McFadden’s Raiders career near end
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) runs during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
SAN DIEGO - If this is the end, it was a rather fitting conclusion to the story of Oakland Raider Darren McFadden.
His 5-yard touchdown early in the second quarter - burst to the right, sliced back down the middle and exploded over the goal line - gave the Raiders the lead. The same kind of hope he brought when the star tailback came to Oakland from Arkansas.
But by the end, it proved to be just a flash. He wasn’t on the field long enough to do any real damage, and his other four touches in Sunday’s 26-13 Raiders loss to the San Diego Chargers didn’t make you clamor for more. That second-quarter potential only made the thud of crashing hopes even harder.
“I thought he was fine,” coach Dennis Allen said. “Nothing spectacular.”
But that’s not acceptable, because that’s not how this story began. McFadden was supposed to be the Raiders’ star running back. He was supposed to usher Oakland’s offense into potency, what with his combination of strength and speed, his versatility.
And now, as his Raiders career likely draws to a close, all that’s left is what might have been. McFadden, who is near the end of the six-year, $60 million contract he signed before his rookie season, very well might have scored his final Raiders touchdown. One last small-but flashy contribution to cap six years of disappointment.
The writing on the wall is clear to most fans and should be to management, too. The Raiders, who will be flush with cash to spend in the off season, need to carve a new path and can’t afford to wait for a veteran hound to grow new ligaments and tendons.
Still, it’s hard not to pause and feel for McFadden. If the lust for victory were swallowed for a moment, compassion just might creep in.
When you see the sincere appreciation in his eyes for the thrill of scoring a touchdown again, his first since October.
“It was just a great feeling to get in the end zone,” McFadden said. “It just felt good to be back out there playing with my guys.”
When you hear him talking about how he’s going to get through this, his determination not to let this be the end of his story.
“It’s hard to deal with, but at the same time I feel like I’m built for this. I’m cut out for this. Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s always been my motto.”
When you hear him voice his emphatic desire to make amends to Raiders fans.
“I love being a Raider. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I want to give them what they deserve.”
It would be one thing if McFadden didn’t work hard. Or if he were an entitled pro athlete who spent his time being a jerk. Then it would be easy to shove him out the door like you would a drunk uncle - hastily, and with a little extra oomph on the end.
But McFadden is respectful and positive. And he isn’t trying to shift blame, just hoping for a shot at redemption with his first NFL love. He’s vowing to continue grinding until those flashes become a flame. It’s enough to leave you grappling for a nice way to say goodbye.
McFadden was a good young running back betrayed by his body. His talent and work ethic succumbed to his proclivity for injury. He’s missed 19 of the Raiders’ last 40 games and has played in just 69 percent of the possible games.
Whether he can become the runner he was four years ago is even in question, let alone the star he was expected to be when the Raiders took him No. 4 overall in the 2008 draft. In the end, that’s why he has to go. Rashad Jennings is a better running back at this point. And Oakland has greater needs than giving McFadden another crack.
Plus, it’s too tall an order. What kind of year would it require for McFadden to make up for all the games he’s missed? What would his price have to be to justify putting Raider Nation through the anguish of his next setback?
The Raiders as a franchise love and respect their history, but this is the kind of past they need to sever. Everyone needs a fresh start. Including McFadden.
He needs to play where the history won’t cling to his ankles like a linebacker’s grasp. It’s best if he escapes the standard set by memories of him zipping through the line of scrimmage and finishing runs with authority. He should be with a team that would be fine with him as part of a platoon until he proves he can handle featured-back duties.
That place is just not Oakland, as much as you might hope for him to find that place.
“For me, it’s all about growing up,” McFadden said. “This isn’t the worst thing that has happened to me. I’ve been through some stuff most people haven’t been through in life. It’s one of these things you just try to stay positive as best you can.”
Sports, Pages 20 on 12/26/2013