When ESPN’s Jon Gruden returned to the Oakland Coliseum to call the Dallas Cowboys-Raiders preseason game in August, he received a hero’s welcome from Raiders fans.
This weekend — while in town for Monday Night Football’s Chicago Bears-San Francisco 49ers game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) — the former Raiders head coach (1998-2001) returned to the Coliseum again.
This time, he was a special guest of the team.
Gruden was invited to light “The Fire that Burns Brightest” torch before the Saints-Raiders game yesterday in honor of Al Davis, the legendary late owner of the Raiders who once hired Gruden to lead his proud franchise.
“It was emotional for me,” said Gruden. “I saw a lot of great friends: Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Jim Plunkett, and being back in ‘The Black Hole’ brought back great memories.”
Speaking of Davis’ wife and son, who now own the team: “Carol and Mark Davis really gave me an opportunity to come back and reunite with Raider Nation. I’m thankful for the opportunity. I had a blast.”
* * *
Looking ahead to tonight, the Bears versus 49ers game is one of ESPN’s best matchups of the season.
Both teams lead their respective divisions and the game could have NFC playoff implications.
It’s also the 35th MNF game from Candlestick Park, tops among all NFL stadiums in the 43-year history of the Monday Night series.
The telecast will begin with a special opening tease featuring Hall of Famers Dick Butkus of the Bears and Ronnie Lott of the 49ers. The Washington (Pa.) Symphony Orchestra will also perform a remixed version of the iconic Heavy ActionMNF theme music.
This video from the Observer-Reporter in Western Pennsylvania highlights some of the local musicians who will be in the prime time spotlight tonight on ESPN.
Following Saturday night’s Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN (8 p.m. ET), ESPN Films will premiere The Marinovich Project (9 p.m. ET) directed by Andrew Stephan and John Dorsey (who also directed the critically acclaimed Pony Excess in the 30 for 30 film series).
We caught up with Todd Marinovich earlier this week. The former USC and Raiders quarterback discusses his emotions at the LA premiere of the film this past Monday; his dislike of the nickname “Robo QB;” the death of Al Davis; Todd’s appreciation for the work of ESPN Films and much more.
UPDATED, SUNDAY MORNING, 8:45 am ET SATURDAY NIGHT 10:30 pm ET WITH SOME SUNDAY NFL PROGRAMMING NOTES:
With Saturday’s sad news on the passing of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, ESPN’s news operation responds.
This obituary on Davis was the first of what will be a steady stream of content related to the face of the Raiders organization. ESPN.com’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson was one of the first reporters to file a tribute.
• Chris Berman’s video tribute is running across ESPN platforms, as are insights from analysts Tom Jackson and Matt Millen. Expect additional commentary from John Clayton, Chris Mortensen. ESPN’s Raiders and Al Davis-connected talent includes: Bill Parcells, Eric Allen, Jerry Rice, Jon Gruden, Jon Ritchie, Matt Stinchcomb and Millen.
• Expect a late-day Saturday package with both Mortensen and Gruden, from Detroit where they are for Monday night’s game (Bears-Lions).
• The 8 a.m. (ET) Sunday SportsCenter featured a Bob Ley phone interview with former ESPN colleague Paul Maguire who played for Davis at The Citadel and remained close with him over the years. “There was never a time when I would call him that I wouldn’t hear back within ten minutes,” Maguire said. Also joining Ley on Sunday morning was Hank Goldberg in his regular picks appearance. Hammerin’ Hank also shared an anecdote about Davis regarding his generosity and kindness, something he saw firsthand over dinner with Davis and Jimmy the Greek many years ago. [Hank picked the Raiders as an 'upset special,' citing the emotional day it will be for the team at Houston.]
• The 30for30 film “Straight Outta LA” – a tribute to Al Davis and Raider Nation – was scheduled to air at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Film was directed by Ice Cube.
• NFL Sunday Countdown will feature discussion of Davis with the regular Countdown crew and will also include Jerry Rice and Steve Young, longtime Raiders rivals.
• Every NFL contest on Sunday will feature a pre-game moment of silence in honor of Davis.
* Statement from George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN and ABC Sports: “Al Davis was a driving force in pro football both on and off the field for decades. He leaves an indelible legacy and a legion of loyal players, coaches and fans.”
• Statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “Al Davis’s passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary. He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level. The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL.”
• Longtime ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Bermanon Al Davis: ”We wouldn’t enjoy pro football the way it is today without Al Davis. He was a visionary, but above all, he was a man who loved the game of football. You could see it every time you saw him at a Raiders game or even heard him speak. You always knew what Al Davis and the Silver and Black stood for.” [NOTE: Chris promises to share a good anecdote about the first time he met Al Davis on NFL Countdown Sunday morning on ESPN.]
• It didn’t take long for this analogy to be drawn and picked up upon (Al Davis and Steve Jobs). Probably a lot of similarities on the micro, but Jobs’ impact was global remember.
• Keep up with ESPN’s social media coverage after the JUMP as we Storify tweets and posts from our talent.