With Gruden, Raiders' Davis no longer living in past

On The NFL

November 08, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Al Davis, who brings his Oakland Raiders to Camden Yards today, can feel a lot of empathy for the Baltimore football fans.

Like him, they like to live in the past.

Davis and the fans savor the days of the old Raiders and the old Colts. They each won three championships and lost one Super Bowl. Their highlights are always showing up on the Classic Sports Network. Just last Thursday, the cable network showed the highlights of the Raiders' double-overtime victory over the Colts in the 1977 AFC playoffs.

The reason the old days seem to be so glowing is that the new days haven't been so rewarding. The Raiders have won just two playoff games since 1983.

Davis has made a series of blunders, moving back and forth from Los Angeles to Oakland, putting Marcus Allen in his doghouse, firing Mike Shanahan after 20 games because he wanted to do things his way and hiring three coaches -- Art Shell, Mike White and Joe Bugel -- who were willing to do things Davis' way.

But there are some signs that Davis started to change when he hired Jon Gruden, 35, as the head coach this year.

Wide receiver Tim Brown said he was shocked at "how much he [Gruden] likes to run the show."

"If you know anything about Jon Gruden, you know he has to run the show," Brown said of the former Packers and Eagles assistant. "I felt very comfortable that this was not going to be a situation where he was just going to be directed to do things. That's why he's had the success he's had."

Brown said he wasn't surprised Davis became less involved.

"At some point you have to say we've got to change. Maybe it was time for him for him to step back," Brown said.

With the Raiders at 6-2, Davis is content. It remains to be seen what happens if they falter.

Modell's ways

Meanwhile, Baltimore fans haven't been able to root for a winning team since 1977, and the Ravens have the league's worst record since they arrived in 1996.

The Ravens also plan change because coach Ted Marchibroda will be fired at the end of the season. But owner Art Modell's organization is headed for its eighth losing season in nine years. That record raises questions about the way the organization operates.

In a book called "Fumble," Michael Poplar, the former head of the Cleveland Stadium Corp., said one problem is that Modell wants employees to tell him only good things.

"I once challenged one of these loyal 'supporters' as to why he told Art only what he wanted to hear, rather than giving an honest answer. His response: 'Art expects support from me,' " Poplar wrote.

Poplar's views may be self-serving because he was fired when the team moved, but he said he once disagreed with Modell, and Modell snapped, "If you're so smart, why are you working for me?"

Poplar also said the feeling in the organization is that nobody should go to Modell with anything that would upset him.

"What's needed in managing a company is top-level caucusing and top-level direction, especially when things are not going well," Poplar wrote.

It's obvious things are not going well for the Ravens now. The Ravens need someone to let Modell know that simply changing coaches won't turn the Ravens into a playoff team.

Not suffering in silence

The Orioles' baseball stadium is often called a cathedral of the sport, and the fans frequently act as if they're in a church.

They tend to quietly watch the action, with the only noise coming from the Washington lawyers talking on their cell phones.

But if last Sunday's Ravens game is any example, Ravens fans are a different breed.

The hostility was startling with all the booing and the "Ted Must Go" chants.

Granted, it was an unusual situation that's not likely to happen again. No road team in NFL history had scored 42 points in the first half before the Jaguars did it against the Ravens.

The fans' reaction, though, indicates they're not going to have much patience. This might be a byproduct of the PSL sales. Fans who put down that kind of money want results. And they're locked in because they'd lose their PSL fee if they give up their tickets.

Since the second half of the season is easier than the first half -- Marchibroda said he would have liked to have played this schedule from the bottom up -- the Ravens are likely to get a few victories at home to placate the fans a bit.

Flutie mania

The Doug Flutie-Vinny Testaverde duel today when the New York Jets play host to the Buffalo Bills is only the second matchup of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in NFL history. Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett, who met three times, were the only other ones to do it.

Now that Flutie has won the Bills' starting job, it's not an exaggeration to say that he could almost single-handedly save the NFL season.

He could end all the complaints about the lack of good teams, bad matchups, boring football and declining TV ratings. He's a phenomenon. The fans have always liked Flutie, and now he's proving they were right and all the scouts who wrote him off were wrong.

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