ALAMEDA — Where’s my helmet, and when do I get to hit one of these damn blocking sleds? Come on, Coach, build me a wall so I can run through it.
Raiders, on three!
Ahem. Sorry about that. (Smooths front of shirt.) I got a little carried away. I haven’t really dropped my journalistic detachment and bought some silver and black face paint. But man, that Jon Gruden press conference got me fired up on Tuesday.
I’ve never seen a coach’s introduction quite like it. The Raiders normally stage all of their major photo ops in the auditorium at team headquarters. That’s what the room was made for. But Gruden is too big for that. They had to move the festivities across the patio to the Raiders’ massive barn of a weight room.
There was a lot of inflated hype on display. The press conference began with a video projected onto the massive screen behind the podium. “Whispers became rumors,” a voice intoned over footage of Gruden high-fiving fans.
But not all the excitement was manufactured. Much of it emanated from the man himself. Gruden looks like a perfectly normal human being, but when he opens his mouth, he acquires the superpower of magnetism.
As former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson said Tuesday: “You can feel the energy. There are few people draw that type of energy in any sport and any walk of life.”
Few indeed. I’ve been to — let’s count ’em up — eight Raiders coaching introductions now, and the team does a good job of rounding up alumni for these events. But the head count at the Gruden Greet was staggering.
Yeah, there were the usual suspects like George Atkinson and Willie Brown. But the heavy hitters showed up, too. Tim Brown and Jerry Rice were there, and Woodson and Howie Long and Rich Gannon. And so many obscure Raiders, like Chris Cooper and Roland Williams and Frank Middleton and Grady Jackson. Oh, and, because this had to go outside the box, A’s manager Bob Melvin.
The true barometer of this craziness, to me, was the presence of former defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who played here from 1999 to 2003. The last time I saw Coleman, he was sitting in the visitors’ locker room at dingy Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego after the final loss of the 2003 season, telling everyone in sight how eager he was to get the hell out of Oakland and away from this screwed-up franchise. But there was Coleman on Tuesday, backslapping with the rest of them.
That’s the power of Gruden. It doesn’t matter if he’s mic’d up on the NFL sidelines or grilling a quarterback prospect one-on-one or breaking down a screen pass in the “Monday Night Football” booth. When he talks, we lean forward an inch or two.
He didn’t even say a whole lot at his introduction. In fact, he was pretty guarded when asked when he committed to returning to the Raiders, and why the timing was suddenly right after he had declined Mark Davis’ advances so often in the past.
But Gruden’s personality escaped in small bursts. Mostly, when you least expected. Like when someone asked him about the coordinators he is hiring, and he wound himself up talking about the defense that Paul Guenther ran in Cincinnati.