It’s not easy being silver and black. The Oakland Raiders, one of the most intimidating and successful franchises in the history of professional football, are reeling. On so many Sundays the past few years, the Raiders have been outplayed and outclassed. Since 2002, when they last won an AFC title and appeared in the Super Bowl, they haven’t posted a winning record. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I checked the stats — the Raiders haven’t won more than five games in any season since.
With the way the team has played this season, six victories seems like a tall order. A colleague who has season tickets (and writes a fine Raiders blog) said the fans in the Black Hole at the Oakland Coliseum relentlessly booed quarterback JaMarcus Russell on Sunday as the Broncos embarrassed the Raiders 23-3.
This is pitiful football. My Raiders’ credentials are a bit tenuous, but I have enough of a connection to justify a few observations. Growing up in the snowbound Eastern time zone, I watched a lot of Raiders games from the West Coast after the Browns wrapped up. The Raiders in those days were Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff, Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch, not to mention scores of outstanding defensive backs and linemen both sides of the ball.
When the team returned to Oakland from exile in Los Angeles, I lived in Alameda – where Al Davis & Co. set up their corporate home. My kids’ high school manned concession booths at home games as a fund-raiser. While I saw little action on the field, I poured plenty of beers for the fans. The early years in Oakland Phase Two were mediocre, but the team had passionate backers who knew better times lay ahead.
For maddening contrast, today’s Raiders fans need only look across San Francisco Bay to see how the 49ers are resurrecting their program. I wish I had a solution for the Raiders, who for so many years found a way to win. Right now, the fabled “Commitment to Excellence” has a hollow ring to it.