TURLOCK, Calif. -- Colin Kaepernick a Raider. Imagine the change in history.
"I think about it all the time, believe me,'' Hue Jackson, the rookie Raiders coach on Draft Day 2011, said Sunday night. "No question in my mind we wanted it to happen, and no question I thought it could happen. We wanted the kid in the worst way.''
I was with Kaepernick Thursday night when he surprised his retiring Turlock Pitman High football coach, Brandon Harris, at the Pitman High School graduation about two hours east of San Francisco. What a surprise it was. Walking offstage on a warm central California night, the begowned Harris hugged Kaepernick and said: "You came for this?! Unbelievable!"
Before the event, I spoke with Kaepernick and his dad, Rick, mentioning to them I'd been with the 49ers on draft weekend 2011 when they traded up and picked him. I asked both about reports (some of them mine) that the Raiders were interested in picking him as much as the Niners were.
"Coach Jackson told me before the draft they were going to do everything they could to try to get me,'' said Kaepernick. "I thought there was a good chance they'd pick me. I never heard anything from the 49ers before the draft after I worked out for them [at Nevada]. I just figured they weren't interested."
Brilliant disguise. That was the first fast one coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke -- working together for the first time -- pulled on the league, and, as you have seen, it wasn't the last.
A quick recent history lesson: The Raiders had Kaepernick the top-rated quarterback on their draft board -- ahead of the five quarterbacks who were taken ahead of him that year (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton). And both teams knew they could wait until the second round to get him. The Niners picked seventh overall (Aldon Smith) and 45th, Oakland 48th, having given up its first-round pick in the Richard Seymour deal with New England.
Baalke called the Patriots, who owned the first pick of the second round, and offered two third-round picks (one in '11, one in '12) to move up 12 spots. New England wanted one of the thirds to be a second. No dice, Baalke said. Oakland called New England too, and failed to get the pick. "When we talked internally,'' Jackson said, "we knew we needed to fortify the offensive line, and we really liked Stefan Wisniewski. I think [Al Davis] felt we'd get a lineman who we figured could play for us for 10 years, then we had two third-round picks, and we'd try to move up late in the second round or higher in the third and try to get Colin."
But the 49ers knew the Raiders loved Kaepernick; it'd been in the media before the draft. So they kept working the top of the second round, and finally got the Broncos, at 36, to bite. Good price, too: It didn't cost the Niners two third-round picks to move up; it cost fourth- and fifth-rounders. "When they made the trade,'' Jackson said, "I knew exactly what they were going to do. They were going to take Colin."
Rick Kaepernick, Colin's dad, told me he'd heard Al Davis threw a glass across the room when it was announced San Francisco had taken him.
"I don't know that he threw anything,'' said Jackson. "But he was upset. So was I. Scouting him, I fell in love with the kid. Leader, won a ton of games at Nevada, really impressive when you talked to him, strong, all the tools to win in the NFL. No doubt in my mind he was going to be good.''
Would Jackson still be coaching Oakland had Kaepernick fallen to them? Certainly, Carson Palmer wouldn't have been traded to the quarterback-needy Raiders six months later. Certainly, the Raiders wouldn't have used (wasted?) a third-round Supplemental Draft pick two months later on Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. With Kaepernick, the Raiders likely would have stuck him in the lineup in mid-2011, when Jason Campbell went down with an injury. And I doubt sincerely Oakland would have gone 4-12 last fall with Kaepernick playing.
Not to be a wise guy, but figure the Patriots had the same pricetag for the Raiders that they did for San Francisco: second- and third-round picks in 2011 and a third-rounder in 2012. Let's see what the Raiders could have traded to move up to get Kaepernick:
? Center Stefen Wisniewski (second round, 2011). Had a so-so rookie year at left guard, then a slightly better year when switched to center in 2012. Center of the future for the Raiders, but not likely a Pro Bowl player.
? Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (third round, 2011). Played about 30 percent of the snaps as a backup corner in 2011. Released in the last cut last year.
? Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (third round, 2012, with pick assigned to Supplemental Draft in 2011). He has thrown 30 passes in mop-up duty in two years. Doesn't appear to have much chance to be the Raiders quarterback of the future.
