With the pro football fan base ushering in new and younger members every autumn, it’s time to write this column, because we’re getting dangerously close to the point where the newest and the youngest may not know of what I am about to impart.
Gather ’round the keyboard and let me tell you of a time when the NFL was terrorized by the Silver and Black.
For those who remember it, the dominance of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders occurred in a time that only exists in grainy NFL Films footage. It’s something you recall only with John Facenda’s voice narrating.
And any recollection surely must involve images of managing general partner Al Davis prowling the field before a game, donning sunglasses, wearing lots of jewelry and with his hands shoved into his polyester pants pockets. He looked like a disco owner.
The Raiders—or, more accurately, Da Raiduhs—were a collection of misfits and rough customers whose slogan was “Just Win, Baby” and whose theme was A Commitment to Excellence.
The Raiders didn’t just win football games, they beat the opponents into submission. Teams went into the Coliseum in Oakland and the first things they were offered were a blindfold and a cigarette. Before playing, the opposition asked that the game be commuted.
The Raiders glory days began in February, 1969 in the American Football League, when Davis—who once coached the team himself earlier in the decade—hired a little-known assistant named John Madden to take over the team from predecessor John Rauch. Madden, at age 32, became pro football’s youngest head coach.
In Madden’s ten years coaching the Raiders before switching headsets from the coaching ones to the broadcasting variety (1969-78), the team’s winning percentage was .763. The Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings in January, 1977 to win Super Bowl XI.
The recipe for success was odd but effective.
Davis, an old AFL guy from the league’s gunslinging days, never met a forward pass he didn’t like. So in 1967 he traded for Daryle Lamonica, a quarterback from Notre Dame who’d been Jack Kemp’s backup in Buffalo, and Davis told Lamonica to let it fly.
The Raiders treated 3rd-and-four like it was 3rd-and-40. They stretched the field like a rubber band.
Eventually Lamonica would be tagged with the nickname “The Mad Bomber” for his propensity to try to move down the field in two or three plays, max.
The other oddly successful part of Davis’ recipe was his fascination with the ne’er-do-well.
Starting in earnest in the 1970s, the Raiders became a home for players who had been cast-offs by other teams in the NFL.
Some of the players were released or traded because their former teams didn’t think they were good enough to play in the league. Others rubbed their former bosses the wrong way. In both instances, the Raiders welcomed those ostracized players into the Silver and Black fold with open arms.
The eclectic blend of homegrown Raiders and guys plucked off the waiver wire, under Madden, ran roughshod over the NFL in the ’70s. Except in the playoffs.
To be a member of the Raiders was to have an annual sour taste in your mouth when the final gun sounded in the postseason.
Finally, in 1976, Madden’s guys went all the way, blasting the Minnesota Vikings out of the Rose Bowl in Super Bowl XI, 32-14.
Two more Super Bowl wins followed after the 1980 and 1983 seasons, both under coach Tom Flores (a former AFL quarterback) and quarterback Jim Plunkett, who was the epitome of the Rescued Raider.
Plunkett was a two-time loser with the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, the no. 1 overall draft pick out of Stanford in 1971. The words “draft bust” began to follow him around when Davis came calling in 1979.
Plunkett wasn’t even in the league when the Raiders signed him, having missed the 1978 season. And he was 33 years old when he led the Raiders over the Philadelphia Eagles in SB XV. Three years later, at 36, Plunkett did it again—beating the heavily favored Washington Redskins.
By this time the franchise had begun its 13-year stay (1982-94) in Los Angeles.
Those days of Silver and Black dominance are long gone. Today’s Raiders are dressed just like their brethren did in the salad days—the uniforms haven’t changed in almost 50 years—but they play like a bad Double-A affiliate. The colors are the same, but today they are silver and black, sans the capitalization.
Since playing (and losing) in Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season, the Raiders are 53-123. A typical season is 4-12 or 5-11. The closest they came to a winning record was a pair of 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Just Win One, Baby.
Al Davis is dead and so is the Raiders mystique.
Never have the Raiders, in their 54 year history (dating back to their AFL debut in 1960), gone through a dry spell anywhere near as long as this current 11-year sojourn in the desert.
Since the Super Bowl appearance in 2003, the Raiders have burned through six coaches. Their current, and seventh one is someone named Dennis Allen, who’s also the first of the bunch to start so much as a third season.
The Raiders used to intimidate. Their black jerseys with the silver numerals and their silver helmets with the dude with the eye patch used to define winning in an iconic way.
The Raiders, with their nine seasons of double-digit losses in the past 11, are a laughing stock.
ESPN, to which I loathe to give too much credit, nonetheless released their Week 1 power rankings today.
The Worldwide Leader lists the Raiders 32nd—dead last—in the NFL.
Part of the reason why ESPN doesn’t like the Raiders all that much is that they don’t have a quarterback, among other things.
Coach Allen named Derek Carr as the starter last week. You’re excused if you don’t know who he is. Carr is the Raiders’ second round pick this past May, out of Fresno State. He beat out veteran Matt Schaub for the starting job.
Truth is, the Raiders haven’t had a quarterback for years. Or a running game. Or much of a defense.
That’s why they go 4-12 every year.
So the Derek Carr Era begins.
Just try not to embarrass yourself, baby.