Eleven years ago, Nnamdi Asomugha was in the same place he sat today. He was drafted out of Cal Berkeley in the first round of the 2003 draft and was able to simply hop in his car and drive over to Raiders headquarters. He said today, as his career officially comes to a close, he was "nostalgic" as he drove in the same way he did when his career officially began.
He came to the Raiders as a safety out of Cal and by his own words, what draft analysts like to call a "reach". So much so that Paul Tagliabue infamously butchered his name at the podium when he announced the pick. When Asomugha spoke of it, he got the chance to return the favor and stumbled in pronouncing the name of the former commissioner.
Nnamdi recalled it wasn't just the football world and the commissioner who were surprised by the pick. He too was taken aback when he got the call. It was then Raiders head coach Bill Callahan telling him they were about to take him with the next pick.
It was a bit of a dream come true for this kid who grew up in Los Angeles while the Raiders were there and attended Cal right up the road from the Raiders. The Silver & Black was the local NFL franchise is entire life. As he pointed out, he always was enamored by the Silver & Black and what it represented. He used Charles Woodson's return to the team as an example of that.
Woodson was at the podium with Asomugha along with Raider legends Lester Hayes and Willie Brown. He sat among them and it was clear how much they meant to him in his NFL career. He was coached by Willie Brown and Lester Hayes sent him a letter every Tuesday during the season to give him pointers.
It's hard to say how much Woodson meant to Asomugha's development considering he didn't bother with the young Nnamdi.
"Charles didn't even talk to me." Said Asomugha. To which Woodson responded "Gotta make some plays before I talk to him."
Asomugha was making a rare and difficult transition from safety to cornerback. Early on he said he fought the switch. He even started his first NFL game at safety. But that wasn't the plan for him.
He recalls the moment he stopped fighting it. It was a conversation he had with Al Davis who asked him what position he feels best playing. He said safety. Davis then asked him what position he sees his best chance at a future in the NFL. Nnamdi again said safety, not getting the idea that Al was not really asking, he was telling.
Then Al proceeded to explain to the young defensive back just why he was a cornerback and what he saw in him. Then he asked him a third time what position he saw himself playing. Nnamdi responded "Cornerback." That was what sealed it.
After a couple seasons struggling to make the transition, he finally caught on and began shutting down his side of the field. His first full season as the starter came in 2005. In 2006 his reign as one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL began. During that season he had a game he called his "Championship moment". It was a game in which he had a pick six to help the Raiders beat the reigning Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Keep in mind, the Raiders were in the midst of one of the worst stretches of futility in NFL history during his eight years with the team. So, beating a championship team in a defensive battle in which he had a pick six is about as close as anyone on those teams was going to come to a championship.
In Nnamdi's final three seasons with the team, he was a Pro Bowler each season and a two-time All Pro. Then his contract came up and he waited with no contract offer from the Raiders. Eventually he signed with the Eagles and his career immediately started to go downhill. He spent two years of a three-year, $25 million deal before he was cut by the Eagles. He then signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with the 49ers this season and was cut midseason.
Nnamdi said he received some offers from NFL teams but none of them appealed to him. He was luke warm on the idea of switching to safety and ultimately he said he just didn't want to do it anymore. And that's when it was "time to take a seat."
As far as regrets, he said his biggest one was never getting a chance to fully thank Al Davis for what he did for him. He also regrets not saying goodbye to the Raiders fans and thanking them for their support. He got that chance today.
He sat at the podium in Alameda, surrounded by the same support system he had when he became and NFL player, speaking to the Raiders organization and the Raiders fans just as he had back then. And he said thanks and goodbye.
What he does now, he said he doesn't yet know. He will continue his many charities and community outreach efforts in Oakland and elsewhere. Other than that, what he will do and how it turns out is as blank as the day he got the phone call from the Raiders.
Whether you think Nnamdi Asomugha was a great player or not is not the point. He was a great Raider. Mark Davis and the Raiders recognize this and gave him the proper sendoff. Not every organization would go out of their way to gather legendary players and hold a ceremony like this. It speaks to the tradition of loyalty in this organization and the respect they have for a great player and a great man such as Nnamdi Asomugha.