Would you, Raiders fans, trade Wisniewski, Van Dyke and Pryor for Kaepernick?
Of course, San Francisco's pretty pleased with the results. It's not exactly the value of getting Joe Montana 82nd in the 1979 draft, but getting Kaepernick at 36 could turn out to be a franchise-altering deal if he can stay upright. The pick sure looks good now, after Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith in November 2012 and quarterbacked the Niners to their excruciating Super Bowl loss in his second season.
"Ever wonder what would have happened if the other team in the Bay Area had picked you?'' I asked Colin at Pitman High Thursday night.
"I don't think too much about things like that,'' Kaepernick said. Then he smiled. "But I am pretty happy how things turned out."
Shameless Self-Promotional Note of the Week
My story on Kaepernick, along with a video interview, will highlight the first week of our new SI football-centric website when we debut the week of July 22.
I think you'll like the site, and you'll like a few different sides of Kaepernick that I saw.
One thing I won't be writing about: his 15-year-old, 115-pound tortoise, Sammy. I met Sammy at Kaepernick's parents' home in Modesto. I shouldn't say "met." "Saw'' would be correct. Sammy was sawing logs Thursday night and, evidently, nothing wakes a monstrous, sleeping tortoise.
News of the week, as we continue to count down to summer vaca, and to the opening of training camps (46 days until the Cowboys report to Oxnard, Calif.):
Mr. Vincent goes to Washington.
In the last year, with the suicides of players Junior Seau and O.J. Murdock, the murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher, and the suicide of a Browns groundskeeper, the NFL has tried to focus more on the issue of mental health, particularly in recently retired players. Recently, the league finished training 15 former players as NFL Transition Coaches, who will be dispatched to team facilities and, the league hopes, form relationships with players to help them start new lives after football.
Today, the White House will host a gathering of significant mental-health leaders from around the country in a symposium on the subject. President Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden will speak, along with other key government figures. The NFL's vice president for player engagement, Troy Vincent, will attend. He said Sunday he'd be there to share what he's learned about mental health and to learn from national experts in the field. "No other public institution in the country has been so affected by mental-health issues in the last year,'' Vincent said, "and I think we help generate a national conversation. We want to participate in making a difference in the mental-health dialog in the United States."
This weekend in Boston, the Transition Coaches trained by the league will hold a program for recently retired players and spouses. "The program will focus on the social, physical, psychological and emotional transition for players and their spouses or significant others once they leave the game,'' Vincent said. "We can't make players use a service like this, but we want players to know it's there."
There is something historic about Vince Lombardi coming.
A week from tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Lombardi's birth. Cancer took Lombardi's life at 57, in 1970. That ages all of us some, knowing that Lombardi was born 100 years ago. ESPN is commemorating Lombardi's legacy with a show Thursday night called Lombardi's Legacy. (Who thinks of these clever titles up in Bristol?) One of the panelists on the show will be Mike Ditka, who is in the position of having played against Lombardi, having played for main Lombardi rival George Halas, having listened to him speak, and having known him briefly outside of football. Ditka also was a Lombardi tormentor of sorts. In his rookie year with the Bears, 1961, a Green Bay championship season, Ditka caught nine balls for 190 yards and three touchdowns against Lombardi's Packers.
"What do I remember about that day?'' Ditka said Sunday. "I remember we lost. Individual things never meant that much to me. That was part of playing for George Halas, and I know Lombardi felt the same way. Why were they great? A relentless pursuit of excellence.''
And competitiveness. "Lombardi was one of the greatest leaders in the history of the country, ever,'' Ditka said. "His players felt it. They got it. I remember -- it might have been in that '61 game you talked about -- I cracked back and blocked Ray Nitschke. Legal block, between the belly and the knee, but he got hurt. I wasn't trying to hurt him. And for the rest of the time I ever played him, he tried to kill me and I tried to kill him. We used to play basketball, Packers against the Bears, in the offseason, and he tried to kill me in those games too. I used to think, 'Man, get over it, will you?' ''
Playing for Lombardi could make you competitive like that. Looking forward to seeing what new stuff ESPN, with NFL Films, has unearthed, which will include some heretofore not-heard game audio of Lombardi coaching.
