On the five-cent tour of his offices last Friday, 15 hours before the start of the NFL draft, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis paused to point out four large TVs arranged in a diamond configuration on one wall. In this room Davis watches football and other games—lots of other games. "Basketball, women's basketball, baseball," said Davis, 74. "All the sports."
"Women's basketball?" a visitor said. "O.K., what team took Diana Taurasi with the first pick of the WNBA draft?"
"Oh, come on," Davis replied disdainfully. "That's easy. Phoenix."
Davis, who was holding the second pick in the NFL draft, prides himself on being a quick study of players in all sports. But last Saturday the Man in Black could have made his team's first-round choice blindfolded: Robert Gallery, the 6'7", 323-pound Iowa tackle who's solid as a rock on and off the field. Says special-projects executive Jim Otto, the former Oakland center, "He's got what we need—a little kick-ass streak."
In trying to toughen a team that had gone soft, Davis drafted two more hard hitters in the next two rounds: 303-pound center Jake Grove of Virginia Tech and head-hunting safety Stuart Schweigert of Purdue. Add three free agents—guard Ron Stone and defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Ted Washington—and, assuming the veteran newcomers stay healthy, Davis has addressed most of the faults that were exposed during a crash-and-burn season. In going 4-12 last year the Raiders' offensive line allowed 43 sacks, tied for fourth most in the league, and the defense surrendered 156.9 rushing yards per game to rank last. Gallery and Grove should push Barry Sims and Barret Robbins. respectively, for starting jobs next fall.
Davis has always come off as an intimidating sort to outsiders, but Gallery says he felt comfortable during his visit to the team's training complex two weeks before the draft. "I love football, and I enjoy young people," Davis said. "Listening to their dreams. Listening to people from different parts of the country talk about their lives."
A few hours after he became a Raider on Saturday, Gallery recalled his meeting with Davis. While showing Gallery the room in which portraits of Oakland's Hall of Famers were hung, Davis had suddenly asked whether he knew someone named John Fry. Gallery gave him a quizzical look and said no. "Then [ Davis] said, That's Hayden Fry!" Gallery recounted. "He knew I'd know Hayden Fry, because he's the former Iowa coach. It was pretty amazing that he knew Fry by his real first name. After my visit, I thought, This is a place I'd really like to be. They play a tough, aggressive style, which I like."
The recently acquired players won't be the only new faces surrounding Davis. Veteran scout Mike Lombardi has succeeded senior assistant Bruce Allen, who left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' G.M.; Norv Turner has replaced fired coach Bill Callahan; and 10 of Turner's 17 assistants weren't on the staff last year. "Everybody has left," Davis said. "We've got to pick up the pieces."
The marriage between Davis and Turner has been stress-free so far. "He and Jimmy Johnson are the two best listeners I've been around," said Turner, who was an offensive coordinator on Johnson's Dallas staff in the early 1990s. "He really wants to know what you think." Sounds like Turner's still enjoying his honeymoon, but let's see who's talking and who's listening on, say, a Monday in November after three straight losses.