The best pro football writer I know is Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune. Pierson knows the game better than some who coach it. Pierson has stumbled upon a historical trend among great quarterbacks that validates my gut feeling about Rich Gannon.
The Raiders should cut him June 1 and pursue Kerry Collins.
Gannon, the NFL MVP in 2002, hit the tragic number last year like an unseen wall. He turned 38 on Dec. 20. Now history points at his football future like a snub-nosed .38.
"Astonishing," Pierson calls the 38th parallel in so many quarterbacks' careers. So many got hurt and/or just too old at 38. Joe Montana. Steve Young. John Elway. Jim Plunkett. Dan Marino. John Brodie. Y.A. Tittle.
The torn labrum Gannon suffered in his throwing shoulder during the Oct. 20 Monday night game against Kansas City took some focus off the obvious. Even before his season-ending surgery, Gannon was losing it. Losing velocity, accuracy, agility, confidence, poise and the faith of his teammates. Getting reamed by this quick-tempered perfectionist was tough enough for them to take when he was MVP. But once he became an obvious reason for last year's 2-5 start, Gannon's finger-pointing became unbearable.
When the season ended, he blamed just about everyone but himself. He took shots at former coach Bill Callahan and former coordinator Marc Trestman, as well as at unnamed teammates who lacked the commitment to Raiders excellence.
Gannon said: "I wouldn't say I'd take a torch to the place, but it wouldn't be far from it."
He also made it as clear as shattered glass he will not take a pay cut. This has been erroneously reported as "Gannon insists on a raise." But it is just as ominous that Gannon vows he won't take "a penny less" than the $7 million his contract calls for. He'll be "happy to restructure" - to, say, lessen this year's cap impact by taking more bonus and less salary - but he will not sacrifice promised income just to be part of what should be a much better team with a new coach/coordinator, Norv Turner.
Owner Al Davis has met his negotiating match in this fiercely proud man. Gannon cannot be sweet-talked or brow-beaten. And Gannon reinforced his pay-me-or-cut-me ultimatum - or delusion - by whipping the ball around pretty well at a recent mini-camp.
But Montana at 47 is still capable of outpassing Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey in helmet-only, non-contact spring drills.
Baseball pitchers rarely return to their former level of effectiveness after labrum surgery, and in practice and games, quarterbacks ask at least as much of their arms as pitchers. You would have a better chance of consistently beating the house in Vegas for six months than of risking $7 million on 38-year-old quarterback with a surgically repaired labrum.
Marques Tuiasosopo proved last season that he's better suited to being a rally-starting backup than a starter. So Davis needs to make loyalty-testing calls on two players who have performed magnificently for him. He needs to thank Gannon and receiver Tim Brown for all they have meant to the Raiders and send them into the sunset.
I'd do the same with Jerry Rice, but it appears Davis prefers to give him a farewell tour as a third-down receiver.
Sure, Gannon probably would wind up starting in Tampa Bay for former Raiders coach Jon Gruden. So let Gruden find out that 38 is too late. Let Davis clear just enough room under a Raiders cap that has more trap doors and false walls than a haunted house to squeeze in Collins.
Collins, 31, is the same age Plunkett was when Davis plucked him off the 49ers' discard pile. Collins' battle with alcohol and his crazy-hot, lazy-cold inconsistency make him the perfect Raiders reclamation project. The 6-foot-5 Collins has perhaps the most effortless velocity in football. Here is the home-run thrower who could return "fly pattern" to the Raiders' vocabulary.
Davis, of course, won two Super Bowls with deep-thrower Plunkett. Plunkett had shoulder surgery just before turning 38 but did bounce back to throw 14 touchdown passes against nine interceptions in 10 starts the next season. But he retired at 39.
With his body breaking down, Montana retired at 38. Concussions forced Roger Staubach to retire before he wanted to, at 38. Injuries did in Sammy Baugh at 38. Johnny Unitas should have quit in Baltimore at 38, but he was benched in San Diego at 39 and soon retired.
Sonny Jurgensen put up remarkable numbers at 40, but he was splitting time with Billy Kilmer. Kilmer retired at 38. Len Dawson, 38. Phil Simms, 38.
Steve Young suffered what turned out to be his career-ending concussion on Monday night, Sept. 27, 1999 - two weeks before his 38th birthday.
George Blanda, who lasted until 48? He qualifies. He lost his job as the Houston Texans' full-time starter when he threw 30 interceptions to 20 TD passes - at 38. In his final nine seasons with the Raiders, he was primarily a kicker.
Don Pierson, ironically, stumbled into the 38th parallel while researching a story on the one quarterback who proved to be the exception. In Minnesota, Warren Moon had one of his best seasons at 38 and played parts of five more seasons. But at 38, Moon led the Vikings to an 8-8 finish.
Though Davis prefers to make history, he is also a student of it.