While many readers of a certain publication eagerly await the Swimsuit Issue around this time of year, I hurry home to the mail box for a different reason: my Raider season-ticket portfolio.
This year's package takes on special meaning, as the Silver & Black suits up for its 50th season. Long accused of being a little too dependent on its past, this is surely the year to embrace the rich history of the Raiders.
Although the recent string of losing seasons has left a sour taste on the tongues of their fiercely loyal followers, few teams have enjoyed as much success. It almost never happened. Were it not for Los Angeles Chargers owner Barron Hilton, who vehemently pushed for a second West Coast club to fill out the eight-team American League Football League in 1960, there would have been no Oakland Raiders.
To think what we would have missed.
The city of Oakland was awarded a football team on January 30, 1960, even though there was no stadium to call its own. A local newspaper held a "name the team" contest, and somehow "Senors" emerged as the winner. Club officials would soon change the name to "Raiders", but imagine if they hadn't? Instead of a shield, a sombrero? And how about Football's Fabulous Females: Las Senoritas? From Hells Bells to La Cucaracha. Yeah, you get the point.
From the humble beginnings (9-33 in their first three seasons) to unparalleled success (37-4-1 from 1967-69), from bitter disappointments (six straight losses in conference championship play) to crowning glories (three Super Bowls in eight seasons), from the exodus south to an unprecedented return, the Oakland Raiders have been as intriguing as any professional sports team, and as exciting as they've been frustrating.
They say what comes around, goes around, and such is the case in sports, and particularly with our football team. For every Holy Roller, there has been a Tuck Game. For every Sea of Hands, there's been an Immaculate Reception. For every conspiracy against (criminal element charges), there has been a conspiracy for (perennially having one of the league's toughest schedules).
Second only to "just winning" have been the characters that have worn the Silver & Black: Snake, Ghost, Assassin, Kick' Em, Dr. Death, Tooz, and Molester. Otis Sistrunk was said to have hailed from the University of Mars. Tom Flores noted that the way he dealt with his 1983 team, a club that Howie Long called "a little to the left of normal", was to toss raw meat into a room full of players, and shut the door really fast. That tactic might be worth revisiting; the '83 squad is the Raiders' last Super Bowl Champion.
A decade that began with such promise has taken a turn that is nothing short of historically awful. But it seems that for once there is a plan in place, and hope- real hope- for better days ahead. While we Raider fans gear for what should be our team's most competitive season since 2002, let it also be a time to reflect on fifty years of some pretty good football.
In the coming weeks, Silver and Black Pride will look back on some of the greatest moments in Oakland Raider history.