In my quest to learn more about the storied legacy of the Oakland Raiders, I’ve read some books, articles and old news stories, as well as viewed all the old games I can find on the net. The most recent great team fielded by the AFC West was the 2002 Raiders under the leadership of quarterback Rich Gannon. This unique team had many great players, but as MVP of the NFL that year, and winner of the coveted AFC Championship, Rich Gannon stands out as a fascinating figure.
One thing that is clear from the reading I’ve done was his intelligence and voracious hunger for research and planning. A perfectionist, Gannon was described as constantly studying the Raiders gigantic playbook at any given time, scheming and planning a multitude of strategies and plans of attack. On the field itself he was known for carefully placed, accurate throws. It helped to have some of the best receivers of all times on the field as well, but clearly Gannon’s commitment to study and preparation had a large effect. Perhaps his veteran status, as a 37 year old at the time, contributed as well. After all those years in the game he’d seen everything before and was able to maintain amazing poise and calm in the storm around him.
Which brings me to the quarterback of today, Jason Campbell. In order to win the AFC Championship and become the best team in our conference, there’s no question that you need a terrific quarterback on the level of Gannon. Obviously you need exceptional play on every other level as well, but my question is, can Jason Campbell reach this level of play? The 2011 Raiders have many talented players, and as good of coaching as you could ask for. But without great quarterback play, our team won’t be able to rise above the rest.
The 2010 Raiders went through a season of quarterback controversy. Jason had some terrible games along the way. However, by the end he had found his groove and was making some quality plays in leading the offense. Not stellar, but he was making good decisions, keeping his cool and making the best of the weapons he had. I also thought he showed a lot of smarts in his play action fakes, his accuracy with long throws (often dropped by young receivers) and in setting up our run game. He’s a good quarterback.
The question is, can he be great? Does he have the kind of focus, determination, brainpower and calculating efficiency that Gannon used to lead the Raiders to the end of the road? When every move you make is measured in hundredths of a second, there is no time for second guessing, regrets or worries about the future. Your preparation for the game must be airtight, and the margin for error is miniscule.
I began watching the Raiders during the Jamarcus era. The only bright side is that I saw how terrible a quarterback can be. I felt the frustration of fumbles, miscues, drops, sacks, stumbles, kneeldowns, confusion and abject surrender. Watching Jason Campbell take the field was an incredible breath of fresh air, and seeing a decent quarterback at work was sheer joy. However, the lessons of the 2002 Raiders show that championship requires a level of play beyond decent. When the 2011 Raiders take the field, it will be Jason Campbell’s level of ability that determines just how far they can go.