Let the Gruden show begin


Let the Gruden show begin

Programming note: Coverage of Jon Gruden's introductory press conference from Alameda starts  today at 11:50 a.m. on  

Since we in our collective intellectual bankruptcy overvalue press conferences to an absurd degree, we will be disappointed by the form of the Jon Gruden presser today.

Not because of anything Gruden does or says -- he’ll go football with a bit of OTT (over-the-top) enthusiasm because that is the character he plays on television, Jim Harbaugh less 30 percent.

No, the Raiders must put on a show that reaches both their blue-collar Oakland audience and their glitter-on-rhinestones constituency in Las Vegas, and it is safe to say that no balance will be sufficient for either side.

But that is part of life in the neo-schizoid Planet Raider (we have retired Raider Nation as a concept until it gets United Nations clearance). It must be two things to two groups of people simultaneously, when for most of the last 20-plus years it has been not nearly enough to too many people.

Gruden doesn’t have to sell himself, to be sure. He spent the last nine years on ESPN doing nothing but that, and the resultant swelling of his reputation has made him the NFL’s first nine-figure coach and first of 27 $100 million employees. His job, you see, is the easiest.

As long as he gets them back into the playoffs in 2018, and wins a Super Bowl in 2019, that is. He is on at least one clock, after all.

But the rest of the organization looks like the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag, looking in two directions at once, because as today will show, Gruden is their coach as well, and the branding agents and image consultants who have not yet done their Mark Davis makeover will have to make the rest of the franchise Vegas-ready while it is still doing its work in Oakland. It is not an enviable position.

But if you are of a mind to enjoy the agonies of the franchise that is abandoning you for a second consecutive generation, you will enjoy their desperate gyrations at the fringes of the Gruden Show. It is the sporting equivalent of moving a team from Appalachia to The Hamptons, and appeasing both fan bases at once. And no, it can’t be done.

So maybe what we’ll see is Gruden tapdancing around the move entirely, since it didn’t happen on his watch and has only a but to do with the job he has 10 years to complete -- making the Raiders a better representative to their new fan base than they did in their second go-round in Oakland.

And maybe that’s the part of the job that is worth $100 big.

Raiders' possible Coliseum finale brings anything but Christmas cheer

Raiders' possible Coliseum finale brings anything but Christmas cheer

For all the time, care and diligence the NFL has put into keeping Eric Reid from testing positive for anything except basic bodily fluids, it could have applied a few minutes to the problem of the weekend.
Namely, flexing the Raiders’ game on Christmas Eve to another day and time. Say, like Sunday at 2 a.m.
You know the story by now – because of the happy confluence of construction deadlines in Nevada, local politics in Oakland and the general malaise that wraps itself around the football team like a Velcro skin, Monday night’s game between the gentlemen and the Denver Broncos has that worst of all possibilities.
A meaningless game that might have nothing, but meaning or might not. A celebration of football and secular-religious festivity that might turn into a stadium-wide brawl, or might not. A night of family bonding in which children want to talk about Santa while the adults would prefer to concentrate on Jon Gruden, or might not.
Monday night, and the last, maybe, Raider game ever in Oakland – a referendum on how many ways the Raiders can kill buzz on a night in which football really doesn’t belong anyway.
It still isn’t a guarantee that the Raiders will leave Oakland for good after Monday’s game, though the threat is clearly there since the city of Oakland decided to gamble a year’s rent to win hundreds of millions of dollars. All the Raiders have to do is find somewhere that will take them in 2019, a elaborate house hunt that might well end up in a figurative manger, if we must.
But for the moment, the spectre that this is the anti-est of climaxes is the thing that sells this game, with everything from empty sections and dispirited tailgaters to drunken protests and burning jerseys in the scrum.
And the NFL, which can move games from one country to another at the drop of a divot, decided that this king-hell bummer, scheduled at the worst conceivable time on the least attractive day, will show it all – the uncertainty, the angst, the bitterness, the betrayal, the way the stadium sausage is made.

