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MADDEN
NAPA — Time seems to turn back each time Al Davis sits before the cameras and discusses his football team. It's as if he has been interrupted from a hibernation begun in 1985.

Facing his friends and enemies in the media Tuesday afternoon, the accomplished Raiders boss, a multi-generational icon, appears ever more firmly and comfortably settled into denial regarding his beloved Raiders.

And, so far, nobody within the organization has been secure enough, courageous enough or diplomatically clever enough to nudge him toward reality.

Senior executive Mike Lombardi hasn't done it. His predecessor, Bruce Allen, couldn't do it. None of the last seven head coaches could do it, and at least two burned bridges while trying.

Maybe head coach Art Shell, at age 59, considerably more mature than he was in his first term under Al, will develop into that someone. Assuming Shell himself can take a sober, practical approach.

First, though, Big Art may have to clear a barrier that shouldn't even exist — Al's romantic view his team and of today's NFL.

Davis, 77, still believes domination, as often practiced by his teams in the'60s,'70s and early'80s, isa realistic goal in today's NFL.

Moreover, he believes the Raiders, under Shell, are capable of returning to the level of prominence enjoyed under John Madden.

"I think Art is starting to get something I had when I was very young, that I was going to dominate it, no matter what it is," Davis said.


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"I was just going to get it done. And I didn't worry about all these other things. I wasn't going to go the way society wanted me to go, or the way culture wanted me to go. I was going to win.

"I think that's what I said about Art to someone (Monday). I think it was, that I think he knows he can dominate. And he will dominate. And that's what you have to do in our culture, period, no matter what you are doing. I have always believed that, strongly believed it."

In other words, Big Art is in the midst of his first crisis — the Jerry Porter cold war — but his late-career challenge is to get the Raiders to do what teams don't do anymore.

No team dominates, not like the Raiders and 49ers and Cowboys and Steelers and Packers once did. Good teams come and go. Great teams rise above the crowd, then fall back to the pack.

But today's NFL — with its salary caps, free agency and unstable coaching staffs — has been resistant to enduring beasts.

New England, the most dominant team of recent years, won back-to-back Super Bowls and three in a four-year period (2001-04). The Patriots' previous decade featured four head coaches, five losing seasons and a cumulative 72-88 record.

Pittsburgh is the most consistent team of recent years, with three losing seasons in Bill Cowher's 14-year tenure. Only twice in that time did the Steelers reach the Super Bowl. They didn't win it until last season.

That the Steelers have reached the playoffs 10 times under Cowher is, according to results, is about as remarkable as it gets in today's NFL.

Madden's Raiders, with their 10 consecutive winning seasons, would have spit on that. Only twice under Madden did Oakland fail to make the playoffs, and both times were monumental disappointments.

"The idea is not to be in the playoffs," Davis emphasized.

"The idea is to be in the Super Bowl."

If that's the standard, Oakland has failed 21 times in it past 22 years. Same as Atlanta, Tennessee and San Diego. No shame here, because it's difficult to contend, much less dominate, within a 32-team league.

Does Al see this? Is he willing to concede that being consistently superior, as were the Raiders under Madden, is far less likely nowadays?

"I'd like to think about that," Davis said. "It's different, entirely different, this era."

Ah-ha. Progress.

"But you can get there," he added. "Maybe you can't get there 10 out of 10, or nine out of 10. But you can get there. It's a question of doing it, though. We certainly haven't. But we can get there."

To the Super Bowl? It's a long, long shot, especially coming from the cellar. 

Before anyone among the Raiders can fantasize about domination, they have to become competitive enough to prevent being dominated. Get to .500, then imagine. Oakland has spent three seasons as a doormat in the AFC West, with a combined 2-16 record against division rivals.

Davis knows the numbers. He knows a lot, for his mind remains sharp, his wit evident. He remembers details most of us have forgotten. His institutional knowledge is priceless, his value to the NFL high.

But he has a blind spot. His team. How can he get an accurate picture, make a honest assessment, if he disregards part of the detail?

Perhaps it's his love of the Raiders, so great it won't allow him to accept that dominance, as once defined, is gone for good.

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at mpoole@angnewspapers.com.