As he started his annual July vacation by visiting his daughters in Southern California, Oakland Raiders play-by-play man Greg Papa got a text. It was from Raiders president Mark Badain. It was July 2, and Papa had just finished a morning bike ride from Santa Monica to Venice Beach.
“Later in the week,” the text said, “if you’re around, let’s get together for a drink,” Papa recalled on Monday, during his radio show on 95.7 FM. Papa told Badain that he was in Los Angeles, and wouldn’t be around. “It’s better we speak in person,” Badain said.
Papa returned to the Bay, and on July 5, the day after the late Al Davis’ birthday, met with Badain, who informed him that he would no longer call play-by-play for the Raiders after 21 years at the microphone. As he returned from vacation on Monday, Papa used the first segment of his radio show to address the move, which, he said, traces back to a 2015 on-air critique of owner Mark Davis.
“As this team proceeds into the future, I no longer fit, and this is not Al Davis’s football team anymore,” Papa said. “Maybe that’s my own mistake, that I never realized it. The day he died, that Saturday in Houston, I should have realized it years ago, but I am realizing it now.”
After the three-hour show ended, Oakland officially announced the hiring of Brent Musburger, Lincoln Kennedy and Chris Townsend as the new broadcast crew for this season, and presumably for the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas in two years.
The change marks the end of Papa’s longest tenure among the three Bay Area teams. He called Oakland Athletics games alongside Ray Fosse from 1991 to 2003, and the Golden State Warriors from 1986 to 1997.
Papa said that the move precipitated out of a long-simmering disagreement between Papa and Davis’s son — current owner Mark Davis — over the younger Davis granting an interview to Mike Shanahan when searching for a new head coach following the 2014 season. Papa asserted on Monday that the elder Davis took hatred for three men to his grave — former Raiders running back Marcus Allen, former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and Shanahan — and when news of the Shanahan interview broke 15 minutes before a Monday radio show in January of 2015, Papa lambasted it on-air.
“It was beyond me,” Papa said. “Knowing how much Al Davis loathed him, it just couldn’t happen … I was extremely outspoken about how this just could not happen, in my opinion. I threatened to quit as the voice of the team, and I would have no association with him.”
Mark Davis took umbrage, Papa said. A subsequent phone conversation with Davis did not go well.
“He wound up hanging up on me,” Papa said. “I don’t know exactly what he wanted me to say, if he wanted me to apologize for my feelings. I said, ‘I’m sorry you feel this way. It was not a direct shot at you, but sometimes I feel as though there’s nobody around here to defend Al.’”
Mark Davis, Papa said, had wanted Papa to consult with him before going on-air and airing his grievances about the Shanahan interview. It wouldn’t have helped sooth his emotions, Papa continued.
“As the owner of the team, I understand why he felt that way, but for him to want me to say I’m sorry, I’m not,” Papa said. “I’m not sorry to this very day, and I lost a job that I did for over 21 years at the highest level — a job that I loved beyond any job I’ve had.
“I’ve done it the longest. This is painful for me, personally, to lose this association with this particular team, but I do not take back those words.”
Papa was taken off of the preseason simulcast, and then was removed from the Silver and Black Show.
“I took my penance, and I understand. I thought it was really over,” Papa said. “We never were able to mend fences.”
When Badain and Papa held their meeting this month, Papa said, Badain told him that he’d been fighting for Papa to stay on board for the last three and a half years. Instead of letting Papa play out the string in Oakland, however, the Raiders — and Davis — decided to bring in the 79-year old Las Vegas-based Musberger, along with Kennedy and Townsend, before the move.
“The Las Vegas angle to this discussion was never in play here,” Papa said. “It was never brought up to me … I was never asked would I go to Las Vegas. I never said I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas. It was never presented to me, and I never said I wouldn’t go. I would certainly be open — not any longer, obviously — but at the time, what’s so bad about flying to Las Vegas on a Friday, have a nice weekend, do the game on Sunday with a hangover and coming back?”
Along with Musberger, the former All-Pro tackle Kennedy and sideline reporter Townsend on the radio, the Raiders will also add Rich Gannon to the TV booth for the team’s four preseason games.
Gannon, the 2002 MVP when he led Oakland to the Super Bowl, has called NFL games for CBS since 2005.
Kennedy, a former first-round pick out of Washington by the Atlanta Falcons, was a three-time Pro Bowler during his eight seasons in Oakland, and was a two-time All-Pro for the Raiders. He also served for three years as the team’s sideline reporter, and currently serves as a broadcaster for FOX Sports and Premiere Radio Networks.
Townsend has hosted the Silver and Black Show for the past two seasons, and has done pregame and postgame on the radio.
The team has not officially made a statement about the fate of Tom Flores — who told the Fresno Bee that he was not asked back — but did make a statement in Mark Davis’s name about Papa’s departure last week:
“The Raiders organization would like to thank Greg Papa for his two decades of service to the Silver and Black. He wasn’t just given the job. He earned it. With intense preparation Greg was always ready for the call. Just as my generation remembers Bill King and “Holy Toledo”. The Raider Nation will remember Greg Papa and “Touchdown Raiders”. We wish Greg and his family the best in whatever the future brings.”
As for what Papa will do now, he still has his noon-to-three radio show on 95.7. He will also call college football and work in some capacity with the NFL.
“I didn’t die here,” Papa said. “I’m still alive. You’re not going to bury me yet.“