by Nathan Villasenor
There are a few reasons that I both loved and hated Thursday night’s week 8 NFL matchup between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers. First and foremost, within my six NFL Fantasy Football teams, I have a cumulative 16 players from either San Diego or Denver. When you’re going up against the first place team in your fantasy league, three TDs from Manning to Sanders isn’t something to complain about. And while some players certainly did their share of underperforming (I’m looking at you, Orange Julius), points are points in a league matchup. Outside of fantasy land, there’s also just the pure excitement of watching two top-tier NFL teams, each with a dangerous quarterback and a 5-game winning record, go head to head in a division battle. In this high-profile showdown, Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos earned another victory and secured the top slot in the AFC West with their 6-1 record. Though they were defeated, the San Diego Chargers are still in the hunt for a playoff spot and are only just a game behind Denver. Even the Kansas City Chiefs, division-mates with Denver and San Diego, are not statistically out, as they’ve a 4-3 record. However, it’s the fourth team in the AFC West that leads me to say that Thursday night was as painful as it was blissful…
“There are 31 teams in the National Football League. And then there are the Oakland Raiders.” This is the adage that resounds throughout the Oakland Coliseum via sound system before every game. Of course, this phrase is meant to inspire the Raider Nation, easily recognizable as some of the NFL’s most dedicated and boisterous fans. This phrase is meant to set apart the Raiders as a team that plays on a different level, a team that will “knock you ‘round and upside-down, and laugh when [they’ve] conquered and won” (as per their theme song, The Autumn Wind). Unfortunately, the way the Raiders have played insofar this season has changed this phrase into a sarcastic tease, excluding the Raiders from the professional athleticism of the rest of the NFL. And yet, the part that amazes and inspires me the most is that the fans of the Raiders, including me, keep coming back to fill the Black Hole. Why, or rather, how is it that we, the Raider Nation, can maintain such tragic optimism that we still go to the games, still record the broadcasts, still bleed silver and black, and still hope that “this week will be the week we finally get a victory”?
The Raiders have been at the butt of bad puns for years. But to be honest, the organization deserves it. This 0-7 season is the start of only one of what has been an accumulated 11 consecutive seasons at or below the .500 mark. The Raiders have not had a winning season for 11 years, and year 12 is well on its way. According to ProFootballReference.com, the team has had seven head coach changes within that span, the longest tenure belonging to Tom Cable from 2008 to 2010. That trend is continuing well into this season, as the Raiders fired their most recent head coach, Dennis Allen, mid-season after the first four games. Due to these rapid changes in command, the Raider Nation has not had a trustworthy leader to guide them into the future. With interim head coach Tony Sparano at the helm, I’m not even sure we have a trustworthy leader to guide us in to next week.
Why do I call the politicians of our team “untrustworthy”? Of course, a win-loss record is important, but a lot of it actually has to do with the off-season, when we fans are at the complete mercy of the corporate back office. It all starts with free-agency. This year, we had an estimated $63 million budget to work with, money that could have been used to acquire some top-of-the-line athletes that could have made this team work. We might have even renewed some contracts with potential players of the future. Instead, the Raider Nation had to watch in horror (and confusion) as we let go of star left tackle Jared Veldheer and effective running back Rashad Jennings. Then the men in charge insulted our injury by signing the declining Matt Schaub, quarterback to one of the few teams who actually had a record worse than ours last year (Houston Texans). In addition to Schaub, we signed a collection of defensive players including linebacker Lamar Woodley and cornerback Carlos Rodgers. Our defense has been ritualistically burned in every game so far. As fans, we could maybe accept these defensive duds, if only we signed offensive playmakers such as Darren Sproles or DeSean Jackson; both were virtually ignored by our staff and restricted from our fan base.
Then there’s the NFL Draft, in which we actually found some productive players in linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr. While these two men might be the cornerstones upon which we base our franchise in the future, the Raider Nation has had to endure a haunting history of bad draft picks. It’s well known that since 2004, we’ve passed over superstar-quality players such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and linebacker Clay Mathews for the likes of cornerback Fabian Washington, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, and possibly the greatest bust in Draft history, quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Each of these cringe-worthy picks is a devastating reminder of this troubled past that the Raider Nation has had to sit and cautiously support.
We fans must wake up each morning to a team that has systematically gotten worse year after year, and I am frankly at a loss to explain this pride that I still feel for my team. Maybe I was just born into it; my Dad has been a fan since the early 80’s. Maybe I’m intrigued by the seemingly ancient history of the Raiders- stories of how we dominated the NFL under legendary coach John Madden still captivate me. Or maybe I’m truly a fan who believes that his team can turn this winless season into a positive outcome (I’ve always enjoyed a good underdog story). Whatever this innate, driving force is that inspires me, fully clad in silver and black every time we have a game, I cannot deny that there is no escaping the Black Hole. I have been intercepted by this element that is the Autumn Wind.
It isn’t easy, being a part of the Raider Nation. It’s just what we do. Someday, our franchise will turn it around. In the interim, however, we’ll just have to hope and pray we get a victory somewhere. The late owner Al Davis once coined the catch phrase, “Just win, baby!” For the time being, we need to “just win something”.
It’s been a long season so far. If there is a silver lining, it’s that it’s October, which means that basketball season is also starting. Time to support an equally prolific team, the Sacramento Kings! #proudmademedoit
Sources: pro-footballreference.com, National Football Post
Here you can find all of our articles up to 2018.