Harbinger of things to come in Oakland?
Let's, for a second, gloss over the fact that the Raiders' weekend firing of director of media relations Zak Gilbert is the kind of knee-jerk Steinbrennerian move that Mark Davis' father, Al, might have made. Might, I say -- after a perceived unflattering story (which, ironically, was unflattering only to Al Davis, and to no one else in the Raiders organization) appeared in Sports Illustrated. And let's divine what the firing means.
When Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie as Oakland's general manager 17 months ago, he gave McKenzie authority over all football decisions. Immediately, McKenzie hired someone he knew from his days in Green Bay, Gilbert, who had worked as a PR assistant with the Packers. McKenzie inherited a team that was $48 million over the salary cap in 2012. This was clearly a long-term job. Very long-term. To fix the Raiders, even if all the decisions are right (and they never are in the NFL), would take three years minimum. Now, before the second season even begins, a key McKenzie hire is whacked. McKenzie's hand-picked mouthpiece fired at a time when the public image of the Raiders was beginning to turn around.
If McKenzie's own PR pick is fired primarily because of a story Mark Davis didn't like -- Davis had exiled Gilbert to working from home for the past six weeks since the story appeared -- what happens if the Raiders stink again this year? And what happens if the riskiest pick in the 2013 draft, first-round Raider cornerback D.J. Hayden, who nearly died of a heart malady last November, doesn't pan out?
I've said this before: You simply cannot judge McKenzie until he has the chance to oversee at least three seasons in Oakland, because of the morass the Raiders were in at the time of his hire. But if Mark Davis gets this skittish over a magazine story, you're crazy to think McKenzie is certainly safe with another four-win season, or worse, in 2013.
Davis obviously didn't like the heat generated from the story in question, a Sports Illustrated piece by Jim Trotter, which had zero negative to say about Mark Davis but pointed out how badly Al Davis had lost his fastball in the last couple of years before his 2011 death -- and how much his lost fastball put the Raiders in a competitive hole. Zak Gilbert's fault in this, apparently, was in telling Mark Davis he thought he should talk to Trotter for the story, which Davis did. Read it. Judge for yourself if the PR guy, who has nothing to do with Trotter's story other than to facilitate interviews, should be canned. I can tell you, from knowing Trotter, that any advice on the story from a PR person would have been met, correctly, with some version of: Thanks for your thoughts. I can take it from here.
One last point about the job Gilbert did. A buddy of mine who writes about the league mentioned to me last season how strange it was to go cover the Raiders now "and actually not dread it.'' Much of that was due to Gilbert reopening many avenues of access to a team that had been shuttered to the outside in the Al Davis days. Example: A couple of weeks ago, on Twitter, I said I couldn't figure out why Charles Woodson signed with Oakland instead of Denver. Gilbert saw the tweet and forwarded me Woodson's transcript after signing, and asked if I'd like to talk to Woodson. Sure, I said. Gilbert tried, and it seemed Woodson said he was done with media until Raiders minicamp. Gilbert said he thought Woodson should do this one interview if possible, and Woodson said OK.
I'm sure the result wasn't exactly what Gilbert had in mind -- the Raiders were pushing the Woodson-coming-home story angle, and Woodson told me it was primarily the signing bonus that made Oakland more attractive than Denver -- but the point is Gilbert understood the business. He put the guy in front of me. What the guy said after that, Gilbert couldn't control. His job was to get his guy's story out.
So, yes, I hate to see an undeserved firing, particularly after a guy uproots his family and moves. But this firing is a bad sign for the immediate future of the Raiders, and for a good general manager who I now believe will be in trouble unless 2013 is significantly brighter than 2012.
The Niners pluck Eric Mangini from the TV set.
Eric Mangini's best days in the NFL were as an aide to the reigning NFL defensive genius, Bill Belichick, in New England. Now he joins an offensive mind with a pretty good future, Jim Harbaugh, in San Francisco, as a consultant to the offensive coaching staff.
