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Commitment to Excellence and Humiliation

  • Feb 4, 2012
Rating:
+2
For all the whining the NFL brass does about how the Oakland Raiders refuse to conform, that's actually a quality about them that I personally find very endearing. I'm not exactly a conformist myself. The Raiders are also THE most celebrated vagabond misfit island in the NFL. They've taken the worst, most ill-behaved, sorriest players in history and given them a refuge in which they were not only allowed to remain in the league, but actually thrived. Other known homes for the player scraps no one wants, like the New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals, are considered lucky to string together three winning seasons in a row. If they put four together, it's unheard of. But whereas Cincy, N'awlins, and similar teams like Arizona were aberrations the few times they were able to make it to the Super Bowl, Oakland played in a cool five Super Bowls, winning three of them.

On the downside, one single incident in Raiders lore firmly describes how they became that way. In a 1978 preseason game, Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum put a particularly vicious hit on New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley. Stingley's career ended that day, and even worse, Stingley's ability to move also ended that day. While Stingley lived the next few decades, he was paralyzed the whole time. Tatum - who took pride in his nickname, "Assassin," and wrote in his autobiography that he likened his best hits to felonious assaults - never apologized, and the one time he did try to reach out to Stingley, he was rebuffed because that millennium had come and Stingley believed Tatum was merely doing it for publicity.

That sums up the Raiders in a nutshell. I love that they're so successful as people who were supposed to flounder and fail in the NFL, but I can't stand the fact that they've had to act like pissants and punks in order to be successful; or at least thought they had to act like that in order to be successful. The Raiders have gotten so good at taking out their shoulder chips on everyone else in the league that they've earned permanent entwinement with gang culture; if people from crime-ridden neighborhoods don't want anything to do with any of the local street gangs, wearing the Raiders colors of silver and black is an acceptable way to come off as tough without wearing gang colors which might make them targets. I haven't seen the Raiders doing a whole lot to discourage this association; their stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, is called The Black Hole largely because of the elaborate costumes fans dress in to intimidate fans of other teams.

Nearly everything about the Oakland Raiders is unlikely. They were formed in 1960. In 1959, when the AFL was just starting up, they had placed a team in Minneapolis. But the NFL had designs on ruining the AFL, so they went into Minneapolis and made the newly-formed AFL team an offer to join their established league. The Minneapolis team accepted and in 1961, they officially joined the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings. Meanwhile, the AFL scrambled to find a good replacement site for their eighth team. They weren't looking at Oakland because there was already an NFL team established in the Bay Area, Oakland hadn't asked for a team, and oh yeah, no one knew where the hell Oakland was. But the owner of the Los Angeles Chargers (now the San Diego Chargers) threatened to forfeit his team if a second team wasn't placed in California, and so Oakland was awarded the team on January 30, 1960, presumably to a populace asking themselves "What's an AFL?"

A name-the-team contest was held and the new Oakland franchise soon had its name... The Senors! Yes, you read that right, and after becoming the butt of local jokes and accusations that the contest was fixed (one of the owners was known to call his colleagues "Senor" all the time and really, would YOU call a team the Senors?) the owners yielded after nine days and gave the team the name that finished third in the contest: The Raiders. A rendition of actor Randolph Scott was quickly mocked up, which became the helmet logo the Raiders have used throughout their entire history. The Raiders were terrible for those first few years. At the end of their first year, they were also so badly strapped for money that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson loaned them $400,000 to keep them up and running.

After the 1962 season, another bad year, the Raiders hired an assistant coach of the Chargers. This coach, Al Davis, became the very soul of the Oakland Raiders from then until his death last year. He initiated some of the slogans that helped define the Raider attitude: "Pride and Poise," "Commitment to Excellence," and "Just Win, Baby!" More importantly, in 1967 Davis's hand-picked coaching successor, John Rauch, took the Raiders to an AFL Championship (Davis left in 1966 and returned as part owner a year later), which bought them a ticket to the second AFL/NFL Championship - what is now universally known as the Super Bowl - in history. They got stomped by the Green Bay Packers pretty handily, 33-14.

In 1969, the Raiders hired a new coach named John Madden, and under him the team became one of the absolutely dominant teams of the 70's. They formed a hard-hitting rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who kept beating them in the playoffs. In 1972, the Raiders were on the wrong end of one of the most incredible plays in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception, in which Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a desperation pass to his running back, who was smacked by Jack Tatum just as the ball arrived. Instead of falling harmlessly to the ground, the ball found its way into the hands of Steelers running back Franco Harris, who ran it for a touchdown. A year later, the Raiders went to the AFC Championship but lost to the Dolphins. Madden, in fact, was a reputed choker until his team of proud, avowed badasses won the Super Bowl in 1976. Madden left the Raiders in 1979 and was replaced by former Raiders quarterback Tom Flores, who became the first Hispanic coach in NFL history.

Flores is the second-winningest coach in Raiders history - his teams won 83 games, surpassed only by Madden - and won the other two Super Bowls in Raiders history, the first in 1980 and the second in 1983, and he was also the coach in 1982 when the team hightailed it out of Oakland and moved to Los Angeles. The team's fortunes declined in 1986, and they went through a bad stretch until 1989. During that season, coach Mike Shanahan was fired and the Raiders hired the first black head coach in NFL history, Art Shell. In 1990, Shell took the team to a 12-4 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship, where the Raiders were easily dismantled, smashed, and ground into chopped liver by Buffalo. The lopsided 51-3 loss still stands as the worst in Raiders history. Al Davis probably died because someone brought it up in front of him.

