A close-up of owner Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders as he smiles and looks on during his team's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh on Dec. 3, 2000. The Steelers defeated the Raiders 21-20.
The late Al Davis received so many glowing tributes in the wake of his recent death that you'd be tempted to think the last decade of Davis' stewardship of the Raiders was some kind of grand hallucination. But now that Davis has been appropriately lionized for changing the game and being the last great rebel owner in pro sports, it's time to start admitting the truth. With Davis gone, the Raiders can now become a functional NFL franchise:
Albert Breer of NFL.com reported Tuesday that the team has commenced the process of looking for a General Manager. The model, as Breer explains it, would operate like the situation in Pittsburgh, where coach Mike Tomlin and G.M. (as of this season) Kevin Colbert work in concert.
Breer also reports that a football consultant could be hired to help the team through the balance of the 2011 campaign.
Ask any Raiders, Cowboys, or Bengals fan what they've wanted more than anything for the past ten years, and all of them will tell you the same thing: A fully independent, competent GM. And while Davis deserves credit for everything he contributed both to the Raiders and to the game of football, he spent the past decade (and perhaps longer) imprisoning the Raiders under his own rule.
Now the Raiders are about to bring in real front office, and that wouldn't have happened with Davis still in the picture. The team's focus on hiring a GM is its first step back into the NFL mainstream, which is bittersweet for any Raiders fan who cherished the team's outlaw status, but necessary for any Raiders fan who wants to see the team succeed. It means facing the harsh reality that Al mismanaged this team for years and years and refused to let go when he should have.
Moreover, it's a devastating reminder to fans in Dallas, Cincy, and perhaps Washington of how long a powerful owner can rule over a decaying kingdom. Al Davis lived a long, long, long life. And that's a terrifying thought to anyone who's seen Mike Brown make a draft pick.