I Was Wrong: Why I can’t support the Raiders anymore

Christmas alone, a fateful firing, a game-changing trade & the path to the end

Derek Papa
November 09, 2018 - 4:38 pm

March 27, 2017 — The Raiders announce they are moving to Vegas. I have feelings of heartbreak, anger and betrayal towards the team I’ve loved for so long. We all knew it was coming but it sucks when it did. Despite my sadness, I wrote an article explaining why I’ll support them until they leave for Oakland. You can read it here.

At the time, I thought the Raiders had a playoff team and the people of Oakland needed to cherish them while they were still here. I bought into Marshawn Lynch joining the team. I thought they would be better. I was wrong.

They finished 6-10, talk of dysfunction infested in the locker room and a season was wasted while they remained in the Bay Area. I thought since we only had two more seasons here, something needed to be done. Jack Del Rio was losing the fan base and we needed someone to fulfill the team’s potential.

Rumors swirled that season that Jon Gruden was thinking of a return to coaching. We heard this before and nothing happened. But then we had Rich Gannon on our show and he said he wouldn’t be surprised if he returned to the Bucs or the Raiders.

Then came Christmas Day.

I’m sitting at Blu 42 watching a terrible game with the Raiders and Eagles. I was working as producer for the Raiders pre and postgame shows. My family left for Philly together so my dad could call the game and they could be together. I stayed behind to do my job. But as I sat there and watched the game, I thought to myself, “The hell am I doing here?” Raiders lost and I spent Christmas by myself.

As I drove home from the bar, my dad called me. The first words out of his mouth were, “I spoke to Jon.” Gruden was calling the game for Monday Night Football.

“What he say?”

“I said to him, ‘Jon, we need you. We need you. He just smiled and nodded.”

I don’t know why, but that simple exchange got me excited. You have to understand, up until this year, I saw Jon Gruden in a different way.

I first met Jon Gruden back in 1998. I was 7 years old, my dad was in his second year as voice of the Raiders and it was Jon’s rookie season as coach.

I lived in Colorado at the time with my mom. The Broncos were the best team in football and I was going to elementary with a Raiders backpack, with all the kids laughing at me.

My dad came into town for a game. I met him at the team hotel where he interviewed Jon Gruden. I sat quietly as my dad Interviewed Gruden, until he asked me, “Derek, any questions for Coach Gruden?” I just asked, “What’s your favorite candy bar?” Jon with a smile on his face said, “Tell ya what man, there’s a lot to choose from. But I’ll have to go with Snickers.”

The fact a NFL coach even acknowledged me had me star struck. At that point in my young life, I wasn’t much of a football fan, but after that I became a big fan of the Raiders and Jon Gruden. After that you know the story. Jon turned the franchise around, only to be traded and beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl.

My dad has always loved Jon Gruden. Maybe it was his style of coaching, or that they were close in age, but Gruden and Greg had mutual respect for one another. As the years went on, my father and I often spoke about how great it would be if Jon came back.

November 2009. I’m visiting my dad from college. Gruden is in town to call the Cardinals-49ers Monday night game. Greg gets word that he will be going to Ricky’s Sports Bar & Theater in San Leandro (best sports bar in the world).

We head over and there’s Gruden surrounded by Raider fans. Next to him are greats Jim Otto and Phil Villapiano. Gruden notices Greg and they embrace.

My dad of course had to ask, “What would it take for you to come back?” Gruden said, “I’d come back in a heartbeat. But I don’t know if the old man would be into it.”

The old man was Al Davis.

A picture surfaced of that night at Ricky’s with all the Raider greats with Gruden and sure enough Al called Greg, very disappointed. Greg still reflects on this, almost like a kid when they disappointed their parents. However sometime after that, Al called Greg and said, “Guess who I just talked to? Jon Gruden. We’re just talking. But I’m considering it.”

Unfortunately some time after that, Al Davis passed away.

So back to 2017 after the Philadelphia game. I get a feeling Gruden is coming back. December 30th, I tell the head of our digital department, Karl Buscheck, that I want to write a story. I compare Jon Gruden to Steve Kerr and explain how much the team and city of Oakland need him. You can read it here.

I spend all day writing the story and send it to Karl. He’s at a Warriors game and waits until the next day to post it. Then hours later, news breaks. Adam Schefter reports the Raiders are making an offer to go all in on Jon Gruden. I couldn’t believe it.

Karl posts my story the next morning as the Raiders take on the Chargers. After the loss and the end of the season, Jack Del Rio addresses the media and says that Mark Davis will not be bringing him back as head coach. A brutal way to be fired but I didn’t care at the time, Gruden was coming back.

The fantasy my father and I had wanted for a long time was coming true. I was happy, confident Jon Gruden would turn the team around and compete to give the people of Oakland something to cheer about before they left. Boy, I was dead wrong.

