Somewhere, Lyle Alzado and Andre Rison are clinking bottles of Jack Daniel’s, and John Matuszak is destroying a hotel room for the pure joy of it. Even Randy Moss is checking the lunar calendar for the next blue moon.
Hallelujah. Aldon Smith is in Oakland, and the Raiders are back in the reclamation business.
If you’re 95 years or older, you remember when the Silver and Black inspired fear, respect and disgust from every corner of the NFL. The Raiders of Al Davis’ peak leered at your girlfriend, played strip air hockey until 4 in the morning, then went out and beat the crap out of you on Sunday afternoon. And what was so infuriating was that they did it with your castoffs.
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled football players yearning for another couple years of NFL salary and a chance to poke an old enemy in the eye, the wretched refuse of Cleveland, Denver and Philadelphia. Send these, the scandalous, the ornery, the addicted, to me. Then lock your doors.
Some of the Raiders’ greatest reclamations were players of high moral standing whom other teams simply gave up on. George Blanda. Jim Plunkett. Rich Gannon. Everyone figured they were washed up except for Davis, who may have spotted in them the same burning universal grudge that fueled him for a lifetime.
But the guys who really defined the glory-years Raiders were the societal outcasts like Matuszak and Alzado who wore out their welcomes everywhere except the Home for Wayward Athletes, established in Oakland in 1963 (with a less successful satellite office in Los Angeles).
True, the formula lost its magic in Davis’ later years. The signings of Daunte Culpepper and Sean Gilbert and Ted Washington inspired laughter, not fear.
And then Al died and his son Mark took over and hired Reggie McKenzie as his general manager, and no longer did the Raiders locker room resemble a waterfront bar in Marseilles, everyone sipping their cheap brandy and eyeing one another malevolently. McKenzie ushered in not only a new era, but a new ethic. The Raiders became a “high-character” team, a team with a “strong locker room.” A… yawn.
OK, that’s not fair. The Raiders had become the laughingstock of the NFL. The old model was broken, and McKenzie has provided a face of corporate professionalism to the franchise. The team seems to be headed in the right direction, and most fans are grateful.
And yet a particularly loyal, battle-worn segment of the fan base certainly yearns for the old days, when Raiders were Raiders and defensive linemen feared for their knee ligaments. And finally, McKenzie has thrown them a bone.
Aldon Smith, welcome to Oakland. We not only accept your five arrests, your hit-and-run and your bizarre LAX bomb scare, your party gone wild, your poor decision-making and your embarrassment of the 49ers franchise. We relish them. Sure, you smile a little too much. Work on your sneer, if you don’t mind. But in every other way, this signing is perfect.
You may not be tired or poor, Aldon, but you’re just the sort of lawless Raider we’ve all been waiting for.