An important distinction the Raiders had in the 80's was the presence of Bo Jackson. Jackson was an honest-to-god two-sport superstar, and he played for the Los Angeles Raiders in football and the Kansas City Royals in baseball. He became a very popular pitchman through the "Bo Knows" ads. His baseball career lasted a lot longer than his football career, and in baseball he was an all-star selection in 1989 and the 1993 Comeback Player of the Year. He knew baseball well, but he finished his career with the Angels in 1994 with a lifetime batting average of .250, 141 home runs, and 415 RBI. But he knew football even better, and morphed into a machine when he put on the pads. He first suited up for Los Angeles halfway through the 1987 season, when he proceeded to slice and dice defenses for 554 yards in only seven games. He played second string behind Marcus Allen but still rushed for a career total of 2782 yards and 16 touchdowns in less than four years. His per-carry average is an incredible 5.4. Football Bo was clearly all-time great material and would have gone to Canton had a hip injury not ended his football career.

After a few more middling seasons, the Raiders hired Jon Gruden to coach in 1998. After the 2001 season, the Raiders made the weird move of releasing Gruden to let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign him. In return, they got cash and draft picks. They also promoted offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to head coach. While the moved looked smart after Callahan took them to the Super Bowl in 2002, Callahan made one important oversight: He never changed Gruden's playbook. Basically he got to the Super Bowl under an entire system that Gruden set up, and that proved somewhat detrimental when Oakland's Super Bowl opponent turned out to be none other than the Gruden-led Buccaneers. And Gruden, unfortunately for Callahan, was not averse to using what he knew about the Raider playbook against them. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon threw five interceptions in the bad end of a 48-21 blowout. Some of Tampa Bay's players said Gruden had given them so much information about Oakland's playbook that they knew exactly what plays were being called.

The current Raiders don't know what the hell they're doing. After one glorious Super Bowl year, they've since become the only team in the NFL to lose eleven games in seven consecutive seasons. The Lions haven't even equaled that! Their coaching and quarterbacking have been on constant carousels, and among their moves have been re-hiring Art Shell and drafting JaMarcus Russell. Neither worked, and the Russell draft is in many NFL circles now considered to be the worst since Ryan Leaf in San Diego - Russell is actually considered by many to be even worse than Leaf. It certainly didn't help that Davis, once a shrewd businessman, apparently devolved into a guy in constant danger of suddenly deciding to take out the whole room with a machete. He fired Tom Cable, the one coach the Raiders hired who had some kind of success in turning the team around, because of an honest assessment Cable made of the team.

Al Davis is the only owner to move from one city to another, then move back to his original city. It started, of course, when he began trying to have improvements made to Oakland Coliseum in 1980. That same year, he signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Los Angeles to move the Raiders there. The move was unanimously shot down by the other owners in the league, and Davis tried to move them anyway but was blocked by an injunction. After that, the team became a partner in an antitrust lawsuit filed by Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, then filed an antitrust suit of their very own. In 1982, a jury found favor with Davis and he headed south. In 1986, Davis began trying to screw Los Angeles over when he demanded more modern digs. Numerous locations were considered, and whenever one of the extensive 'burbs of Los Angeles ponied up the money (paid for in taxpayer dollars, of course), Davis would learn he couldn't build there for some ludicrous reason. That never, ever stopped him from keeping the money, though, and when Los Angeles finally asked him what happened to the other deposits he was given, Davis presumably explained by starting to draw out the word "Wellllllll......" before letting himself trail off in a series of nonsensical syllables. Sacramento made an offer to the Raiders, but they chose their old home on Oakland.

20 Raiders are in the Hall of Fame, 14 of whom made the primary NFL contributions as Raiders. Some of the Raiders' marquee names include Tim Brown, Marcus Allen, John Madden, and Howie Long. Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson, and James Lofton also played stints with Oakland, although they're best known for their work with other teams. The Raiders are one of the few teams who have had consistent success at finding good quarterbacks. Darryl Lamonica was nicknamed "The Mad Bomber" when he moved to Oakland after being traded there by Buffalo. Jim Plunkett revived his career in Oakland and had his greatest triumphs there. Ken Stabler, though not an all-time great, went to four Pro Bowls, was twice an All-Pro selection, a member of the 70's all-decade team, and a Super Bowl champion with Oakland. And Rich Gannon, otherwise an unremarkable career backup, had standout seasons with the Raiders.

Despite spectacular offenses, the Raiders created their name and image on the strength of their defenses. Unfortunately, while I have a respect for teams that do that, the Raiders picked up their bad guy image on account of being dirty. Cheap shots, unnecessary roughness, bullying, and dirty play have often been the name of the Raiders' commitment to excellence. The Bears, Steelers, and one or two other teams have built their reputations on being immovable objects, yet those other teams have images that are more blue-collar tough than dirty.

There are good reasons to like the Raiders. I love their angry take-no-shit attitude and their willingness to take players no other team wanted or could use and succeed with them. I would have a big chip on my shoulder in that situation too. I'm one of the few people who enjoys seeing selfish (read: creative and amusing) touchdown celebrations whenever a player gets to express uninhibited joy. But I always get the feeling the Raiders ultimately go too far in that direction. Expressing joy through creativity is one thing. Intentionally humiliating opponents for no reason is another.

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The Oakland Raiders participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Oakland, California. Oakland plays its games in the West of the AFC. The Oakland Raiders, founded in 1960, play home games at the McAfee Coliseum and have won four NFL Titles (1967, 1976, 1980, 1983).
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