I mean, who books this stuff, the White House?
First, the day itself. The NFL used to avoid Christmas and Christmas Eve like it feared divine retribution. It played the 1950 championship game in Cleveland on a Christmas Eve (the game drew less than 30,000 in an 80,000-seat stadium) and then went another two decades before playing the AFC first-round playoff games in 1971 on Christmas Day, and because people liked the two-overtime Kansas City Chiefs-Miami Dolphins game so much, the league stopped avoiding the Christmas holidays.
Because the NFL is, after all, bigger than Jesus.

[RELATED: How Raiders can broaden their search for new home stadium in 2019]
Okay, enough sectarianism. This isn’t really about playing on Christmas Eve anyway; the league has played 26 games on The Night Before Christmas in the last two years and the nation is no worse off than it would have been anyway, which is still pretty damned bad.
This is about the Raiders, and the last game that might not be. There isn’t a single story line that comes from this game that is good. Oakland depressed or Oakland enraged, empty seats or felonies on the half-shell.
It is more likely that Raider fans who believe this is the last waltz will skip the whole enterprise. Going back to 1981, there have been nine teams that have moved to another geographic area, and the only one that left a visible scar in the stadium was Cleveland in 1995 – and that town got a new team in four years.
But San Diego left 15,000 seats unbought for the Chargers' finale in 2016, as did St. Louis the year before. Houston drew only 15,131 to its last game before the Oilers changed names and relocated to Tennessee, and the previous final Raider game in Oakland in 1981 drew 10,000 below capacity in a 23-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.
In other words, people don’t do wakes unless they have to, and they certainly don’t see the value in going to a wake on Christmas Eve. In short, while the other events that make this franchise the hot mess it is were beyond the league’s control, scheduling this game on this night wasn’t.
But that’s Roger Goodell’s problem, and Mark Davis’ problem, and Libby Schaaf’s problem, and maybe even chief of police Anne Kirkpatrick’s problem. However this turns out, even if the Raiders sign that one last lease, this will be just one more septic backup, only with tinsel.
So ho, ho, and against our better judgment, ho. Current events eat history, and the future saddens more than it cheers. Meanwhile, the NFL has only two more opportunities to make sure Eric Reid's urine is clear.

Happy holidays, if that’s your idea of a good time.

2019 NFL draft order: Raiders move on up, still stuck behind Cardinals


2019 NFL draft order: Raiders move on up, still stuck behind Cardinals

There are only two three-win teams remaining this season. The Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have felt victory less than anyone, including a 49ers team that has two wins in as many weeks.

The 49ers took a step back in relation to the No. 1 overall pick with two straight quality performances.

The Raiders, by contrast, held serve with a disappointing performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Only in the interest of securing high draft picks is that a good thing. It’s somewhat important considering the state of their other two first-round picks. They’re way down in the draft order with the Bears winning the NFC North and Cowboys leading the NFC East.

In all, two draft pick slots improved, while another is stuck way down.

Let’s take a look at where their draft order sits after Week 15 action:

No. 2 overall (Last week: No. 3)

How it was earned: Owner Mark Davis joked that the Raiders are doing a fine job of securing a high pick on their own. He wasn’t joking. The Raiders continue to lose at an alarming clip, which could set up a top-two pick if they lose out in games against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. One warning: they’ll be locked into the No. 2 pick unless they pick up a game on Arizona.

The Cardinals own the strength of schedule tiebreaker that helps determine draft order, so they’d stay in front with a two-way tie at the bottom with the Raiders.

No. 24 overall (Last week: No. 24)

How it was earned: The Raiders got this pick by trading Amari Cooper to Dallas and it hasn’t worked out well. It didn’t get better even after the Cowboys saw their five-game winning streak end against Indianapolis. The Cowboys still have a great chance to win the NFC East, make the playoffs and keep this draft slot low.

No. 27 overall (Last week 26)

How it was earned: Khalil Mack dominated the Green Bay Packers with 2.5 sacks, stats integral to winning the NFC North. He has 12.5 on the season now, more than the entire Raiders team. Not rubbing it in, just point out a fact that has helped the Bears go from worst to first and drive the Mack’s trade compensation value down.