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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Al Davis - Raiders Owner Seriously Ill; Who's Next In Line To Run The Raiders?

Yesterday, I met a gentleman who claimed to do special projects for Oakland Raiders Manager Of The General Partner Al Davis and the organization. After a long talk about everything from the old Raiders to his exploits with John Matuzak and my relationship with ex-Executive Assistant Al LoCasale, and others, I asked him how Mr. Davis' health was.

After a long pause and my repeat of the question, the gentleman finally shook his head, looked down, and said "He's seriously ill. I know what it is, but I can't tell you."

After a period of slience, I asked if Mr. Davis was going to be taken from us soon; the gentleman remarked that he didn't think he was going to pass on within the next year, but he's sick.

Having lost both of my fathers last year to cancer, and with a Mom that had and beat cancer last year as well, the issue of a person's possible passing is hard for me to discuss without emotion. The matter of Al Davis' health and what may happen to him is important because it's time for all football fans to consider his impact on the NFL.

Arguably there may not have been an NFL without Al Davis. He's the one who's actions essentially forced a merger between the NFL and the AFL in the late 60s. Mr. Davis was also the first coach and owner to not only seek out and employ African American players, but administrators as well. He also was the first to recruit black players while at USC. Here's a video that includes Sid Gilman's comments on Al Davis' impact on the NFL in the area of diversity:

And most will remember Al Davis as the owner who ushered in the era of franchise movement in the NFL when he moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, and then back to Oakland.

I add that Mr. Davis was the first owner to build a solid marketing brand around his team, even before the Dallas Cowboys did. When you think of the Raiders of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, you always have an image of a team not unlike a bad- ass, but fashionable gang who wore black before it was cool to do so. Heck, it may very well be that all the female ad execs you see wearing black got the idea from watching the Oakland Raiders.

I'm only half-kidding.

Greatest Recent Contribution: Collective Bargaining

With all of his accomplishments it may have been his role in the formation of the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that NFL Owners will remember the most, especially since it happened this year. Here's a video on his views and his role:

Who Will Take Over If Davis Passes On?

The gentleman I talked to said that if Mr. Davis passes on, these are the people most likely to take major control of the organization: Mr. Davis' wife Caroline, his son Marc, John Madden, Jim Otto, and Amy Trask, or some combination of those people.

Regardless of the mix of owners, Al Davis is one of a kind: a maverick and a social innovator. I hope he cheats his illness and we get 20 more years out of him.

Chicago Bears Slow San Diego Chargers 24-3

It just goes to show that this is preseason. Some were already writing off the Bears after the 49ers game. But it's "practice" and not real.

Bears use defense to ground Chargers

NFL.com wire reports

CHICAGO (Aug. 18, 2006) -- The Chicago Bears carried over the tradition they established last year: Score early and often, just not on offense.

Brian Urlacher showed why he was the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, intercepting a pass on the game's third play from scrimmage and returning it 64 yards for a touchdown. Then, near the end of the opening quarter, Rashied Davis took a kickoff the length of the field, going 100 yards for another TD.

The two plays got the Bears off to a fast start and they beat San Diego Chargers 24-3.

"He just threw it right to me," Urlacher said of Philip Rivers' errant pass intended for Antonio Gates. "I caught it and went into the end zone."

Chargers running back Michael Turner broke three tackles on a tough 45-yard run around the right side before Nate Kaeding kicked a 43-yard field goal to cut the Bears' lead to 7-3.

But on the ensuing kickoff, Davis bounced off a scrum at the 20, broke outside, put a nice fake on Kaeding and outran Terrence Kiel to give the Bears a 14-3 halftime lead.

"I just ran in the hole where I was supposed to hit and it clogged up. I bounced off, saw something to the right," Davis said.

"At that point you try to find something to make something happen. When I got around the corner or through the hole or whatever, I noticed it was just me and the kicker."

Dealing with an aggressive Chicago rush and taking some hard hits, Rivers played the first quarter and more than half the second before he was replaced by Charlie Whitehurst.

Rivers completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and made one of the best plays of the first half. Shaking off two tacklers, he rolled left and threw a 21-yard pass to Malcom Floyd on the sideline.

But Urlacher's interception was still on his mind after the game.

"Obviously there was one particular play that was really poor," Rivers said. "But at the same time, I'm not going to dwell on it. It's easy to correct. I threw it right to the guy. It's going to happen. You'd rather have it happen tonight than down the road," he added.

Brian Urlacher sets the tone with his interception return 1:31 into the game.
Rivers was 15-for-21 for 169 yards and one touchdown last week in a victory against Green Bay.

