They didn't want to stay away. They didn't stop being Raiders fans. They never stopped rooting.
But they'd seen enough of the careless, ponderous quarterback and the atrocious performances during the sorriest era in Raiders history. So thousands upon thousands stopped coming to games.
Well, some are coming back. Thanks to a rational draft, a logical trade, the release of JaMarcus Russell — and the persistence of the team's ticket associates — many of those who sat at home last December are pulling out their wallets in May, ready to buy into the 2010 Raiders.
Even more are thinking about it. They're counting their money, studying the changes and wondering if a new day has dawned. They need only a gentle nudge, something to tip them toward faith, if not confidence.
Meanwhile the Raiders have made the curious decision to conceal offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the liveliest, most captivating presence to come to Oakland since Jon Gruden in 1998.
No cameras, no microphones, no notebooks, no introduction.
So Hue is, for now, a myth, the subject of second-hand tales of Hue. The media are allowed to see some of the impact he has on practices and feel the energy radiated by this former college quarterback.
"His whole goal during practice is to make someone mad on defense," newly acquired quarterback Jason Campbell says of Jackson. "It excites everyone around us. It's not going to be a quiet practice here, I know. As long as he's here, it's going to be rowdy."
That the interested fan, for now, gets nothing from Jackson suggests, even after several moves to invigorate the fan base, there remains a self-defeating stubbornness at the top of the organization. The Raiders are badly in need of a new image and seem to realize this, yet they are squandering a basic promotional opportunity.
Three months after he arrived from Baltimore, Jackson's new employers have yet to formally unveil him for the public. No news conference, no appearances on TV or radio. The Raiders show no inclination to provide a platform for a man who by all accounts would know how to use it.
"I love the way he gets after it," quarterback Bruce Gradkowski says of Jackson.
"He's very energetic. He talks a lot of smack," Campbell says.
Campbell could not suppress his grin when speaking about Jackson. Coaches who have worked with Jackson can't hide their respect for his ability to connect with people, to get players to perform. Players speak of Jackson with genuine enthusiasm.
It's the kind of enthusiasm that could stimulate, if not satisfy, many within a hungry fan base — especially if they're seeing attempts to improve the quality of the team.
Utilizing your assets to sell your product is elementary, a concept straight from Practical Business Principles 101.
Arranging for head coach Tom Cable to appear on the KNBR morning show the other day, interrupting the incessant 49ers/Giants dialogue, was a stride in the right direction.
But it indicates continued dedication to the one-voice concept, with Cable being the sole spokesman. Oakland is comfortable with this approach, as are many other teams. In many instances, it makes sense.
Not here. Not now. Not if you recall the apathy of last season, the empty sections at the Coliseum, the local TV blackouts and the widespread disaffection. It was there in full color, mocking tradition and humiliating any Raiders employee with a shred of pride.
In the wake of that, one would think the creative minds inside the organization would pause to consider anyone who could promote revival. Yes, even an assistant coach, especially if that assistant conveys appealing qualities and happens to be responsible for the most widely discussed aspect of the team.
This is not to deify Jackson. He's not a miracle man. But, for now, he doesn't have to be. Not any more than Norv Turner needed to promise miracles upon being introduced as the 49ers' new offensive coordinator at a news conference in January 2006 — two weeks removed from his firing by the Raiders after two dreadful seasons.
Understand, too, that Hue, 44, has more charisma in his bald head than Norv does in his entire body.
Unveiling something or someone new is an old and often effective tool. It's more likely to work on those eager to embrace. The Raiders have plenty such customers.
As those folks explore their options, the Raiders might want to offer a little more persuasion to get them out of the house, where they sat last year, listening to Greg Papa on radio while Chargers-Chiefs were on TV.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org