(Please make sure to check out saint's Draft Day party post)
A month or so ago, I posed a similar question to the ladies of Athletics Nation, but I will not discriminate here; this one goes out to all who swear allegiance to the Silver & Black.
Yeah, maybe it's weird timing to wax nostalgic today, with a kind of an important day looming for our football team, but like the Raiders of old, I'm the type of guy that beats to his own drum.
And I don't even own a drum.
Truth be told, all this draft talk is making me a little dizzy (hey, don't "mock" me), so I thought I'd mix things up a bit, and maybe when all is said and done, I will walk away knowing just a little bit more about this crazy community of ours. And then you can all get back to your draft thingy.
So, please enlighten me. I'm needy that way.
October 16, 1977. It wasn't my first football game in person, but it is the first that I remember. I wish I could forget. The Denver Broncos, long the Raiders' whipping boys (6-26-2 entering that contest at the Coliseum), were up-and-coming. Although they managed only three winning campaigns in their first 17 seasons, they had posted a 9-5 mark the year before (best in club history to that point), and two of those defeats were at the hands of the Raiders, who went 13-1 en route to their first Super Bowl triumph.
I was a few months short of my tenth birthday when John Madden's club crushed the Minnesota Vikings that sensational Sunday at the Rose Bowl, but I remember Dad popping champagne in the kitchen shortly after Old Man Willie returned an errant pass 75 yards for a touchdown. When it was over I went running around the block with my cousins shouting to anyone who cared to listen that the Raiders- our Raiders- were World Champs. I was happy for Dad and my older brothers who had survived the Immaculate Reception, and other disappointing playoff losses.
It was Dad who took me to that game against the Broncos. Both teams entered play having won their first four games of the '77 season; in fact the Raiders were riding a 17-game winning streak, counting the previous post-season. My father tried to convince me that Denver had a decent team, but I wasn't buying. No way were the Broncos going to ruin my day; didn't matter that they had won twice in Oakland in the last five years.
The Raiders opened the scoring on a nine-yard pass from Ken Stabler to Dave Casper. It would be our last points of the day. Denver tied things up before the end of the first quarter, and took a 21-7 lead into halftime. Their third touchdown of the day came on a fake field goal, with kicker Jim Turner hauling in a 25-yard pass (I remember that play all too well).
Louis Wright returned an interception for another Bronco score- it was one of seven picks off the beleaguered Stabler that afternoon. Three of them were to linebacker Joe Rizzo, who had as many "catches" as Fred Biletnikoff, one of Snake's intended receivers. Turner's field goal in the fourth concluded the scoring: Denver 30, Oakland 7.
"Hey Snake, how about throwing to the guys on our team?"
A sneak at the boxscore shows that the Raiders dominated in certain areas, as they outgained their division rivals 326-200, and were only called for three penalties. Surely the Broncos were aided by eight Oakland turnovers (one fumble recovered to go with the seven INT's).
As we filed out of the eerily quiet Coliseum, I was completely stunned. Dad, who is known for impulsive commentary, said, "I think this team can go to the Super Bowl." Even if I was buying this time, I didn't want to hear it. On the way home, we listened to the recap, as Bill King spoke solemnly of Denver's "upset victory". It was the first time I remember hearing "upset" used in that fashion. Made total sense to me because "upset" aptly described how I was feeling.
The Broncos did indeed make it to the Super Bowl that season, beating our Raiders 20-17 on New Year's Day 1978. It only served to intensify my hatred of all things orange.
And that's just it. Sometimes it is not in victory that we realize how much a team means to us, but in defeat. I was born a Raider fan, and will always be a Raider fan. But it wasn't until that lonely day in October 1977 did I truly discover my blood type.
When did it happen for you?