The puppeteer

Al Davis is in a league of his own. Always has been. Always will be. His Raiders used to be. Now they're just another of the league's perennial doormats, a position they've held almost the entire time since returning to Oakland in 1995. Sunday's loss to the New York Jets is proof positive the Raiders' problems go far beyond the quarterback slot, which was supposed to be the source of all that ails Oakland --

that is, Kerry Collins being slightly less nimble than a sand turtle, Marques Tuiasosopo was supposed to bring new life and hope to Oakland. Problem is, someone forgot to tell the Raiders offensive line which continues to play in the dark.

Left tackle Barry Sims was beaten twice by John Abraham for sacks that resulted in Tuiasosopo fumbles, part of the sextet of sacks the Jets laid on Tui. Even when he wasn't getting sacked Tuiasosopo was getting drilled and hit as he threw. Twice he did that and let the ball flop out of his hands, dangerously close to an interception. Not that it mattered.

Oakland's running game was nowhere to be found, even though LaMont Jordan supposedly had revenge on his mind for the return trip to New York to face his former team. The defense played well at times but not well enough and not for long enough stretches. That they allowed a third-string quarterback named Brooks to beat them says just about all you need to know about this Raiders' team.

Then there was the kicking and punting, both of which stunk. In short, it was very similar to Oakland's eight previous losses. All of this against a team which came in riding the crest of a seven-game losing streak, a team that was without two starting offensive linemen and its Hall of Fame-bound running back and was down to Brooks Bollinger after injuries sidelined Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler, and Vinny Testeverde.

Neither team was playing for the postseason but the Jets had far more reason to lose than the Raiders did to win. With only two losses going into the game, New York was in the thick of the hunt for the NFL's worst record and the No. 1 overall draft pick that comes along with it. But the Jets didn't play as if they cared much about the Reggie Bush sweepstakes. Instead, they simply played good, solid football, something Oakland is losing touch with each passing week.

A week after shocking the world by going an entire game without getting flagged for a penalty, the Raiders were tagged 13 times against the Jets. Oakland's defense twice had New York's offense stopped and ready to punt, only to give the Jets automatic first downs through penalties.

We bring all of this up because it's been pretty much the same script the Raiders have trotted out each week for the better part of the past decade. Since padlocking the gates in Los Angeles and following the moving vans north to Oakland, Davis's beloved franchise has done more rebuilding and renovating than the entire crew at Extreme Home Makeover. The Raiders have been to the playoffs just three times since moving back to Oakland, twice under Jon Gruden and once under Bill Callahan, who had the good fortune of following Gruden as head coach and thus had the major pieces in place from the Team that Chucky Built. Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around, and undoubtedly Norv Turner -- like Collins has already -- will take more than his fair share of it. Yet the man who a growing segment of the sporting world are pointing the finger of blame at is Davis, the Hall-of-Famer whose day-to-day tinkering with the Raiders franchise is legendary and, in many cases, debilitating.

As he has since the day he assumed controls of the organization Davis has had his finger in just about every piece of the pie available. Rarely does he delegate power or control to one of his co-owners or minions, instead hording all of it -- and the decision-making -- to himself.

Now with Oakland destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight season and for the 14th time in the last 20 years, Davis is getting heat from fans and critics who are calling for him to step down from his day-to-day operations. To which we say, yeah right, good luck. No matter how much people criticize him and no matter how poorly his team looks on the field, Davis will never -- NEVER -- relinquish control of his franchise. Though he needs a walker to get around these days, Davis has forgotten more football than 95 percent of Americans even know. He can be painfully annoying to his coaches, all of whom know full well going in what they're getting into.

He can be cantankerous and feisty with his fellow owners. He can even be a little peculiar when he stops during practice, leans on his walker and offers tips and coaching techniques to his players.

What Davis won't be is an absentee owner, no matter how hard people push him to do so. While other owners like to sit back and reap their team's benefits from afar, Davis has always been a blue-collar, in-the-trenches type of an owner who likes to roll up his sleeves and get dirty.

His persona is the Raiders and the Raiders are Al Davis. This is not to say Al shouldn't step down. On the contrary, it would be in the team's best interests to hire a general manager who can handle the salary cap, make personnel decisions, direct the draft and do whatever else needs to be done to get Oakland back to contending status. Then said GM would be free to hire a head coach who wouldn't have to constantly be looking over his shoulder waiting for the next chat' session with Davis. But Davis doesn't go by the book. Never has. Never will. He plays by his own rules, lives his own way and calls his own shots. Release control of the Raiders? Not in our lifetime.

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