The Oakland Raiders are one of the most distinguished and storied franchises in the history of the National Football League. The Silver and Black have watched a plethora of Hall of Famers walk through their doors, and it's for that reason they want to honor their alumni.
Whether a player was a Hall of Famer, or just served as reliable contributor, the Raiders have created a culture that welcomes back its alumni with open arms. As the saying goes, "Once a Raider, always a Raider."
Over the weekend, the team hosted its fourth annual alumni event in Napa, Calif., and it was special to see so many former Raiders reunite after so many years.
"How cool is what we're doing? This doesn't happen," former linebacker Phil Villapiano said Saturday. "This doesn't happen in any other city or with any other group, but this group here with the Raiders. I live in New Jersey, [the New York] Giants, Jets, they can't even imagine doing something like this."
The culture was established decades ago, far before the team's three world championships. The Raiders have created a family, and the creation of that environment is credited to the Davis family.
"The Davis family, they're the greatest football family in the world, and the greatest family to pull off something like this, and keep us all together," Villapiano added. "That's pretty awesome. The Davis family is the Raider family, and that's how Al used to talk about it, and I love him for that. Mark is keeping the tradition [going], and him doing this is just wonderful."
Gathering so many personalities who've donned the Silver and Black in the same place is truly a special experience. The over 100 alumni were invited to watch Head Coach Jon Gruden and his team practice at Memorial Stadium in Napa on Saturday, and the stands were packed with iconic players. From wide receiver Cliff Branch, to Super Bowl MVP Jim Plunkett, the list goes on and on. The alumni had dinner at Kelham Vineyards later that evening.
The Raider Alumni community got together to share a meal at Kelham Vineyards in Saint Helena, CA for a night of great food and company.
"This is my fourth alumni weekend, we've only had four," former linebacker Jerry Robinson said. "It's amazing man, it started out with only 40 guys showing up, but from the results and the joy, and the love, and the camaraderie from those 40, from the first time, there's like over 100 guys that are here now. It's special to me and it's special to us because we get an opportunity to see each other. Guys are all over the country and wherever they may be, and we come here on this weekend and we've all been through what these guys [the current players] are experiencing right now."
While the event was all about honoring former players, many of them shared their thoughts on the current players, and the new head coach of the Silver and Black.
"When Coach Gruden came back we had a meet and greet first thing, and his energy, the juice, whatever you want to put into it, he's just phenomenal," Robinson said. "It's important to him to make sure the alumni come back and that's what that first meet and greet was about with the Raider alumni. He made us all feel welcome and it was very important to him for us to be involved with this team here because some day they're going to be alumni too, and it's just exciting."
Gruden has been pegged as a quarterback guru through the years, and he'll need to help Derek Carr take the next step in his development for this team to go up another level. Raiders legend Daryle "the Mad Bomber" Lamonica, believes No. 4 has all the tangibles to be an elite quarterback in this league, and thinks Gruden can help him get there."
"Derek Carr, I think, is an outstanding young quarterback," Lamonica said. "He's still learning his ways, but he's ready to make a real move, and I think it's all coming together. I saw a lot of positive things, the one thing I really like about it is everyone being in great shape. Derek has a lot of talent, he has a lot of good talent around him, and if we throw the ball down the field and we score I think we'll do okay."
Seeing past and current Raiders mingle over the weekend was incredible to witness, and it's a tradition we'll continue to see it for years to come.