Private Pyle just couldn’t handle it anymore. He had been through so much already, and with results being far outpaced by insults, and with his motivation waning, he was ready to pack it in. You remember Private Pyle, don’t you? You remember when he climbed to the top of a giant obstacle during basic training in “Full Metal Jacket,” but was too afraid to step over and go down the other side? Me too. Like it opened yesterday. Well let’s recreate the scene, shall we?
This time, the part of Private Pyle will be played by Raiders’ WR (Weird Receiver?) Javon Walker, and Al Davis will star as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. It’s Thursday afternoon in Napa, and the Raiders’ owner is standing along the sideline, watching his offense conduct a 7-on-7 passing drill from some 40 yards away. After a few short routes and a period of relative inactivity for Walker, quarterback JaMarcus Russell sends him on a deep out, turning him right into the sideline in front of the Drill Instructor, er, owner. The ball is a bit underthrown, and as a rookie defensive back goes up and takes it away in front of the ground-bound Walker, Hartman — I mean, Davis — lets loose:
“Oh, that’s right, Mr. Walker! Don’t make any *%$#-ing effort to go up for the @&*#-ing ball! If God would have wanted you up there, he would have miracled your butt up there by now, wouldn’t he?”
Walker — clearly frustrated by both his performance in camp and by the public admonishment from the man who had given him a $55 million contract to become the team’s new go-to receiver just a few short months ago — unsnaps his helmet, leans and tells the boss that he’s just about ready to give back his signing bonus and retire from football.
“Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? Then QUIT, you slimy $#@!*&! Get the #*@! off my football team! Now! MOVE IT! I’m going to rip your @$*! off so you cannot contaminate the rest of the organization! I WILL motivate you, Mr. Walker, if it short-#&@!’s every other player in this training camp!”
Taken aback by the sudden and shocking slap in the face of his reality, the receiver buckles himself up, sprints back to the huddle, and begins his ascent back up the ladder, to the level of the elite wide receivers in the NFL.
Isn’t that what Private Pyle did? Rededicated himself to the task at hand, blocked out all distractions, and transformed himself into a model soldier and a poster-boy Marine? Exactly.
Right up until the time he shot his drill instructor.
OK, so it’s not likely that Javon Walker needs that type of in-your-face motivation from Al Davis, Lane Kiffin or anyone else in silver and black. But if the reports are accurate, Walker did indeed intend to quit on the Raiders, and only a pick-your-chin-up-off-your-chest talking-to by Davis himself was able to get him off the ledge. Walker has suffered through a dismal opening week of training camp, and with so many eyes upon him perhaps he was worried that some teammates may treat him to a “Pyle-like” blanket party after lights out. Coming off a serious injury from which he may never fully recover, being dropped by the Broncos, getting an eyebrow-raising contract from the Raiders, reporting out of shape in mini-camps, suffering a beat down in Vegas and now having a poor initiation in Napa ... it’s easy to see why Walker may have wanted to hang up his receiving gloves.
The real question now becomes, why would Davis talk him out of it? It is almost certain that Walker will never be able to turn in enough catches and yards to warrant those dollars and cents, and the Raiders’ owner was being offered a mulligan before ever leaving the tee box. Why not use it? Why not thank Walker for his honesty, take the $11 million back, and tell him that if he sorts himself out and wants to return, they can re-do the deal?
One possible answer is ego. Perhaps Davis was just reluctant to acknowledge that maybe it was a mistake to commit that kind of money to a guy with that kind of baggage. Or perhaps Davis, who has forgotten more about football and talent evaluation than most of us would learn if we lived to watch Super Bowl DVII, truly believes Walker can still be the experienced, effective wideout that Russell needs in his first full season as a starter.
Whatever the reason, Davis has chosen to play his tee shot, even though it looks from the box like it may be in the deep rough and behind a row of trees.
Let’s hope Walker gives him a decent look from where he is, because right now, it’s his only play.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.