New England has become the Ellis Island of Silver and Black refugees, with Bill Belichick representing the Statue of Liberty: Give us your unwanted, your disgruntled, your undervalued yearning to win championships.
Randy Moss was the first to flee the Black Hole. The Patriots acquired the wide receiver from Al Davis Inc. for a bag of balls and some stick-um in 2007.
And Derrick Burgess is the latest to make the rich richer. The Patriots added the versatile defender by unloading a third-rounder in 2010 and a fifth rounder in 2011. The way New England stockpiles draft picks, that’s the equivalent of a Robert Kraft tip to the valet.
Moss already has 34 touchdowns in 32 games with the Patriots, and the scoring pace will only improve with Tom Brady back behind center. Walter can run the scout offense, pad his stats in mop-up duty and collect a nice healthy paycheck while avoiding the job hazards of an NFL signal-caller. Burgess could end up being a steal. The two-time Pro Bowler is a fierce pass rusher and will help fill the Mike Vrabel void.
Even former Raiders and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan stopped by camp at Gillette this week to talk football. Al Davis had nothing to do with that visit. But if the Raiders want to keep giving their leftovers to Belichick, the master chef knows how to turn them into a feast.
It wasn’t always like this in Foxborough.
Not so long ago, the Raiders were considered the cream of the NFL crop. They had it all – tradition, talent, success. The last few years, they have regressed into a punch line and one of the most dysfunctional organizations in all of sports.
The transformation can be traced by to one fateful day – Jan. 19, 2002. The Tuck Rule Game. If not for a controversial call, we might be talking about the Raiders as the team of the decade instead of the Patriots.
By the letter of the rulebook, officials got the call right. But replays (from every angle) suggest that Brady fumbled the ball in the waning moments of that AFC divisional playoff game. Yet somehow, by the grace of the football gods and conspiracy theorists who believe the NFL lives to torture Al Davis, officials overturned the call, gave the ball back to the Patriots, and New England went on to win the game in overtime.
Neither team has been the same since.
The Patriots went on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Belichick entered the pantheon of immortal coaches. And Brady began his ascent to Canton. A dynasty was born.
On the flip side, the Raiders lost head coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay, got blown out by the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII the very next year and began a spiral of abysmal finishes, draft busts and off-field distractions.
Imagine if the call had gone the other way.
After being hammered all offseason by the New England press and public for not holding onto the ball, Brady goes on to become the second coming of Hugh Millen.
Belichick gets run out of Foxborough faster than Pete Carroll and doesn’t get another head coaching opportunity, jumping from coordinator job to coordinator job. Just another journeyman.
Al Davis cedes control of football operations to Gruden, who rewards the owner with a string of Lombardi Trophies. Davis is exalted as being the wisest of the wise men in NFL circles, a maverick who knew when it was time to shed his ego and listen to a new generation of football minds.
But life only works like that when Frank Capra is directing the movie. There is no Clarence to turn back the clock and see how different things would have been.
The Patriots are the model for how a football organization should be run these days. The Raiders are shooting for more than five wins.
If the Silver and Black don’t get there, they have only themselves to blame. Belichick and Co. will remember to send Davis a postcard from Miami.