The news breaks that Gruden is back, but there’s one thing — he’s reportedly getting a 10-year,  $100 million contract. He gets final say in personnel decisions and possibly even an ownership stake

I didn’t know if that’s all true but that seems like a lot, but hey screw it! Gruden’s back!

Greg is giddy as hell.

My dad and Gruden exchange texts early in January like old friends reunited. A press conference is set right at 1:00 pm during our show. It’s a day my father and I have waited years for.

We have to be there.

We asked the Raiders to broadcast our show from team headquarters in Alameda. Our bosses tell us there’s no response. Two days before the presser, still no response. One day before the presser, they finally respond...to tell us the Raiders don’t want us to do our show from the facility.

What! Why?

Something’s not right. Despite how disappointed we are, we take the press conference and do the show from the studio. Gruden wins the presser not saying much about Vegas and wanting to win for Oakland. Gruden joins the show and it’s like old times again. The biggest thing however I take away from that day is the argument Bonta Hill and Greg had. It was no doubt up until that point that Gruden could do no wrong in my eyes or my father’s. Bonta is the only one skeptical, saying what did he do after his Super Bowl and it’s important he wins his season season. Greg laughed and said, “He’s got a 10 year contract.”

They both were right.

Then came July 5.

Just around the time that Demarcus Cousins had signed with the Warriors, Greg got some news of his own. He came home from his vacation in LA. He didn’t say much until he finally told me the Raiders had fired him.

He was devastated.

I was devastated.

But honestly, neither of us were shocked. It’s no mystery that Mark and my dad didn’t get along. But it was still sad knowing after 21 years, I wouldn’t hear my dad call the Raider games anymore.

I felt sad for my father to lose a job he loved more than any in his career. At the same time, I felt conflicted. Do I hate the Raiders now? I may hate the organization now but not the team. Can I still be a fan? I was my dad’s statistician for home games, could I still do that job? Should I still produce the pre and post for the Raider games?

I went on vacation and thought it over. How do I feel about the Raiders now? It’s ironic considering how much I fought for them.

And now the team that I stood up for, fires my dad. The company who broadcasts the Raiders radio games, Compass Media Networks, asked if I was at least open to working with Brent Musburger.

Despite my father’s blessing and encouragement to do it, I passed. I then decided I would not produce the Raiders pre and post shows for the station, which was my favorite job.

I decided I wanted to enjoy this season. I would not do any work for the Raiders but enjoy one of the few seasons left in Oakland as a fan.

Then I started to notice small changes to the team.

Michael Crabtree cut? Okay. He needed to go.

Jamize Olawale traded? Okay. He’s great but let’s see where this is going.

Derrick Johnson signed over Navorro Bowman? Wow. Why? Isn’t he pretty old?

Obi Melifonwu cut? That was quick. Didn’t really get a chance to see him play.

Trade for Ryan Switzer only to trade him in training camp? He seems like a good slot receiver and returner.

Whatever, Gruden’s got this. As long as Mack comes back. And then it happened...

September 1 — I awake with a bad hangover only to find my phone blown up with text messages.

“Dude, he actually did it.”

“Season’s already over.”

No! Gruden didn’t just trade away Khalil Mack did he? He did. For two first-round picks. We didn’t get anything in return. We also sent a second-round pick to the Bears. This can’t be real!

Why do this now? A week before the season.

Whether the Raiders could have paid him or not, you don’t do this a week before the season. Call his bluff. You don’t trade a guy like Khalil Mack. Trade him later. And you trade him for future picks?! Give me two first-round picks, plus Leonard Floyd or Roquan Smith or Kyle Fuller!

Nobody to help us this season?

That day, I lost respect for Jon Gruden. I think the Bay Area and the NFL did as well. The season seemed to be over before it even began. You can tell by Derek Carr & Bruce Irvin’s reactions on Twitter.

We all knew the Raiders were going to begin an unnecessary rebuild. I didn’t want to go to the games after that, but I’m a sucker.

I had to see how this would go.

Maybe Gruden’s coaching would overcome his personnel decisions? So I went and saw the Raiders get their a-- kicked game after game. Playing absolutely no defense, no pass rush to speak of, the players looking unenthused. I feel like the  Oakland fans are being screwed out of their money.

This is not the Jon Gruden I remember.

This is not the Jon Gruden who coached the Raiders from 1998-2001.

This is not even the same Jon Gruden who commentated for Monday Night Football.

That Gruden would criticize the hell out of this Gruden.

Every week, Gruden comes off more arrogant in his explanation for what he’s doing. Sounding more like a politician than a coach. Referring to how great the future will be, it’s hard contrast to a guy who referred to himself as not patient.

