely defended him against critics. Enjoyed triumphs and mourned defeats together. He's their quarterback. He bleeds silver and black just as they do.

[RELATED: Why Coliseum was 'legendary' place even for new Raiders]

Sunday, No. 4 and those in attendance at the Coliseum will have 60 more minutes to share together. Then, the Coliseum will join its lot partner -- Oracle Arena -- as a mausoleum for Oakland's glory days. Something for Raider fans to drive by on I-880 and tell their kids historic tales of the team that left one too many times.

The kid from Fresno is the one charged with turning out the lights at the Coliseum.

Derek Carr, the last in a historic lineage of quarterbacks to call the Coliseum home.

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Darren Waller used to hate football. With a passion.

That fact contrasts with the joy exuded while playing now as an elite NFL tight end. He loved every minute of a breakout Raiders season where he had 90 catches for 1,145 yards, but he's most proud of being consistent and, for the first time in forever, being someone you can count on.

Waller has been clean and sober more than two years now. That change has brought happiness back to his life and the game he once despised.

“I hated football from high school up until I got suspended [in 2017],” Waller said. “The sport was just a means to impress people and seem cool and cover up all these voids. I thought that, if I was successful, I could be happy. It wasn’t doing the trick, so there was a huge void in me I thought I could fill with drugs and alcohol.

“It took me having a near-death experience to question the things I was doing in my life. I stepped away from the game for a bit. If it was God’s plan for me to come back to the game, it’s now clear that it was. I came back with a new perspective and started enjoying it. I was open to coaches and have relationships with these people.”

The near-death experience came from a bad batch of pills two months after his yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy while with the Baltimore Ravens, when he sat in his car fighting to stay awake while thinking he might not make it out alive. Waller went to rehab shortly after that, a life choice he considers the foundation of all the good that has come since.

Waller’s personal life improved quickly, but his career didn’t really take off until the Raiders signed him off the Ravens practice squad late in 2018 and he started working with tight ends coach Frank Smith.

Smith challenged Waller to be great, a goal achieved in a shockingly short span. Waller’s now considered among the NFL’s elite tight ends and has become a role model for so many struggling with addiction by telling his story to anyone who will listen.

Waller believes that Smith unlocked true potential by caring about the person over the player, helping him in recovery and on the football field. That’s why Waller honored Smith at this year’s Coaching Corps’ Game Changer Awards, where athletes from different Bay Area professional sports teams honor coaches special in their lives.

Waller honored Smith at a Thursday ceremony in San Francisco, which will be broadcast Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I never had a relationship with a coach like I do with Frank,” Waller said. “I honestly text him more than I text my friends. We laugh every day at practice, but I seriously respect him as a teacher and a coach and an authority figure you can talk to as a friend. Nothing’s off limits. We can be real and honest with each other about everything. That’s so important to me, having him in my life.”

Smith values his relationship with Waller, which has grown over their two years working together.

“He’s an extremely intelligent person who is athletic,” Smith said. “But, if you don’t love football and give it everything you’ve got, you won’t progress. He’d be the first to tell you he wouldn’t sacrifice for the game. We weren’t seeing the best version of him. We were seeing a clouded version of himself blurred by his substance abuse. Then football was taken away, and he learned what he wanted to do.

"Now we’re seeing the full commitment, the full potential be realized.”

Smith admits that coaching Waller is different. His commitment to recovery mandates more involvement in Waller’s personal life, making sure his support system is in place. Smith took on that responsibility without hesitation, balancing his personal and professional duties while remaining an authority figure. He recognized Waller as a special case right away, that he was working with someone who could be great.

“He was humble. He was hungry to learn and hungry to work,” Smith said. “With his story, you can see every day how he cherishes life and embraces every obstacle. He never makes an excuse for anything, even with things that somebody else does. He’s the type of person who really has an effect on you, especially if you let him show you his transformative process.”

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

Waller let Smith in right away. He’s an open book about his struggles with drugs and alcohol and could tell that his position coach would help him in all aspects and stoke his passion for the game he thought he’d lost forever.

“Frank helped so much with my transition to the Raiders,” Waller said. “He has a friend that was in recovery like I am, who worked the 12-step program and went to rehab. He was able to understand me by understanding his friend. We learned a lot from each other, and he was able to welcome me in without putting too much pressure on me. But he wasn’t allowing me to be someone just happy to be there. He had me set goals, something I never did before that.

"He really opened my eyes to the fact that I could be great. I never really thought I could be great. I was too worried about all the pressure and the negative things. I never saw the game in a positive light. He helped me see that football can be so much fun if you’re not worried about things outside of what you can control.”

“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

For 14 seasons, the Raiders and Philip Rivers have been rivals. Rivers' first NFL start fittingly came against the Raiders in 2006, his third professional season. 

That rivalry might be done, though. The Athletic's Jay Glazer said Monday on FS1's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that the Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on" from Rivers. 

Rivers, 38, will become a free agent this upcoming offseason. The 16-year veteran has spent his entire career for the Chargers, but it's unknown if he will continue playing in 2020. He already has moved his large family to Florida this offseason. 

The gunslinger was the No. 4 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He has an 18-9 career record against the Raiders with 47 touchdown passes -- his most against any opponent -- and 22 interceptions.

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

If the Chargers do move on from Rivers, they could try to grab a QB early in the 2020 draft. The Bolts own the No. 6 pick, and our own Josh Schrock has them taking Oregon's Justin Herbert in the first round. 

As the Raiders move to Las Vegas, it could be the end of an era with their Philip Rivers rivalry.