"They have a terrific front unit and they put more pressure on us than obviously we saw a week ago," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We're going to have to step up to that, because the level in which we're looking to go, that's the defensive level you're going to face."

Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, a shaky 3-for-11 in the preseason opener last week against the 49ers, looked sharp late in the second quarter by hitting passes of 24, 14 and 10 yards to drive the Bears to the Chargers 24. But when he tried to hit Gabe Reid in the corner of the end zone, Marlon McCree cut across for the interception.

"I wish I had it back," Grossman said. "I forced it."

Grossman finished 7-for-14 for 83 yards. Brian Griese took over in the second half, played two series, completed 2 of 4 passes for 16 yards and threw a touchdown pass before Kyle Orton entered the game.

"It was better. Not great, but better," Grossman said of his performance. "I don't know what happened last week."

A pair of rookies helped the Bears increase their lead to 21-3 in the third. Devin Hester returned a punt 42 yards and P.J. Pope had a 14-yard run on a fourth-and-1 from the Chargers 29, setting up Griese's 9-yard TD pass to Justin Gage.

Rookie Jamar Williams recovered a San Diego fumble, leading to a 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould early in the final quarter. Jason Harmon intercepted a Whitehurst pass in the end zone with just under seven minutes remaining to stop a Chargers scoring threat.

Neither team's top running backs played. Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson rested and the Bears' Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson are injured.

Jerome Harrison Rises; Browns Win 20-16

Unlikely hero leads Browns to 20-16 win

NFL.com wire reports

CLEVELAND (Aug. 18, 2006) -- Jerome Harrison came to the NFL with a simple, modest plan.

"I just practice hard, line up where the coaches tell me to line up and make plays," he said.

In a short time, the little running back has made a bunch of them.

The 5-foot-9 rookie caught a 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and finished with 107 total yards as the Cleveland Browns rallied for a 20-16 win over the Detroit Lions.

With the Browns down 16-10, third-string quarterback Derek Anderson hit Harrison in stride over the middle for the go-ahead score. Harrison, who rushed for 1,900 yards at Washington State in 2005, ran for 53 yards on nine carries and had six receptions for 54.

The Browns were helped to a win by diminutive running back.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel has been impressed with Harrison's fast start.

"The Harrison kid caught the ball and ran with it," Crennel said. "He looked pretty good. He has quickness and change of pace. If he continues to improve, we'll all feel good."

The Browns are also feeling better about tight end Kellen Winslow, the former first-round pick who missed most of the past two seasons with leg injuries. He had three catches for 37 yards -- all in the first half.

"I'm not nervous. I'm not pressing and I'm out there having fun," said Winslow, who believes he'll have a big season. "Oh yeah. I'm looking to dominate."

Harrison has emerged as a multipurpose threat for the Browns (1-1), who looked much better on both side of the ball than they did a week ago in a listless 20-7 loss at Philadelphia. Harrison scored Cleveland's lone touchdown against the Eagles.

Taken in the fifth round (145th overall) by the Browns, Harrison has shown speed, agility and toughness. Although he's the shortest Browns player, Harrison hasn't been intimidated about running inside.

"He's looked great, I knew he would," said Anderson, who played against Harrison in college.

Matt Prater kicked three field goals -- 22, 44 and 48 yards -- for the Lions (1-1).

An undrafted rookie from Central Florida, Prater has no chance of beating out Jason Hanson, Detroit's all-time scoring leader and one of the NFL's most consistent kickers for the past 14 seasons. However, Prater's strong kicking could land him a job elsewhere, or force the Lions to keep him around.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he's considering keeping two kickers.

"He was a beast," Marinelli said. "He did a great job tonight."

Browns starting quarterback Charlie Frye finished 8 of 11 for 41 yards with one touchdown, one interception and one fumble in four series.

Except for throwing the pick to cornerback Dre Bly on his fourth attempt, Frye showed nice poise and pocket presence. His performance had to be reassuring to Crennel, who handed the starting job to the second-year quarterback when he traded veteran Trent Dilfer to San Francisco.

The Browns also got big plays from rookie linebackers Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson and nose tackle Baba Oshinowo. Wimbley had a sack, Jackson made an interception and Oshinowo and a late sack as Detroit was driving.

Lions starter Jon Kitna played the entire first half, completing 7 of 12 passes for 94 yards and one touchdown. Kitna's passing was one of the few bright spots as the Lions first-team offense managed just 3 yards rushing on nine attempts against Cleveland's defensive starters.