Say what you want about Mangini the head coach. He didn't win enough with the Jets or with Cleveland, and I'm not sure if his biggest brush with fame as a head coach was his Thursday night win over the hated Patriots at Foxboro. Perhaps it was that in a restaurant scene in The Sopranos, Artie Bucco once said to Tony Soprano, "You know who's in tonight? Mangenius," followed by the camera panning to Mangini at a nearby table.
But the guy knows football. You don't stay on Belichick's staff for six years if you don't know what you're doing. And if I'm Pete Carroll, Jeff Fisher or Bruce Arians in Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona, respectively, this is what I'm thinking this morning: We play pretty good defense here. Now we have Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Eric Mangini sitting in a tape room in California, studying how to beat us. I doubt any other team has the offensive brainpower the 49ers have in that three-man tandem right now.
Quote of the Week I
"I think he can be a 100-catch guy. We haven't had that here in a while. But I think he can. I think he's a special player. As long as he can stay healthy, I think he's going to be a big-time star for us."
Quote of the Week II
"He created something from, I'm not going to say nothing, but how he brought back an organization and brought it into greatness, and he did it through honesty, hard work, integrity. And, he instilled that in those players ... Again, those players 'til the day he died respected him. The stories are as strong today when you talk to them, after he's passed, as they were I'm sure back then. I'm not going to tell you they loved him at that moment when they were doing all those up-downs and all the running that they did. But the end result was the man that he made out of those guys.''
-- Kansas City coach Andy Reid, from ESPN's Lombardi's Legacy show, to air Thursday night. The 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth is June 11.
Quote of the Week III
"I don't think it's anything I have to worry about. It kind of stinks not being able to get out there and actually do the new playbook, but I'll definitely be good for training camp."
-- Tennessee guard Andy Levitre, slow to rebound from 2012 arthroscopic knee surgery, to The Tennessean, about being held out of spring drills with the Titans. I always wondered why it was such a no-doubt decision by Buffalo to not re-sign Levitre when his contract expired last winter. Maybe his long-term health had something to do with it.
Stat of the Week
Cary Williams' ranking by Pro Football Focus among all NFL cornerbacks in 2012: 69th.
Cary Williams' quarterback rating allowed in coverage in 2012: 98.4.
Cary Williams' free-agent contract with Philadelphia, signed in March: three years, $17 million.
Cary Williams' reasons for missing offseason voluntary training and practice sessions in Philadelphia so far this spring: home construction, his wedding, dental work, his daughter's dance recital.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Gale Sayers turned 70 Thursday.
Joe Namath turned 70 Friday.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Spent a very pleasant Wednesday afternoon with Carmen Policy, football-exec-turned-winemaker, in Yountville, Calif., in the heart of the Napa Valley. Policy, who was the president of the Niners in their glory years, ran the Browns in their late-90s rebirth, and now owns and operates with his wife a vineyard called Casa Piena. And he's in his glory.
Policy was happier when he was winning Super Bowls, and he was really into running an expansion team, but he's a different guy now. Seventy, content, living in a great new home, and making the kind of Cabernet Sauvignon at his vineyard that Robert Parker's Wine Advocate loves. I did too -- though, as you know if you read anything I've had to say about wine, I'm not exactly the Dr. Z of the wine-writing set. I'm a boob. But his 2009 Cab tasted great to these stupid wine tastebuds. And I liked his olive oil even better.
At one point, walking on his 14 acres of grapes and fruit trees and olive trees, I asked him about the football life versus the wine life. He looked perfectly happy here. But how did it compare to his former life?
"No comparison,'' he said. "There's nothing like building a winning football team."
I don't know. I could get used to that wine world. In the wine world, you have worries, but none revolve around finding, drafting and developing a quarterback.
Tweet of the Week I
"The legacy of Al Davis wasn't tainted by Zak Gilbert or Jim Trotter. It was tainted by the last 10 years Al Davis ran the Raiders."
-- @jerrymcd, longtime Raiders beat writer Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune, after the team fired PR man Zak Gilbert.
The team didn't give the reason, but one source said a prime reason was Trotter's Sports Illustrated story this spring, which painted a messy picture of the team new GM Reggie McKenzie inherited when he was hired in the wake of Al Davis' death.
