In the five-cent tour of his offices last Friday, 15 hours before
the start of the NFL draft, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis paused
to point out four large TVs arranged in a diamond configuration
on one wall. In this room Davis watches football and other
games--lots of other games. "Basketball, women's basketball,
baseball," said Davis, 74. "All the sports."
This is an article from the May 3, 2004 issue
"Women's basketball?" a visitor said. "O.K., what team took Diana
Taurasi with the first pick of the WNBA draft?"
"Oh, come on," Davis replied disdainfully. "That's easy.
Davis, who was holding the second pick in the NFL draft, prides
himself on being a quick study of players in all sports. But last
Saturday the Man in Black could have made his team's first-round
choice blindfolded: Robert Gallery, the 6'7", 323-pound Iowa
tackle who's solid as a rock on and off the field. Says
special-projects executive Jim Otto, the former Oakland center,
"He's got what we need--a little kick-ass streak."
In trying to toughen a team that had gone soft, Davis drafted two
more hard hitters in the next two rounds: 303-pound center Jake
Grove of Virginia Tech and head-hunting safety Stuart Schweigert
of Purdue. Add three free agents--guard Ron Stone and defensive
tackles Warren Sapp and Ted Washington--and, assuming the veteran
newcomers stay healthy, Davis has addressed most of the faults
that were exposed during a crash-and-burn season. In going 4-12
last year the Raiders' offensive line allowed 43 sacks, tied for
fourth most in the league, and the defense surrendered 156.9
rushing yards per game to rank last. Gallery and Grove should
push Barry Sims and Barret Robbins, respectively, for starting
jobs next fall.
Davis has always come off as an intimidating sort to outsiders,
but Gallery says he felt comfortable during his visit to the
team's training complex two weeks before the draft. "I love
football, and I enjoy young people," Davis said. "Listening to
their dreams. Listening to people from different parts of the
country talk about their lives."
A few hours after he became a Raider on Saturday, Gallery
recalled his meeting with Davis. While showing Gallery the room
in which portraits of Oakland's Hall of Famers were hung, Davis
had suddenly asked whether he knew someone named John Fry.
Gallery gave him a quizzical look and said no. "Then [Davis]
said, 'That's Hayden Fry!'" Gallery recounted. "He knew I'd know
Hayden Fry, because he's the former Iowa coach. It was pretty
amazing that he knew Fry by his real first name. After my visit,
I thought, This is a place I'd really like to be. They play a
tough, aggressive style, which I like."
The recently acquired players won't be the only new faces
surrounding Davis. Veteran scout Mike Lombardi has succeeded
senior assistant Bruce Allen, who left to become the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers' G.M.; Norv Turner has replaced fired coach Bill
Callahan; and 10 of Turner's 17 assistants weren't on the staff
last year. "Everybody has left," Davis said. "We've got to pick
up the pieces."
The marriage between Davis and Turner has been stress-free so
far. "He and Jimmy Johnson are the two best listeners I've been
around," said Turner, who was an offensive coordinator on
Johnson's Dallas staff in the early 1990s. "He really wants to
know what you think." Sounds like Turner's still enjoying his
honeymoon, but let's see who's talking and who's listening on,
say, a Monday in November after three straight losses.