Nothing but wins matter to Oakland

Throughout his playing days with the Raiders Art Shell developed a reputation for being unflappable on and off the field. It's a trait that served him well during a 15-year career as Shell carved a path into the NFL Hall of Fame.

It's also a trait Shell is leaning on heavily now as a head coach.

With the Raiders hitting the quarter-pole of their schedule, Shell finds himself in a swirl of controversy coming at him from all angles. Oakland went winless through the first month of the regular season, failed to score an offensive touchdown until the first weekend in October and is widely being hailed as the worst team in the NFL. And that's just the easy stuff.

Shell has also had to deal with a brooding, unhappy wide receiver (Jerry Porter) and the ongoing soap opera that situation has turned into. Then there's Randy Moss and his bi-weekly comments about how bad things are with the Raiders, statements that at times seem serious but at others come off as rambling tirades.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Shell has also endured heavy criticisms coming from former Raiders-turned-television-analysts Tim Brown and Rich Gannon, both of whom hammered the team for a lack of leadership in the Oakland locker room.

All of this added up to one serious question: Has Shell, the man picked to bring respectability back to the organization, lost control of the team before the calendar even hits Halloween?

If he has, the players aren't saying. If anything, the Raiders are pointing the finger of blame at themselves rather than at the coaching staff.

''When your cards are down everybody has something to say about everything,'' lamented safety Jarrod Cooper. ''Whatever. No one's worried about that. With all due respect to every player that's been in the league and has played on every team and that's doing their own thing now, they know -- just as well as anybody else -- if they were in this locker room and somebody else said something about them, that's just part of the whole outside world. You don't even acknowledge it.''

Cooper said the difference is that the Raiders are losing rather than winning. Winning breeds solidarity, losing breeds contempt.

''You let stuff like that creep in here, then all hell breaks loose,'' Cooper said. ''It's all good, though. There's no kind of controversy between anybody. Ain't nobody quitting on anything. Everything's good in here.''

On that point, Cooper is a might misled.

While the Raiders continue to try to put a positive spin on things, life in the Raider Nation has not been so good.

Oakland ranks at or near the bottom in just about every key offensive category. The defense, which looked improved over the first two games, took a step backward in the loss to Cleveland, as did the Raiders' special teams. Same thing in the loss to San Francisco.

During the Browns' game, tensions on Oakland's sidelines ran high. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp and special teams coach Ted Daisher exchanged harsh words at one point and had to be separated.

Afterward, safety Stuart Schweigert pointed out in his column in Silver and Black Illustrated that he was concerned the team might start dividing given its winless start.

So no, everything is not OK. But is it as bad as it seems?

While Brown and Gannon, the last true locker room leader the Raiders had, would say yes, fullback Zack Crockett says his two former teammates are misled.

''When was the last time you saw one of them in the locker room?'' asked Crockett, adding that a visit from one of the two would provide a boost for the current Oakland team. ''An inspirational word from one of those guys can turn something in the right direction.''

That's a concept Al Davis has long held onto. He frequently flies former players to road games and has them come in and speak to the team before kickoff. In 1984, for example, linebacker Ted Hendricks -- having just retired a year earlier -- rose and spoke to the Raiders just before they took the field for the second-half kickoff in a game against Miami. As he spoke, Hendricks growled and rammed his head into an empty locker to make his point.

Shell, too, has embraced the ways of the old in his attempt to revive the Raiders' tradition. The problem is that the team is at least two decades removed from its era of dominance, meaning most of the young players on Oakland's roster have no memory of those days.

And while Davis and Raiders management love to talk at length about the glory days, the simple truth is that the team has done more losing than winning for the better part of 20 years now.

''You can't go off of past tradition with the mystique of the Raiders in the past,'' said cornerback Tyrone Poole. ''You have to win. That's how you gain respect. You've got to go out there and grab it. No one's going to give it to you.''

Putting it more succinctly, Schweigert says the Raiders problems will all go away once the team puts a few wins on the board.

''You just hope guys are going to keep coming in and do what they are supposed to be doing,'' Schweigert said. ''We just have to win. You can keep saying guys are playing hard and are doing what they are supposed to be doing but if we're not winning, really none of that shit matters.''


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