COMMENTARY | If you asked a member of the Oakland Raiders in training camp 10 years ago if five wins were an attainable goal, he would probably scoff in your face.
Today, it's a more appropriate question.
The Raiders kicked off training camp in their Napa home on July 26, and the season's expectations are near ground level. The team went 4-12 in 2012, and consequently heads rolled in the offseason.Now Matt Flynn is the first-string quarterback despite having two career NFL starts, and the defense is facing potentially nine new starters. There's even a new punter in town.
In 2003 the Raiders' roster endured minimal changes, but they too reeled from football defeat. The season prior, Oakland was beaten to a pulp by former coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. Rich Gannon's record-breaking MVP regular season lost its merit as he surrendered five interceptions in the rout. For the Silver and Black, it was a life-defining letdown.Still, the AFC West was the Raiders' to lose. The club accepted again Barret Robbins, the Pro Bowl center who disappeared the night before the championship. Oakland welcomed its large pool of rookies to training camp, some of whom a return from the Gruden trade and a last attempt for the organization to save face. To Gannon, Tim Brown and others, it was simply a Super Bowl win or bust.
But what the 2003 Raiders lacked in camp going forward were confidence and will. Head coach Bill Callahan was noticeably shell-shocked by Gruden's schooling on national T.V. and shredded a large portion of his playbook. He also cut himself off emotionally from the team, which tuned out segments of the locker room and left veterans like Gannon and Charles Woodson feeling uneasy."It started wrong in training camp," explained two-year Raider Terrance Shaw. "He made a comment like he didn't need any friends and he didn't want to be our friend; he only needed to coach. Crazy stuff. Guys were looking around like, 'What?'"
Like Callahan 10 years ago, Dennis Allen is entering his second NFL campaign as a head coach, but he has no harsh words for his team. And while there are many unfamiliar names in Napa this year, they are quickly building trust and sharing smiles.
It is a far more upbeat camp than Callahan's, where many of the survivors from Super Bowl XXXVII were left wondering "what if." At times the bitterness was too much, like when Bill Romanowski punched Marcus Williams in the eye during a routine practice walkthrough.Such emotions are gone today. Sebastian Janikowski, a Raider since 2000, likes the current direction. The 35-year-old even stated on record he is willing to play several more seasons in Oakland. Apparently the 10 years of bottom-feeding haven't gotten to him.
What Janikowski may or may not have foreseen in the 2003 preseason was a squad heading straight to hell. Despite fielding a team stacked with elderly influences (who became brittle at once), the Raiders couldn't withstand the torment of two postseason catastrophes (they controversially lost the 2001 AFC Championship) and the pressure of maintaining their dominance.
Conversely, Coach Allen and his crew are presumed to be an NFL doormat, but unlike their predecessors 10 years ago there is a collective feeling of hope.
Rui Thomas is a freelance sports writer who is published by Goldengatesports.com, Sportsoutwest.com, Fannation.com and Radiosurvivor.com. Follow his tweets @MrRuiThomas.
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