Tweet of the Week II
"You know who would've warned #Raiders owner Mark Davis that canning his PR guy would do more damage than @SI_JimTrotter's story? His PR guy."
-- @jasonjwilde, Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.
Tweet of the Week III
"Nava: .298./400/.488 8 HRs, 33 RBIs, 0.5 million. Carl Crawford .301/.358./470 5 HRs, 13 RBIs $20.8 million."
-- @PeteAbe, comparing the batting average/on-base percentage/on-base-plus-slugging between the starting Red Sox left fielder, Daniel Nava, and the left fielder the Sox traded to the Dodgers in the massive salary dump last year, Carl Crawford. Nava's four-hit performance on Saturday led Boston to a win at Yankee Stadium.
Keep talking about how you were so horribly mistreated in Boston, Crawford. Here's the way sports works: You get paid the very big money, and you struggle for weeks, and then months, and you're going to get booed. Not viciously, but notably.
The manager would have moved you around in the order, trying to find the right spot for you, trying to make your life more comfortable. With you, nothing ever worked. Then you got hurt. You were not mistreated. You were treated fairly. The man's way to deal with it is to say, "I didn't perform up to my capabilities, and it's my fault." But since your trade, you've found 63 excuses for not playing well, none of them credible.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think everyone in our business owes a debt of gratitude to Pro Football Weekly, which, buffeted by financial pressures that its editors fought for years, ceased publication Friday. (PFW will still have a preseason magazine this year.) So many football fans and football media spent years reading Pro Football Weekly for its exhaustive coverage in the pre- and early-internet days, when Packers fans living in Tampa couldn't find out much if any news about their team until the tabloid came in the mail each week.
And PFW gave us the gift of the late Joel Buchsbaum, the homebound scout from Brooklyn whose scouting reports before the draft were the kind NFL scouts read eagerly. Bill Belichick regarded Buchsbaum so highly he once offered him a job as a scout; Belichick also attended Buchsbaum's services when he died in 2002. PFW put Buchsbaum's reports in a softcover book each year, and it was must reading.
Check out this review of Albert Haynesworth a few months before Buschsbaum died, before the 2002 draft: "Immature and needs to be pushed at times. Can't be relied upon. Is not a hard worker or self-starter. Takes too many down off ... The type of player who could make your draft or break your heart." How perfect is that? We'll miss Pro Football Weekly, but the fact is, there's so much instant analysis and easy access to internet updates on every team that it lost its ability to be different enough. The mass of information, never-ending and free, killed PFW. Sad but true.
2. I think the one-game suspension for St. Louis running back Isaiah Pead is just another example of the Rams living on the edge with young players under Jeff Fisher and Les Snead. The Rams take calculated risks with draft picks, as COO Kevin Demoff told me in April, and they draft players with pockmarks on their college resumes figuring they can keep the players in line well enough to keep them active.
It hasn't blown up in the team's face fully yet, but as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reported over the weekend, Pead is the fifth man in the 10-man 2012 draft class to have gotten in some trouble resulting in a suspension or arrest in the last 13 months. The Rams play with fire, in part because the multiple high picks they've had allow them to take risks some teams refuse to take. When, though, will enough of the miscreants' bad behavior cause them to change how they stack their draft boards?
3.I think this sums up the flagging (and that's putting it nicely) career of former Lions top pick Mike Williams: He was waived by the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts on Friday. Williams' tryout lasted eight days, which was at least more days than the number of NFL touchdowns (five) he scored in his pro career.
4.I think I'm hearing the Jags have some very interesting offensive wrinkles set to try with fourth-round pick Ace Sanders and fifth-rounder Denard Robinson. Sanders could be a lesser Tavon Austin, and Robinson could be a Kordell Stewart-slash kind of player. The Jags might not win much this year, but they could be very fun to watch.
5.I think kudos should go to the Bucs -- including GM Mark Dominik -- who will have their heads shaved this week for pediatric cancer. Now, if Greg Schiano shaved ...
