Legendary owner Al Davis built the mystique of the Raiders and in the process created a mystique of his own. He was and, in some ways, still IS the face of this franchise even though we’re approaching 7 years since his passing.
One of Al’s more controversial moves — and there were many — was the trading of Jon Gruden to Tampa in 2002 in exchange for two number one and number two draft picks. Now 16 years later, Gruden is back where his star was first realized as an NFL head coach.
As if it isn’t surreal enough for Gruden, who 20 years since his first being hired is back in the same office he inhabited before, Al Davis is still omnipresent, as Gruden detailed in a feature for Sports Illustrated.
“Al Davis wanted these walls to be glass,” he says, “so he could see that you were working. He always wore this cologne—a lot of it—and you could smell him before he got to you. ‘He’s coming this way!’ I’m still expecting to smell it sometimes.”
That cologne? Antaeus, by Chanel.
Part of the reason it feels like nothing has changed there is because some things literally have not changed at all. For one, Al Davis’s office is untouched. It’s the same as it was the day he died.
“It’s just weird coming in here, man,” Gruden says. “Feel like you’re 34 years old again.”
After a cursory tour of Al’s office—rack of leather jackets in the corner; certificates from Syracuse and the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation; jersey from Lance Alworth, Al’s first signing coup—Gruden dips into Davis’s film room, past four idle TV screens, to a fully marked-up whiteboard backed against a wall. “Here it is,” he says.
Davis, named the AFL’s Coach of the Year in 1963, was consumed by X’s and O’s to the end, and the fact that his last whiteboard, the repository of his scribbled plays and plans, remains untouched from 2011 gives Gruden the biggest thrill. “Lookit,” he says, and then reads aloud from Davis’s scribblings: “Power. Big people. Pass pro. Defense. Play calling. Offensive line. Not signed: 21. 24. 26. 31. That’s the last time he was here.”
It’s a trip down memory lane that in some ways feels is exactly the same and in some ways does not.
Twenty years is a long time. Ken Stabler is gone; passed from cancer in 2015. Al Davis is physically gone. And everyone is 20 years older. Gruden too.
He was the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was hired. Now he’s raised a family, had a long tenure as head coach in Tampa and a long tenure as a Monday Night Football analyst. He returns to where it all began. Where he brought the Raiders to heights they hadn’t seen in nearly two decades and which they haven’t seen in nearly two decades since. From where he was unceremoniously dealt in a trade. For what he calls “unfinished business.”
“It hits you in your core,” Gruden says. “It’s almost like I’m living my life twice, like Back to the Future. I’ve got the same office. I walk down the hall, in frickin’ Al Davis’s office, and he’s not there. You see his writing on the board. . . .”
Yeah, it’s kinda crazy for us too, Jon.