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OAKLAND — Jon Gruden made his way onto the field he once put on the map. You couldn’t say he was greeted with a roar, because this was a preseason game and there was only a smattering of fans in the Oakland Coliseum stands.

But the ones sitting near the railing found the moment they’d been waiting for — waiting years, some of them — and they gave Gruden a hero’s welcome.

The PA system happened to be playing “Rock and Roll,” the old Led Zeppelin song.

You know the one: “Carry me back, carry me back, carry me back, baby, where I come from. It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.”

It really has. I mean, we’ve had relationships since Al Davis traded Gruden to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season, but they’ve been fleeting and shallow by comparison. Norv Turner, Art Shell, Dennis Allen — who were they to us, really? They never made us forget Jon Gruden, that’s for sure.

Gruden was back for the first football action of the 2018 season, and it was riveting enough to enliven even an NFL preseason game. Gruden’s presence carried us back, carried us back to the turn of the century, to the last run of sustained success for the Raiders, to those glorious days when Rich Gannon was completing passes to Hall of Famers and this stadium rocked with energy.

There was never a question about who would get star billing for this game against the Detroit Lions. It was Gruden who was announced last, and with rising inflection, during pregame introductions. And it was Gruden on the cover of the Raiders’ version of GameDay magazine, the NFL’s in-stadium publication. He was pictured in a black shirt, black visor and radio headphones. I think the photo was taken many years ago, but it’s kind of hard to tell. Gruden was wearing a similar get-up Friday, and he hasn’t aged all that much in the intervening years of Buccaneering and “Monday Night Football” analysis.

The fans showed up because they love the Raiders. But they also came to see Gruden. He’s the protagonist and the selling point right now.

One small group of tailgaters was grilling chicken and ribs in the parking lot before the game, ready to fill some corn tortillas. They had driven from Madera, and they brought with them a demonic Chucky doll wearing an angelic Derek Carr jersey. Expect to see an army of them when the regular season begins. Several fans wore Gruden T-shirts, most carrying out the Chucky theme. Funny, but I don’t remember seeing any Tom Cable T-shirts in the stands here in 2009.

When Gruden emerged from the tunnel before the game, he fist-bumped a couple fans, one of whom reacted as if he had been blessed by Pope Francis, and proceeded to find his wife and youngest sons for an on-field hug. (Gruden’s oldest son, Deuce, is a Raiders strength and conditioning assistant.) They chatted a bit, as if getting caught up.

To be fair, Cindy, Michael and Jayson Gruden reportedly had just flown out from Florida. Even if they had been living in the coach’s hotel room at the Napa Valley Marriott, though, they might not have received much of Jon Gruden’s attention lately. You’re familiar with his reputation. He goes to bed listening to old NFL Films productions and sleeps 90 minutes a night.

The Grudens posed for a photo, and then it was onto the field for Jon. The field on which he went 23-12 as a head coach between 1998 and 2001, the one that served as a setting for playoff wins against the Dolphins in 2000 and the Jets in 2001. The Raiders have only two postseason victories since then, and both came in 2002, the year Bill Callahan took a team that had been constructed largely by Jon Gruden and led it to the Super Bowl, where it was crushed by Jon Gruden’s Bucs.

As players stretched before the game, Gruden walked amongst them, patting shoulders and shaking hands. He still has that bantam-rooster strut. He walks as if he knows the camera is on him, and it usually is. When pregame warmups were over, Gruden pumped his fist to acknowledge fans as he returned to the locker room.

During the game, Gruden couldn’t have looked more at home. The coat and tie of the broadcasting booth never fit him well. Finally, he was back in his element, occasionally pacing the sidelines or cursing at an official, but mostly standing in place and looking at the play sheet that I’m sure he treats with the reverence of a sacred text.

On the Raiders’ second possession of the game, backup quarterback Connor Cook moved the offense to a field goal. After the kick, Gruden came over to the bench to say something to Cook.

Gruden looked intense, as he always does, but he finished by giving Cook a fist-bump. It was Fist-Bump Friday in Oakland. After Cook finished another drive with a touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer early in the second quarter, Gruden was back for another chat.

Gruden is, by turns, inspirational and cutting with his players. He seems to know, or he believes he knows, which guy needs which treatment. He recently gave Martavis Bryant a public scolding, implying that the second-chance wide receiver needs to work harder in practice. But Gruden has been gently supportive of Cook, a young quarterback who has a reputation for being distant and doesn’t always play with confidence.

The Raiders’ 16-10 victory was a small steppingstone toward the goals of 2018, not worth much more than the joint practices the team conducted with the Lions earlier in the week. But it looked like football, and it looked like the same old Jon Gruden wearing that headset, and Raiders fans were delighted.

Mark Davis had been trying to bring Gruden home ever since his father died seven years ago. The fans had been waiting longer than that. They never really got over Gruden leaving in the first place.

When he left the field after the game, he returned to wife and kids for one more snapshot, one more hug. The fans yelled “Chucky!” from their seats. I’d always heard he hated the nickname, but he didn’t seem to mind as he walked by and gave them a fist pump. Then he disappeared into the tunnel, into the womb that delivered his legend.

Open your arms, opens your arms, open your arms, baby, let my love come running in. It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

But we’re rocking and rolling again.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at (707) 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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