ALAMEDA – Nnamdi Asomugha pulled into Raiders headquarters on Friday afternoon, quite possibly for the final time. There was nostalgia in a routine long since abandoned, one that began with a surprise trip so many years ago.
Asomugha was a few miles north in Berkeley when the late Al Davis surprised many by drafting the Cal product No. 31 overall in the 2003 draft, and was able to come right down to the facility.
“Coming down here that day felt like the beginning of a journey,” Asomugha said. “Coming down here today felt like the beginning of another one.”
Asomugha said that at a press conference to formally announce his retirement from professional football on Friday, concluding an 11-year career that started and ceremonially ended with the Raiders.
Asomugha reminisced about his time in silver and black sitting alongside Raiders greats Charles Woodson, Lester Hayes and Willie Brown. The Raiders didn’t win much during his tenure – he was never on a winning NFL team – but Asomugha remembered his time here fondly.
He left in the dark of night, during the post-lockout free-agent frenzy, and was off for Philadelphia to sign a five-year, $60 million contract with the Eagles. He was released two years into that contract, and struggled to catch on with the San Francisco 49ers this season.
It was important, Asomugha said, to come back home in the end.
“Everything happened so fast after the lock out, and I never got a chance to thank Al Davis or the Raiders fans,” Asomugha said. “Especially with Mr. Davis no longer with us, that always sticks with me.”
Asomugha recalled a day early in his professional tenure, when he ran into Al Davis in the hallway. It wasn’t intentional, nor was it welcome.
Davis wanted Asomugha to convert from safety to cornerback, and the former Golden Bear was resistant to it. Davis asked him a simple question: “Where do you think you’ll be most successful in the NFL?”
Asomugha said safety was his home. Wrong answer. Davis asked the question again, and Asomugha rebuffed. The exchange continued, with logic argued on both sides. The conversation dragged on, and eventually Asomugha’s answer changed.
A little time later, Asomugha switched to cornerback. It was a move that made him millions and left a strong legacy among Raiders cornerbacks.
“I know that people considered it a reach to select me in the first round, but Al believed in me,” Asomugha said. “He told me so several times over, which gave me the confidence to live up to the expectations he had for me.”
[RELATED: Tarver, Olson make care for continuity]
Asomugha certainly did. He was a two-time Pro Bowler – he was selected as an alternate another time but did not play -- and a two-time All-Pro. He was so good in man-to-man coverage that teams would rarely throw his way. In 2010, most likely his best season, Asomugha was targeted 33 times and allowed just 13 completions. There wasn’t a touchdown pass in the bunch.
His effectiveness waned playing in zone schemes and eventually drifted out of the top tier. That prompted a decision to retire at age 32 and enter the next phase of his life.
“Retiring still sounds like a strange term to me. I can’t say I like it much,” Asomugha said. “Junior Seau said he was graduating. I’d like to think of it that way, about moving on to the next thing.”