Zero Access Interview: Jon Gruden and Pitchers of Soup


Note to readers: This is a simulated Q&A with Oakland Raiders players and coaches, and the questions (which are based on current events with the Oakland franchise) will be answered with parody responses. The subjects listed are actual people, but an actual interview never occurred, therefore all answers are parodic.

                                    THE DIVE BAR JUST ACROSS THE BRIDGE IN ALAMEDA:

You cross a two-lane bridge from West Oakland, the semi-industrial and newly-gentrified part onto Alameda. It is an island sitting just west of the 880 Freeway, or “the Nasty Nimitz,” as it is known colloquially.


I am sitting in this dive bar just before the train tracks and I keep looking at my phone. It is almost 8 p.m. and I am starting to doubt the guy who owes me a solid after he promised to arrange for me to meet with Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden.

In the event my phone rings, I am expecting Jon to immediately take control, to postpone or cancel and I will need to punch my way off the ropes. The Raiders’ headquarters is at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, which is about 10 miles away. Tucked off a side street nearby there is another hole-in-wall spot, a funky little joint with tons of lava lamps and dozens of old televisions that just play static. It has a vibe that is perfect and, with a little luck, it should be empty. If I am lucky I can stop by and buy enough time to draw out a couple of responses to questions I really need to know.


I order a second drink when my phone rings. I look at the screen and the number is blocked.

Me: “Good evening, is this Jon Gruden?”

Jon Gruden, speaking in quick disjointed jabs as he is multitasking and raging at something: “Yeah man… Uh, Louie… Listen, man… I understand you want to talk with me but…”

I interrupt.


Me: “Jon, you wouldn’t be calling me if Louie wasn’t a first class pain in the, you know. Listen. It is almost 9 p.m. and I know you haven’t eaten dinner yet. I am sending a taxi to your office. You’re an Ohio guy; it has been wet, windy and raining, and there is a place just around the corner from you that has the best soup you have ever had, hands down.”

*Disclaimer: No honest to goodness mid-westerner refuses soup in temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit

*Disclaimer: This place does not serve soup or anything else in the way of food

Gruden: “Really? Who are you? And what kind of soup?”

Me: “Ah! I don’t work there Jon. Do you like soup that has bacon in it?”

Gruden: “Ah, fffttt. Yeah, man, I will answer three questions; nothing crazy. What do you want? I have like 20 minutes.”


I have not mentioned the names of any of the bars or the brands of beer because no one is paying me to write this article, but there happens to be a microbrew in the area that has for the last fifteen years has produced an IPA that has won virtually every award a brewer can win.

The IPA is called Pliny The Younger, and this is my ace in the hole. Pliny is as precious and hard to find as gold in these parts, so I called ahead and this joint just received this year’s batch. As noted earlier, this place does not serve soup. The place is empty except for the bartender who looks like a goth Betty Boop with full-sleeve arm tats and so many piercings.

I pick a table in the corner and take out my laptop and ten minutes later, in walks the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. It takes Gruden one second to recognize that this is not an eating establishment. I have managed to drag him out of his comfort zone; we are not in a sports bar. His face is red and scrunched up, and as he glares at me he looks like he is about to throw a punch at me.

Gruden: “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here!”

Me: “Whoa, cowboy! Come on now, have a seat, did I not say this place has the best soup?”

Gruden, with a confused look: “You did.”

As if on cue, the bartender arrives with two large fishbowl-looking schooners of Pliny, dark Amber in color. I can immediately smell the hops.

Me: “Cold barley soup, Jon. Best cold barley soup in the world.”

Gruden: “Beer? You think we are drinking buddies now? Are we friends? What the…”

Me: “Did your agent tell you we are doing a Snickers bit here, Jon? Are you thinking this is a ‘you aren’t you when you are hungry’ bit? Eat your soup!”

Gruden: “Who are you writing this for anyway?”

Me: “NFL Fan Blitz.”

Gruden: “That makes me respect you a lot more. Why didn’t you lead with that?”

Later, Jon is noticeably more comfortable; he is leaning back in his chair.

Me: “Okay, so you said I could get three answers from you. I am not talking three canned responses. Three real answers. I have invested a cab fare and months worth of beer money in you.”

John Gruden: “Shoot.”

Me: “You’ve reached the top of the mountain. You made it to the broadcast booth. Coaching in the bigs is a meat-grinder of a job. What reason can you give for walking out of the cushiest gig in the world?”

Gruden, chuckling: “They gave me a hundred million dollars — uh, I mean, reasons. Well, actually, the money thing. Are you kidding me?”

Me: “I don’t know about that. You got paid but there is more to this. You have unfinished business here, don’t you? Also, that doesn’t count as the second question

Gruden: “You know that scene in Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan rides out the hurricane in the ships? Do you think when these recent storms slammed us here I was up on the goal-post yelling at Al Davis? You can’t possibly think I was up there waving my fist in front of my face screaming, ‘You can’t force me to take James Jett again, Al!'”

Gruden: “I feel like this fan base here in Oakland deserves something. I’ve coached in Philly, Tampa, and San Francisco. As a part of a broadcast team, I have been inside every organization in the league, and these fans are different. I really do want to do right by them.”

Me: “That is what I am looking for. It didn’t even kill you. Question Two: how do you see things changing in terms of the fan experience when this show moves to Vegas?

Gruden: “It’s going to change a lot. The stadium will be sparkling new and clean, and the lighting will be perfect; practically aseptic, like an operating room by comparison. The big screens will be huge and state of the art, and the parking lot will be safe, well-lit, and easy to get in and out of. But gone forever is the pregame parking lot in Oakland; that can never be re-created, as that scene exists in Oakland and Oakland only. Think three rivers or the old Mile High. Both were older stadiums with younger blue-collar crowds that had low ticket prices. Then, bam — a new stadium. Ticket prices go up and now you have a slightly older crowd. Less rowdy, less loud, less drunk, because you have higher ticket prices. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these guys will travel to Vegas with us but even the black hole is strictly an Oakland thing.”

Me: “Yeah, I can see that.”

Me: “Fans have long said, ‘Once a Raider, always a Raider.’ But there exists a sort of original Raiders, guys like Charles Woodson, or Howie Long, or Tim Brown. All those guys put in their time. Then comes Beast Mode and he is a true Raider by day one. What happens to Marshawn? You have been super active in free agency and you are sitting on a bounty of draft picks; you are loading up for a moon shot right now. Is Marshawn part of all that?”

Gruden: “He is all about that action, boss. Marshawn has a decision to make, he has been around and he knows what will be expected of him here. I’ll give it to you straight. Only Marshawn knows if he has another season in the tank, and I believe if he has another season in the tank the U.S. Marine Corps could not stop him from playing this season. He plays with a phenomenal level of physicality. But two more things: if Marshawn comes back, it will be because he wants these fans to get what they deserve. Marshawn Lynch is Oakland. Oakland has a heart and its name is Marshawn.”

Me: “What is the second thing? ‘You said two more things.'”

Gruden: “All across the league there are defensive backs, linebackers, and safeties praying Marshawn retires. Some of them may retire if Marshawn doesn’t call it quits.”

Gruden: “Look, that was three questions. This was fun, let’s do it again never.”

Me: “How was your soup?”

Gruden: “That was some good soup!”











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