It wasn't an original thought when Jon Gruden expressed it during his tenure with the Raiders. But it never rang so true as when combined with his attitude and inflection.
"You are," he liked to say, practically spitting out the words, "what your record says you are."
Since Gruden left Oakland, the Raiders are 35-77 — and that includes the 2002 Super Bowl run under Bill Callahan. Over the past six years, well, no need to parse those sad facts when Steve Corkran has so lovingly documented them elsewhere in today's edition.
Besides, we don't gather today to go all baby harp seal on the Raiders. It's no secret they've been very bad for a very long time. No, we are guided today by a more altruistic thought, also not original:
Your darkest hour isn't so bad if you learn something from it.
The plain fact is, the Raiders' return to Oakland, now in its 14th season, has been a competitive disaster. They have managed only three winning records, while compiling seven seasons of double-digit losses.
Enlightenment comes from comparing the good with the bad, and adjusting accordingly. This has been the Raiders' greatest recent failure. Once the most nimble and creative thinker in pro football, managing general partner Al Davis has become stuck in a rut. He has repeated the same failed strategy to the point that we all know it by heart. Any meaningful change has to start with him.
But that doesn't stop us from thinking out loud. If you stand the Raiders' bad seasons shoulder pad-to-shoulder pad with their good seasons, you see some distinct differences:
Shared responsibility. Davis gave Gruden a voice. He also employed a de facto general manager at that time, Bruce Allen, who not only had a voice but acted as a firewall between the owner and the coach.
If you'd like to put a face on the dynamic, try Rich Gannon's.
We all know what Davis likes in a quarterback — a huge arm about covers it. Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell could/can throw spirals to the moon. What they didn't/don't have a feel for are the intangibles of the position — accuracy, quick decision-making and a passion for leadership (though the jury is still out on Russell).
Gannon was Gruden's idea of a quarterback. Most of his passes would have had trouble bruising a banana. Yet he threw for an average of 3,947 yards and 26 touchdowns his first four seasons in Oakland. P.S.: He's the only quarterback in the past 25 years to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
Next up: Wide receivers.
The Raiders need some. Oakland's quarterbacks and offensive linemen have taken plenty of heat, not without reason. But quarterbacks can't throw to receivers who aren't open, and lineman can't pass protect to the count of "17 Mississippi" waiting for something to break free downfield.
Since coming back to Oakland, the Raiders have had 10 1,000-yard receivers — seven named Tim Brown, two named Jerry Rice and one named Randy (Just Passing Through) Moss. Six of the 1,000-yard efforts came in the four seasons Gruden coached the team.
Only twice since coming back to Oakland have the Raiders chosen a wide receiver in the first three rounds of the draft — Jerry Porter in 2000, and Johnnie Lee Higgins in 2007. That's a distressing record for a team whose ring of honor (if it had one) would include Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, maybe even Warren Wells.
Finally: Cultivating leadership.
Charles Woodson should have been a leader here, inside the locker room and out. Porter should have been a leader here. We should be seeing more fire from Russell, and less resignation from Nnamdi Asomugha.
There should be a culture of accountability, a buy-in on the part of young players. It happened under Gruden and Gannon. Now just the opposite seems true.
Simply put, players can't take ownership unless ownership provides the proper structure (i.e.: a competent and authoritative head coach) and resources (i.e.: the kind of mentorship that gives Russell a chance to be a productive quarterback), then gets out of the way.
It's a proven formula, having brought the Raiders the only success they've known since coming home. You could look it up.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.