Frye bounced back from throwing an interception on Cleveland's first possession by hitting Dennis Northcutt for a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to put the Browns ahead 7-0.

After taking a low snap from new center Ross Tucker, Frye scrambled to buy himself time before zipping his pass over the middle to Northcutt, who has been his favorite target during camp.

Frye's next attempt didn't go as well. Detroit defensive end James Hall beat tackle Kevin Shaffer on an outside rush and stripped the ball from Frye deep in Cleveland territory.

Three plays later, Kitna hit Kevin Jones for a 2-yard touchdown to tie it.

Bengals Top Bills 44-31; Chad Johnson Celebrates...Almost

Bengals roll to 44-31 win over Bills

NFL.com wire reports

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Aug. 18, 2006) -- Shortly after the game was over, Chad Johnson announced in the Bengals locker room the Buffalo Bills couldn't stop him.

The NFL officials, well, that's another story.

Johnson, the always colorful receiver, scored his first touchdown this preseason in Cincinnati's 44-31 win over the Bills. Yet there was one thing missing: the touchdown dance.

Johnson's bid to do something -- anything, without drawing a flag that would hurt his team -- was denied by an official under the NFL's new rules severely limiting post-TD celebrations. He pleaded with the ref immediately after his 9-yard catch, even offering to pay his fine for keeping the flag in his pocket.

Keiwan Ratliff and the Bengals defense pestered the Bills offense all evening.
"I was asking him to let me celebrate, that's what that was, I'm sure you guys knew that," Johnson said. "But he told me not to. 'Get off the field.' Just like that."

It didn't matter much: There was enough high-scoring entertainment to keep most fans interested in a mean-nothing game.

Johnson, sporting his new golden mohawk haircut, had five catches for 73 yards in less than a half of playing time, helping Cincinnati (2-0) produce the third-most points in a preseason game in team history -- and most since a 45-0 win over Tampa Bay in 1977.

The Bengals defense did the rest, forcing four turnovers in the first half, returning two of them for touchdowns on Dexter Jackson 's 72-yard fumble return and Keiwan Ratliff 's 26-yard interception return.

"Tonight was a fine example of people running to the ball and trying to make plays," Jackson said. "We're not where we need to be, but we're on that road."

The Bills (0-2), coming off a 14-13 loss at Carolina last weekend, had a mixed outing. The 44 points they allowed is the fifth-most by a Bills team in preseason, and most since a 45-14 loss at Chicago in 1985.

The bright spot for Buffalo was Willis McGahee, who had nine rushes for 88 yards, including an electrifying 61-yard touchdown run on a power sweep to the left. It was an impressive glimpse of a player who arrived at training camp 15 pounds lighter and eager to erase what had been a disappointing season last year.

"It felt real good man, like the monkey off my back," said McGahee, who was limited to five touchdowns rushing last season after scoring 13 in 2004. "I think we took a step forward."

The same cannot be said of J.P. Losman, who had an up-and-down outing in his first preseason start after coach Dick Jauron named him the front-runner for the No. 1 job this week.

Losman finished 7 of 11 for 134 yards passing, but lost two fumbles and an interception, leading to 13 Bengals points. His worst pass was a quick out intended for Josh Reed, which was intercepted by Ratliff, who jumped the route with 6 minutes left in the second quarter.

Losman responded on the next possession, hitting Lee Evans in stride up the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown.

"It was unacceptable," Losman said. "There was some good and some bad. I think the bad is very correctible."

"He's got to protect the football," Jauron said. "We've got to be forcibly patient. We've seen him perform. He's got a strong arm. ... Sometimes, he holds the ball too long. But we'll just keep working and moving forward."

Losman, the second of Buffalo's two 2004 first-round picks, has been locked in an offseason-long competition for the starting job with journeyman Kelly Holcomb and Craig Nall.

The Bengals have quarterback questions of their own, specifically who will be the No. 2 behind Carson Palmer. Anthony Wright continued to show signs of improvement in making his second preseason start.

Wright finished 9 of 19 for 99 yards and a touchdown in the first half, which ended with the Bengals ahead 27-17.

Third-stringer Doug Johnson went 8 of 14 for 133 yards and a touchdown, and also scored on a 4-yard bootleg while playing the entire second half.

Notes: When Johnson didn't celebrate, Bengals OG Bobbie Williams wondered if the receiver was saving it for the regular season. Informed the official stopped Johnson, Williams laughed, and said: "Well, at least he's listening now." ... Bills CB Eric King left the game because of back spasms. CB Troy Vincent was held out because of a strained hamstring. ... Bengals OT Willie Anderson was held out because of a hamstring injury.

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