ALAMEDA — 11 years ago, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the 31st pick of the 2003 draft.
The Oakland Raiders had been on the clock following an 11-5 season that ended in a Super Bowl loss to Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The pick was considered by many a reach.
143 games, 15 interceptions and three Pro Bowls later, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha — whom the Raiders, of course, drafted in 2003 — is no longer the best at what he did.
After eight seasons in Oakland, two with Philadelphia and then three games in 2013 with the 49ers, Asomugha became an Oakland Raider for one more day to announce his retirement from football.
Alongside great Raiders cornerbacks Lester Hayes, Willie Brown and Charles Woodson, Asomugha took the media down memory lane at his press conference:
“In great Al Davis fashion, he took a reach that he believed in, and instilled confidence in me that nobody else could. I was able to become all that he expected of me.”
Asomugha goes down in Raider lore as one of several corners that seem mortal locks for a bust in Canton at the NFL Hall of Fame.
He played safety during his college years, three in total that he spent at Cal.
But that changed once he got to Oakland. Al Davis had a unique conversation with Asomugha, one that stuck with him throughout his career.
After starting his first game at safety, Asomugha bumped into Davis just outside the team elevator at their Alameda practice facility. Davis asked him a question: “What position do you want to play?” Asomugha replied, “safety.”
Davis asked what position he thought he’d have the most success at. “Safety.”
Asomugha recalled the discussion with sentimental zeal:
“Obviously he wasn’t trying to hear that, because the he said to me ‘I think that you have a chance to be one of the greatest corners we’ve had here.’ I hadn’t played corner at all, so for him to say something like that, I kinda scratched my head.”
The conversation continued as Davis began naming off his previous corners, Lester Hayes, Willie Brown, the lot of ’em. Asomugha continued:
“He said ‘you have that ability in you. You don’t see it yet, but you have it in you.’ He spoke for another minute trying to convince me, and just because I saw that he believed in me and trusted that it could happen, at the end he asked me again.”
From that moment on, Nnamdi Asomugha would be announced as the team’s starting cornerback.
In 2011, the Eagles signed Asomugha to a five-year $60 million contract. Two years after, they cut him in order to clean up their salary cap,unable to justify the spending with what appeared to be declining abilities. He had only intercepted four passes, with 17 passes defensed.
The numbers were still good, though the team couldn’t justify spending that much without big-time production.
Asomugha played his final three games as a backup on the 49ers roster before being cut earlier this year.
Just before the 2010 Super Bowl, he described playing for the Raiders as “tough,” while being interviewed by Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Rich Eisen. He added:
“You want to win games. Seven straight years of losing isn’t fun for anyone. So you’re watching playoffs and Super Bowls, and you’re happy for guys, but at the same time you’re like ‘when am I going to be in one.’”
Asomugha left the Raiders just one year after Jamarcus Russell had steered the team to a 5-11 disaster and then-coach Tom Cable had been fired.
The best record Asomugha saw would be an even 8-8 during the 2010 season, his last in Oakland.
Statistically, Asomugha’s numbers weren’t overly-impressive. 15 picks in 11 seasons, and a lone touchdown during the 2005 season.
But his impact as a man corner never went unnoticed.
In one game against the Denver Broncos, Asomugha faced off against Brandon Marshall.
Marshall couldn’t get off the line quickly, Asomugha’s six-foot-three frame menaced him in bump-and-run coverage.
During a point late in the game, Marshall looked towards safety Michael Huff with a grin, pointed towards Asomugha, and gave him his props.
A testament to the greatness that Asomugha brought to the team, Marshall, one of the league’s best receivers, could not break free from his coverage.
When asked what the motivation to retire was, Asomugha responded:
“I think you just know when you know. I’d felt it. I’d prayed about it for some time and we had our teams calling for that period when I’d left San Francisco. And nothing made me jump up and say ‘let me jump into it.’”
He joined many that have chosen to return to Alameda for just one day, to retire amongst Silver and Black.