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Jon Gruden's Return Special For Raiders Alumni


Tuesday was a special day, and a great day to be a Raider.

The atmosphere at the Oakland Raiders' facility in Alameda, Calif., was electric, from the fans standing outside the building, to the moment Jon Gruden set foot on the premises, to former defensive back Charles Woodson attempting to start a "RAI-DERS" chant just before Gruden took the stage.

With the likes of Woodson, Howie Long, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Rich Gannon, Jim Otto, Jerry Rice, among the 50-plus assembled Raiders alumni present to hear the newest Raiders Head Coach speak, it felt like everyone was taking a step back in time, a feeling that Gruden himself referred to as "Back to the Future."

In 1998, Gruden was given his first Head Coaching job by former Raiders owner Al Davis. Together the two combined some of the greatest players to play the game of football, and the connection between the players on those teams was unique.

"You see all the guys here that are back, that played under Gruden at some point, and we're all back because we don't know what could've been," said Woodson as he soaked up his surroundings. "We had a really good thing going, we had brought in a lot of good players, we exited the playoffs, we all felt, prematurely that year."

That wasn't the only thing Woodson described as premature; he also felt Gruden's departure from the Silver and Black happened earlier than necessary.

Following the 2001 season, a year in which Gruden led the Raiders to the AFC Divisional round and fell to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the infamous "Tuck Rule" game, Davis decided to trade the then-38-year-old Head Coach to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for first-round and second-round picks in the 2002 draft, as well as a first-round pick in 2003, and a second-round pick in 2004.

"I never wanted to leave the Raiders," said Gruden. "I never thought I'd be back, but here I am and I'm ready to get to work."

And work he will.

If there's one thing many of the Raiders' alumni shared when discussing what it was like playing for Gruden, it was his ability to bring the best out in them.

Check out photos of the Raiders alumni that attended Jon Gruden's introductory press conference on Tuesday.

Prior to joining the team in 1999, former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon had never been named to a Pro Bowl or First-Team All-Pro, but Gruden helped him get there. In four consecutive seasons (1999-2002) No. 12 was a Pro Bowler, and helped the Silver and Black reach levels the team hadn't been able to achieve in years.

"I just think the belief was really important," said Gannon. "I had never really had someone who believed in me enough to hand me the keys to the car. Believed in me enough to bring me in to Oakland, and say, 'you're our quarterback.' As much as I liked playing in Kansas City, or even Minnesota, no one really had that conversation with me, or that commitment. Jon really stuck his neck out for me."

Gannon isn't the only one to see his game rise to another level with the influence of Gruden.

"He was able to take me to another level because he was showing me how much better I could be," said Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown. "And I thought I was pretty good at that time, but you can be better. Sometimes you've just got to turn your brain off and buy in, and I think if you can do that great things can happen."

When you hear players like Gannon and Brown make comments like that, it begs the question, how much better can the current Raiders roster be?

After a disappointing season that saw the team go 6-10, and fail to make the playoffs with a talented group of players, there's reason to believe Gruden can get them back on track, but not without putting in the time and effort.

"He's going to be very demanding of the team and that's what they'll have to be ready for," said Woodson. "I think the guys, they're a young team… they're young, so I think they're still young and impressionable, and Gruden will bring the best out of them."

Whether members of the alumni in attendance Tuesday played under Gruden or not, the feeling among them Tuesday was clear, they all had hope, and came to witness something special, something they once knew. Under the leadership of Gruden in the early 2000s, the mystique of the Raiders was present, and that same allure is something he's hoping to bring back.

"There is unfinished business," said Gruden. "I'm going to do everything I can to get this team right again."

And to the players and alumni who were in attendance Tuesday, he expressed his utmost gratitude.

"All I want to say to you guys is that it means the world to me that you are here. You are welcome, as long as I'm the head coach, you are welcome here."

Once a Raider, always a Raider.

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