When Brent Musburger takes over for Greg Papa as the radio voice of the Raiders, it’s another vestige of the Al Davis era removed from the history of the franchise.
And Davis, or at least the memory of Davis, is the heart of the matter when it comes to changing their play-by-play voice.
It was never a lock that Papa would follow the Raiders to Las Vegas, presumably in 2020, but it’s at least a minor surprise a switch will come this year, as first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Raiders have not confirmed or denied Papa’s exit or Musburger’s arrival.
It’s no secret Papa never had the same kind of relationship with Mark Davis as he did with Mark’s father. Papa considers himself the gatekeeper to Al Davis’ memory and legacy. It was a blind spot in his objectivity, but a fascinating one.
When Davis was in failing health and his inner circle grew tighter, he still talked to Papa. “He was like my second father,” Papa is fond of saying. If you wanted to know what Davis was thinking, Papa was a go-to on the radio.
And when Mark Davis acted in a way Papa believed was contrary to Al’s wishes, the announcer wasn’t afraid to say so in public.
Before the Raiders hired Jack Del Rio as head coach, Mark Davis acknowledged Mike Shanahan as a potential candidate. The same Shanahan who was fired by Al Davis in 1989 in favor of Art Shell, an acrimonious split that left both men with a grudge that lasted until the Raiders’ owner died in 2011.
Papa said during his afternoon show on 95.7 The Game “As close as I am with Al and was with Al, and knowing the animosity that he felt toward Mike Shanahan, the fact that we’re having this discussion is beyond disrespectful.”
Papa said on a Mercury-News podcast with former columnist Tim Kawakami that he told Mark Davis that if Shanahan was hired by the Raiders, he’d resign.
Mark Davis resented it.
And when Papa on that same podcast divulged that Al Davis had considered the preposterous idea of hiring the announcer for a role as a front office executive, Mark Davis wasn’t happy with that, either. Mark Davis restored the relationship of the franchise with Marcus Allen. Papa seethed, knowing Al Davis would have hated the idea.
So it was perhaps inevitable there would be a split, and that Papa would go the way of Hue Jackson, Amy Trask and others who weren’t necessarily aligned with Mark Davis in a way they were with Al Davis.
The losers in this change are the listeners. Even though radio broadcasters aren’t as connected to fan bases as much as they once were in an era of television and social media, Papa had considerable credibility with Raider Nation, and for good reason. Go out with Papa on the road and expect him to be surrounded by Raider fans, all urging him to give his signature touchdown call.
Papa would oblige.
Al Davis has always been drawn to talent, and Papa is undeniably one of the best announcers in the business. He took over for Joel Meyers in 1997, two seasons after the Raiders returned to Oakland. Papa conceded he struggled at the outset, but his work ethic was legendary — he even had a coaches’ style grease board brought with him on the road so he could study the day before the game.
With his distinctive voice and ability to survey the entire field, Papa eventually took a place somewhere near the legendary Bill King in terms of painting a word picture and heightening the drama with a staccato voice and impeccable timing.
King, the Raiders’ voice from 1966 through 1994, left the Raiders after the club sold off its radio rights and the rights holder wanted wanted to slash his salary. King graciously supported Papa when the opportunity arose to replace Meyers even as fans hoped for a return to the booth.
“He assured me he had no interest in doing the Raiders,” Papa told the Bay Area News Group in 2016. “He gave me his blessing. I remember we talked a lot that first year about how to broadcast a game. He’d give me constant pointers about how to call football.”
Like King, Papa was caught up in the drama of the Raiders but also wasn’t afraid to criticize the on-field product if it came up wanting. Papa’s job was infinitely more challenging in that regard given some of the dog teams he had to cover as Al Davis ran through coach after coach in his later years.
Word is the Raiders paid Papa extremely well. I’ve heard but never confirmed that at one point he was getting $17,000 per game for 20 games — 16 in the regular season and four in the preseason. So there could be simple economics at work here as well.
Having never heard Musburger broadast a football game on the radio, I’ll reserve judgment on the whether the broadcasts will suffer in Papa’s absence.
Papa remains an extremely capable interviewer and studio host in his roles on 95.7 radio and NBC Sports Bay Area television, but his play-by-play work is what sets him apart.
Like King, Papa was a gifted basketball announcer. When he was pushed out by the Warriors in favor of Bob Fitzgerald, the quality of the broadcast never recovered. Papa also did baseball with the A’s and Giants and excelled at that as well once he got used to the pace.
When the move becomes official, Papa becomes the hottest broadcast commodity in the Bay Area and it will be interesting to see where he winds up next.
But to the dwindling number of Raiders radio die-hards who have spent the last two decades listening to Papa, Sunday afternoons will never be the same.