Instead of coaching guys like Amari Cooper, he’d rather just trade them. There’s no creativity with the offense. You mean to tell me Gruden’s been watching and studying the league for nine years to run Marshawn Lynch on a 3rd-and-6 after Seattle just scored?

You mean to tell me that the young creative play calling OG that taught Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan is getting schooled by his protégés?

Gruden is not dumb.

The real Jon Gruden would make that Chucky face and scream at his team for this display. So, he can say he’s not tanking. But this roster is set up to fail and it’s obvious to me Jon Gruden is not trying his hardest as a coach. He is withholding his play calling for Vegas.

I feel bad for Derek Carr too.

I’m sure this is not what he expected. He probably wanted an offensive-minded coach to improve him, not make things harder by trading his best receiver or play a rookie tackle on his blindside.

While he’s not having a great season, it’s not his fault. He has no receivers and absolutely no line. Gruden isn’t doing his QB any favors. When your team goes 12-4 one season and then goes 6-10, you figure you make a move like Gruden to improve the coaching not to rebuild. But it’s obvious now, Khalil Mack was never going to be the star. Amari Cooper was never going to be the star. Derek Carr was never going to be the star. Jon Gruden’s the face of the franchise for the next 10 years, whether you like it or not.

So after the Thursday night 34-3 embarrassment to the crosstown rival 49ers with a third-string QB, I’ve had enough.

I actually expected the Raiders to compete and they didn’t even show up. Much like Christmas I said to myself, “The hell am I doing here?” I left after halftime and realized this isn’t worth it anymore.

The sad reality is my favorite team is leaving their home.

They may play in the Bay Area but they could care less about Oakland or the city’s fans. They would rather congratulate the Vegas Knights over the San Jose Sharks on their playoff accomplishments.

They are leaving. They fired my father after 21 years of loyal service and they are tearing the team down for their opening in Vegas. It’s hard to watch and get behind now. It seems like the Oakland Raiders don’t even want to be the Oakland Raiders right now.

I hate to turn my back on this team, but the Raiders have already done the same to us.

In a recent  interview with Howie Long, Gruden commented on his first  press conference when he said he wanted to win for Oakland.

He now says, “I still want to deliver a championship to Oakland. And we may not be in Oakland, but these Oakland #Raiders fans are going to be with us forever.”

Sorry Jon, some may but a lot won’t and I am one of them. I am not following this team to Vegas and I’m not even following them now. It feels in a way like the Bay Area is already done with the Raiders. The ratings unfortunately back it up. Believe me I hate saying that, but it’s the truth.

I have decided that I will not be attending another Raider game this season.

It pains me that it’s come to this but I can’t do it anymore. Especially since the city of Oakland could sue the Raiders and this could be the final season in the East Bay. I have the Christmas Eve game circled, I may change my mind then. If it is indeed the last game in Oakland, I’d like to be there, but who knows at this point.

Some will support the Raiders no matter what until their dying day, and more power to you. But as my dad said when he was fired, “I don’t fit with this group anymore.” This is not my team anymore, it’s Vegas team. I hardly recognize it anymore. I don’t get the same joy from anything they do. The atmosphere at the Coliseum isn’t the same. I feel like an outcast who doesn’t belong. So sadly, my time as a Raider fan has come to an end.

Now let me be clear. I will NOT be a 49er fan. I respect the 49ers but it’ll be a cold day in hell when I root for them. I love the NFL and its history, so I’ll just be a football fan.

It especially doesn’t feel the same because the reason I am a fan of the team is not around anymore. The love and passion I had for the Raiders came from my father. No one was as passionate and devoted to this team as Greg Papa, with the exception of Al Davis.

And believe me, my father did everything to keep Al’s memory alive because he loved him and ultimately it cost him his job. Without his touchdown call, descriptive play-by-play and passion for every moment, the Raiders don’t feel like much of a big deal anymore.

As far as the Raiders and Jon Gruden, I wish them nothing but the best. I honestly have no opinion of Brent Musburger’s calls as I don’t listen, but I hope he does well.

I hope Derek Carr becomes that player we saw in 2016 again. I hope the team nails their future draft picks, even if they can’t pay them once again.

And as for Gruden, the coach I always wanted to return, the guy that was once close with my father, and the current face of the Raiders for the next 10 years and possibly more, I wish him nothing but the best. There is a good coach in there, he’ll just choose to be one when he wants to.

So in closing, I was wrong.

I was wrong to expect the Raiders to win for Oakland and I was wrong to say Jon Gruden is like Steve Kerr. While Steve Kerr said there are no morals in coaching and you can lie, you also have to be likable to your fan base.

I’ll always cherish the memories I have watching Raider games at the Coliseum. But this is not the team I grew up with. For a franchise who’s slogans were “Commitment to Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby!” They certainly don’t live by those mottos while they remain in Oakland.

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