Hope arrived not at the Coliseum Sunday, but several hours before at Ricky's Sports Theater and Grill in San Leandro.

There, a hearty group of Raiders fans dared to dream of better days. Or maybe they were fondly recalling the same thing.

The guy dressed like a gorilla, a man with a shield where his head should be and a third with spikes and imitation armor posed for a photo with a familiar smiling face who wore a Raiders visor and a brand new No. 34 Bo Jackson jersey.

Not far away the marquee proudly announced the appearance of a favorite son:

``Welcome back Jon Gruden.''

As Gruden made his way to a luxury bus headed back to San Francisco, a glut of Raiders fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite players chanted, ``Come back Jon! Come back Jon!''

Hey, in the wake of the Raiders' 34-13 loss to the Washington Redskins, you can't stop a fanatic from wishing for a miracle.

Gruden is in San Francisco to work as an analyst for ESPN for the Cardinals-49ers game on Monday Night Football. Rather than have dinner in the city, he returned to one of his favorite East Bay haunts.

Upon arrival, Gruden went into the memorabilia store on site, bought himself the jersey and insisted those in his group, including play-by-play man Mike Tirico and co-analyst Ron Jaworski, wear Raiders hats.

He sprung for a crowded backroom Raider reunion, renewing acquaintances, slapping backs and shaking hands with a seemingly never-ending reception line of invited guests _ many of whom are going to be glad their names won't be mentioned here.

Showing up to a Jon Gruden party is no way to please a boss whose team looks like a lock for its seventh straight season with 11 or more losses.

``Look at him,'' one Raiders employee said. ``He's still a rock star.''

Word got out Gruden was in the house, and a crowd gathered as he departed after 11:30 p.m. The excitement level as he slowly made his way out, interacting with fans, dwarfed anything that took place for the team he used to coach on a dreary Sunday in a 21-point loss to a team that entered Sunday with a 3-9 record.

The last three years Gruden coached in Oakland, his teams didn't lose a single regular season game by more than nine points, let alone 21.

It's become commonplace for the post-Gruden era Raiders, particularly with a 2009 team which treats success as if it were the weekly trash _ something pushed to the curb, hauled away and forgotten.

Four times the Raiders have won this season. In the four ensuing games, they've been outscored 119-23.

All the momentum generated by Bruce Gradkowski's three fourth-quarter touchdown passes against Pittsburgh dissipated once Gradkowski, making an awkward underhanded flip under pressure to Justin Fargas, was twisted to the ground by Brian Orakpo three plays before the end of the half.

He got up with one sprained MCL, one partially torn MCL, and the very real possibility that his season is over.

The Raiders did their best afterward to say the absence of Gradkowski, and the reappearance of JaMarcus Russell, wasn't the cause of the collective sag in their play in the second half.

Gradkowski was 10 of 18 for 153 yards and was sacked twice in the first half. Russell was 10 of 16 for 74 yards and sacked six times in the second half. He had no completion over 11 yards, and given his protection and lack of mobility, never had a chance.

Orakpo had four sacks, and Andre Carter had two.

``We knew JaMarcus was a pocket guy,'' Orakpo said. ``He wasn't a running threat. So I was able to let loose with all kinds of moves to get to him.''

In the second half, with Russell at quarterback, the Raiders had a net of 39 yards in total offense, after getting 188 with Gradkowski in the first half.

By game's end, with the tiny crowd (announced at 44,506, though there were considerably fewer than that in the stands) filtering out about midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders went 227 yards forward (total offense) and 118 backwards (the yardage on 14 penalties).

It was dank and depressing, a feeling cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha knows all too well.

``You look up into the crowd and there's probably 10,000 people left, the birds are going, and it's a vision you've seen before,'' Asomugha said. ``It's just replaying in your head and it's not a good feeling. It's happened a good number of times each year, and when the feeling comes, it's not good.''

As for Gruden, he'll be working in the booth tonight at Candlestick Park. He's been gone eight years now and if you took a poll at Ricky's Saturday night, it would be nearly unanimous that the slide into oblivion began the day he left.

The fact that Gruden has refrained from publicly disparaging the Raiders _ Jaworski said he's never heard him utter a bad word about Davis _ is enough for the dreamers to speculate about a triumphant return.

Which brings us back to why Gruden was traded in the first place. He wanted to pick the 53-man roster and to pick his own coaching staff. He'd also command more than double what Davis has ever paid a coach.

And he'd probably want Bruce Allen and other members of the support staff that followed him to Tampa back as well.

We all know the odds of that happening.

Tell it to the gorilla, the shield head and the guy in the armor.

Contact Jerry McDonald at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com.