Monday, August 4, 2008

Losing the Love - the Javon Walker Story, IMO

Lamont is gone, Nnamdi is in camp, Lane seems to have the ear of the troops, I was starting to think that the Big-Top was too busy in Green Bay to set up a 3rd ring in Oakland. Well I was proven wrong Saturday.

Javon Walker had to be talked out of retiring earlier in the week. Here comes the fucking clown car.

I wasn’t a fan of the Walker signing. The guy was coming off of a serious injury, and had reportedly been having trouble getting his head back in the game since witnessing Darrent Williams murder. Walker was a huge risk for the Raiders, and they compounded that risk by handing him a huge contract, filled with guaranteed money.

Since OTA’s, there has been little positive news coming out of practices on the Javon front. According to reports and Lane, he showed up out of shape, and showed little of the burst that had gotten him big contracts in Denver and Oakland.

Then the whole Vegas incident hit the wires, complete with unbelievable stories of being abducted from hotel rooms and spraying of Champagne.

Honestly at that point I was ready to cut bait with Javon. He was partying like a rap-star instead of getting ready for an OTA that week, or attending an event in William’s honor. He was once again making the bad decisions that he is becoming known for.

Lucky to be alive, and miraculously not suffering from any career threatening injury, Javon showed up to training camp ready to compete…physically. And here is where I believe the real issue lies. Javon has all the physical tools that he needs to be a dangerous WR for the Raiders. What he lacks is the mental fortitude to be an NFL receiver.

The report that Javon wanted to retire casts many of his actions since the days in Green Bay in a new light for me. The truth is, many NFL players don’t play for love of the game. I know that is a hard pill to swallow for NFL fans, many of whom would give up their right nut to suit up one day in the NFL. Now the lack of love is usually attributed to the big-nasties on the line, who have been pushed into football since child hood since they were bigger and stronger than their classmates. But limited the pool of players who play for money only to guys over 300 lbs is foolish.

Javon put up 1 big season in Green Bay and then looked for his payday. NFL careers are short, so I really don’t fault him for wanting to get paid, but the way he went about it, publicly calling out the Packers struck me as wrong. The fact that his teammates (Brett Favre in particular) came out on the side of management was confounding. Players rarely speak out against fellow players, unless there is something more there.

After his short hold out, Javon lasted 1 game before going down with injury. An off-season trade to Denver seemed to give Javon the fresh start he needed. And he did produce that 1st season in Denver. Then things turned sour in Denver also. Walker held Williams in his arms as he died. He returned to Denver and was no longer the clear cut #1, a young receiver was pushing him for that featured role. Then the injury bug returned.

I believe that Walker has lost whatever love for the game he ever had. He has gotten a bad taste of the business side in Green Bay; his teammates have turned on him in two separate cities. He has twice seen the bad side of what the NFL spotlight has to offer.

Who’s love wouldn’t be tested by what Javon has been through? Would you still love the game if it had cost you as much as it has cost Javon?

I’m not trying to start a pity party for Walker, I still say that one needs to have the wherewithal not to put themselves into a strangers car in Vegas, that his actions that night were inviting trouble. His decision-making has been questionable since the Green Bay days. But if you look at his decisions to date, is it that hard to think that he has placed the blame for what has happened to him on football? Could he think that his success in the game has been more curse than blessing?

That is why I question the Raiders desire to talk him out of retirement. I don’t see this year’s Raiders being the kind of team that can help Walker rise above and rediscover a love for the game. The Raiders have too many soap opera storylines floating around, to give Walker the support he needs. Walker needs some time as a role player, where little would be expected of him. He needs his Plunket year(s) on the bench where the mistakes of the past can fade. Right now the weight of the Raiders expectations for the passing game rest squarely on Walker’s shoulders, I believe he will crumble under the pressure at this point, hell he already is.

I have developed some sort of sympathy for Walker over the last few weeks. Something I didn’t expect from my cynical ass. But even with my newfound sympathy, I see no reason for the Raiders not to grant Walker his wish, and let him walk away from the game. There is too much money tied up in Walker’s contract for a player who has no love for the game. A Larry Brown type signing is the last thing this team needs as it struggles to return to respectability.

Al, If I am right about his mental state, Javon will come to you again this off-season with his desire to leave, I urge you to accept. Cut your losses. I know you have resurrected many a player’s career. But those players had the fire; they just lacked the proper outlet. Walker has the outlet, but no fire, and that fire is hard to reignite when you have nothing to play for. Walker has the money, he has the fame, and the NFL has nothing to offer him. There is no spark for Javon in Oakland as things stand.

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