David White: Hope for Raiders? Not even among faithful

Special to The BeeMarch 15, 2014 

Al Davis was seen by many to be a big part of the problem in the Oakland Raiders' slip from NFL title contention, but more than two years after his death the franchise remains in decline.

PAUL SAKUMA — ASSOCIATED PRESS

So, an NFL reporter-turned-pastor-and-sports columnist walked in for a haircut the other day, and the barber said, "What is this, a joke?"

"What's going on with my Raiders?" barber Randy Leyba asked with a sharp pair of scissors waving in his hand. "What's wrong with those guys?"

Well, there's a Black Hole with no bottom, but let's not say that out loud until after our hair is properly trimmed and the scissors safely put away.

"I can't believe it," Randy said. "I thought it was a new era, you know? Everyone talked about, 'OK, Al Davis is gone, everything's going to change ..."

"It changed, all right," his buzz-faded customer said from the stool. "It's going downhill fast."

Come on, guys, why so down? It's only March. Your Raiders haven't lost a game all year. Hope always springs eternal in the spring, when Oakland won't have to lose another meaningful game for another six months.

Even Cleveland Browns fans think they're going to Super Bowl at this time of year. Can't you guys just be hopeful? For, like, five offseason minutes?

"I was really looking forward to free agency this time, I really was," Randy said. "We have all this money, and what does (General Manager) Reggie McKenzie do with it? Nothing. He goes and signs Darren McFadden for another year? For what, four games?

"I cannot believe it, man. I should have known better than to get my hopes all up."

To get your hair cut at Randy's back-alley Porterville shop is to know that this place is The Coliseum's southern campus. The cinder-block walls are draped with Silver-and-Black pennants and posters.

You've got the Raiderettes calendar over here, a golfing photo with Tom Flores over there, a BBQ souvenir that plays, "Touchdown, Raiders!" when "Field Goal, Raiders" would be the more appropriate call.

This is where Raiders fans can go to cut their hair high and tight for $7, but can never cut their ties to the Greatness of the Raiders, no matter the cost.

"Are you laughing at my Raiders?" Randy asked. "Yeah, you're laughing with me, right."

For two years, the Raiders have been in salary-cap purgatory, unable to spend money on free agents because of their bankrupt condition. But, this was supposed to be the year the Raiders became a free-agent player again. They went into last week with a whopping $60 million in cap space.

And what did the Raiders do? They let their two best free agents -- left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive tackle Lamarr Houston -- walk out the door. When they finally spent big on a free agent -- offensive tackle Rodger Saffold -- they flunked him on the physical. Because, of course they did.

"Are you kidding me?" Randy said, as "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" played on the transistor radio, as if. "You don't let your good guys go. You add to the team, not take away from the team.

"First, it was 'Commitment to Excellence.' Then it was 'Just Win, Baby.' Now? It's 'Next Year.' "

Joe in the gray Raiders shirt walks in, shaking his head the moment he picks up on where this conversation is going.

"It's not like I'm going to become a Niners fan," said the next guy in line, staying anonymous because, well, it's just better that way when you root for the 4-12 team.

The classic rock station is now playing "Don't Bring Me Down." For these Raiders fans, it's way too late for that.

Consider their spring officially ruined before it even begins. It's been the Raider Way since Jon Gruden left the building.

"I try not to care but I can't help it," Randy said. "All day it's what we talk about here, just trying to make sense of it all. Right when I think it's going to get better, it gets worse. The Raiders are bad, the Lakers are bad ...

"I guess I'm going to have to start watching baseball again."

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net or @bydavidwhite on Twitter.

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