6. I think I don't care if DeSean Jackson picks the agency of Jay-Z, or Jay Leno, or Jay North (Google him), to represent him. Too many people care about too many unimportant things in an offseason that is never an offseason in the NFL.
7. I think congrats are in order for Ronde Barber, who has scored a job with FOX Sports as an NFL analyst. He'll be good if he works at it. Really good. Knowing Ronde, he'll work at it
8. I think there are times you count your blessings in life, and Pittsburgh offensive tackle Mike Adams, the team's second-round pick in 2012, did just that after being stabbed in the stomach on Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood early Saturday morning. "I had an angel looking out for me!'' Adams wrote on Twitter, a few hours after three men tried to steal his truck. The knife wound required surgery, but didn't hit any major organs.
9. I think, regarding Donovan McNabb's point that he wants to meet with Robert Griffin III and his dad to discuss the life of an NFL quarterback, Griffin shouldn't ask Mike Shanahan his opinion about whether to set up said meeting. Shanahan's answer would be short, sweet and rather negative, I believe.
10.I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Sports Quiz: Which pitcher leads MLB in wins? (Answer below.)
b. Lord, Roy Hibbert. Get a hold of yourself.
c. Through six games, the composite score of the Eastern Conference final is Miami 569, Indiana 564. I don't know about you, but it's very hard to not root for Indiana tonight. Everyone in the place knows LeBron James is the only weapon Miami has right now, and the Pacers D is holding him to 28.5 a game. It's good, but not intergalactic. Really fun series when I've checked in on it.
d. Said it before and I'll say it again: Boston-Chicago is going to be one heck of a Stanley Cup final series. That's my pick, but I do expect the Penguins to play the must-win game of their season tonight in Pittsburgh.
e. Great Sidney Crosby story hidden in the bowels of Saturday's New York Times sports pages, by Jeff Z. Klein.
f. Hockey players are consistently the ballsiest of all big-time team sport athletes in America. Can't speak for rugby guys, but I can't believe there's a sport in which the participants take the beating hockey players do and keep on ticking, mostly.
g. Jean Stapleton is one of the best female actors in TV history, and it was sad to note her death, at 90, on Saturday. You had to be alive in the '70s to know how groundbreakingly good she was in All in the Family, the best show of the decade. To raise the subjects she did as Edith Bunker -- rape, menopause, homosexuality, breast cancer -- so deftly while being the foil for so much humor as the dingbat of the show ... it's still incredible to me how good she was at the really tough subjects. If you're of a certain age, you can't forget the two-part show when Edith was being assaulted in her home. The sexual assaulter told her she smelled wonderful, and without missing a beat, Edith blurted, "That's Lemon Pledge.'' She made us confront taboo things and think about them in ways sitcom viewers never had before.
h. Beernerdness: Copycat Beer of the Week (and I'm not complaining), straight from the Salt Lake City Airport: Wasatch White Label White Ale. Closest thing to Allagash White that I've tasted, and there's a reason. Wasatch White uses some of the same ingredients as Allagash White, including orange peel and coriander. In this case, copying is very good. That's a fine, fine beer, Wasatch.
i. Nats, Phils, Dodgers: 13 below .500 collectively. Pirates: 13 above .500. We all saw that coming.
j. In the immortal words of Dan Patrick, you cannot stop Jose Iglesias, you can only wonder what in the name of Eddie Brinkman has gotten into his bat. Or something like that.
k. Quiz answer: The 9-0 Patrick Corbin. Of Arizona. That Patrick Corbin. Diamondbacks are 11-0 when he starts, 21-24 when he doesn't.
l. Never thought I'd see the day when Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner were routed in the same day. Happened in a twinbill (well, I should hope) Saturday in St. Louis.
m. Mets 2, Yankees 1 ... Mets 2, Yankees 1 ... Mets 9, Yankees 4 ... Mets 3, Yankees 1.
n. Marlins 5, Mets 1 ... Marlins 8, Mets 1 ... Marlins 11, Mets 6.
o. As Cindy Adams would say: Only in New York, kiddies. Only in New York.
The Adieu Haiku
Ah, spring reportage. All teams look 16-and-0. Best time for Brownies.