The euphoria surrounding the Oakland Raiders at this moment is less than you think it is. And this is a good thing for them.
Yes, they broke 13-year streaks without a winning record or a postseason appearance. Yes, they have regained control of their own fate because KCGKC (Kansas City Gonna Kansas City), because Denver is now in full-fledged retreat and because the San Diego Chargers are now fleeing the jurisdiction entirely. Yes, they are 10-5 on the road in the two seasons under Riverboat Jack Del Rio, in case they cannot close out the AFC West and have to face their fate in foreign lands.
Why, Las Vegas and the NFL’s annual How Do We Screw Mark Davis This Time meeting seems weeks away,
But there was no overwhelming wave of joy emanating from the postgame scenes, no quotes claiming that this team avenged the spirit of the Ethereal Al by beating the late-game-failure-tempered Chargers. The Raiders seemed, perhaps amazingly when you consider the history here, momentarily pleased but nowhere near satisfied.
It is as if the players, having rejected the historical weight of a franchise that has seven winning seasons in the last 30 years, have embraced the notion of the difficult slog ahead. They are fully ensconced in the now, and the now is difficult.
They want it all, and all is very hard to come by. But they have one of the six chairs, and except for the seeding argument to come, they’re doing fine by keeping their eyes on the only prize there is.
The one in front of them.
Surprisingly (at least to me, and let’s be honest, I’m all that matters as this is being typed), there have been six Super Bowl champions who were coming off a non-winning season, most recently New Orleans in the 2009 season (the Saints were 8-8 the year before). Indeed, in the NFL’s Total Crapshoot Era, three consecutive teams managed the feat – St. Louis in 1999 (the Rams were 4-12 in 1998), Baltimore (the Colts were 8-8 the year before, 6-10 the year before that, and in Cleveland two years before that) and New England in 2001 (5-11 in the first year of The Belichick).
Oh, and in case 49ers fans get that Hello Kitty face, San Francisco did it in 1981, the season after coming off a 6-10 year and two 2-14s before that. There. Happy?
In short, what the Raiders would do in case the ultimate happens is not unprecedented – unless Davis suddenly becomes very persuasive in the owners meeting that determines his fate and gets to lead the victory parade straight down 880 and out of town.
In fact, he might almost be better off not seeing his team win the Super Bowl, since that would only impress more owners on the continued viability of Oakland as a superior market, and convince them all the more that Las Vegas is too Sheldon Adelson’d for their comfort.
But that’s too weird, too “Major League” to mentally envelop right now, so let’s let that simmer.
The point at this sitting is that the Raiders’ history literally has nothing whatsoever to do with their immediate future. They will go deep into January (or maybe even February) or flame out quickly on their own merits on the day in question, and you can’t ask for a fairer deal than that.
In short, you can quibble about Derek Carr’s individual results the last couple of weeks, just like any other fan. You can marvel at the continued Khalil Mackness of it all. You can make a cult figure of Del Rio, especially if he coaches a game dressed as a riverboat gambler for that special 4th-and-13 conversion against Houston.
In other words, the Raiders do not have to concern themselves with the rearview mirror at all, because they will not even be the best worst-to-first team ever. Those ’99 Rams had nine consecutive losing seasons and a winning percentage of .227 before winning it all – much worse than Oakland’s .302.
So yes, Oakland’s history here stinks, and its future is uncertain, but the present is really very good, and in a game whose coaches preach staying in the moment to the point at which you want to hit them behind the ear with a wrench just to make them stop saying it, all these Raiders have is the moment.
And like we said, you can’t ask for a fairer deal than that.