THE RAIDERS' fourth-quarter comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday was a sight to behold. But if you only saw it, it turns out you missed the best part.
That came when Bruce Gradkowski, in his third game as the Raiders' starting quarterback, kindly requested that a couple of his offensive linemen refrain from watching the stadium video board and grant him their full attention.
And when we say "kindly," we mean in that endearing Gen. George S. Patton way.
"It was during the two-minute drill so we had to get up and go," Gradkowski recalled this past week. "I saw a couple of guys looking up at the scoreboard trying to watch the replay. I'm not going to (repeat) exactly what I said. I was kind of aggravated like, 'Hey, get in the huddle. Let's score first and then we can watch the game after.'"
That last drive, of course, ended with Gradkowski's game-winning touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. If it had been a postseason game, it would have merited instant enshrinement into the team's Roll Call of Games so Singularly Epic They Deserve Their Own Name: Sea of Hands, Ghost to the Post, Holy Roller, Mad Grad.
In fact, two of Gradkowski's three starts have ended in improbable victories. On Nov. 22, the Raiders scored 10 points in the final 33 seconds to upset Cincinnati. (Heidi Rides Again?)
The excitement has been such that you have to caution yourself against presuming too much or looking too far into the future. Gradkowski has a mere 505 NFL passes on his resume. He has spent the past eight years trying to overcome the perception that is he something less than a franchise quarterback.
And, not to kill the vibe, JaMarcus Russell remains under contract. There is nothing to suggest the Raiders are prepared to give up on him, so it's plausible that as soon as Gradkowski quits working miracles, he'll resume holding a clipboard and watching the offense from the Oakland sideline.
But for now he has done us all a huge favor, reminding us of what a real quarterback looks and sounds like when he's on the job.
"The on-field leadership, Bruce definitely has that," punter Shane Lechler said. "Of course, I'm not in the huddle, but you can still feel his presence. I'm sure he commands the huddle like Rich (Gannon) did. Guys respect that. He doesn't call a play and it sounds like a question, you know? It's like, this is going to work and (he) believes it."
There's no getting around it — playing quarterback requires the most leadership of any position in any sport you care to name. At some point, you have to lead some kind of way. Maybe it's by breathing fire like Joe Kapp. Maybe it's by firing a pinpoint touchdown pass while getting chalk-outlined into the ground, then hopping up and telling Too Tall Jones, "Respect that, (blankety-blank)," like Joe Montana.
Maybe it's by being first to work and last to leave, or policing the locker room, or appointing yourself a liaison between the grunts and the head coach, like Gannon. But somehow you have to project the image of a guy with someplace important to go, and inspire your teammates to follow you.
"He's a tough guy, he's a fiery competitor," Gannon said this past week, speaking of Gradkowski. "This is a team that's been starving for leadership, direction, toughness at that position. Now they've got a guy that gives them a little of that."
What's left unsaid is deafening: Russell is not that kind of personality. He's the guy calling plays in the form of a question. He's the guy who has no apparent urgency, who isn't in any hurry to hold himself accountable. If you've ever been around him, you can't help but wonder: Is this how he comes across in the huddle, as Captain Whatever?
In three weeks Gradkowski has done more team-building — including having teammates over to his mom's house for dinner while the Raiders were in Pittsburgh — than Russell has managed in three years. The difference couldn't be more striking.
"It gets back to developing players," Gannon said. "If you get a guy that wants to work at it and wants to be great, the players sense that around him. (Gradkowski's) been demanding of his teammates. There's a certain expectation level, and you've seen everybody else pick up their level in terms of preparation and performance."
Gannon sees what we're all seeing: There's a proven method to Grad's madness.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.