By: Maliik Obee
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more storied franchise in sports that have tortured their fanbase over the last 15 years than the Oakland Raiders. Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ousted the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII 13 years ago, the Raiders had fallen into obscurity. The drop was sudden, plummeting to 4-12 in 2003 after three consecutive playoff runs to open the millennium. Now in 2016, Raiders fans have something to believe in, as Oakland sits atop the AFC West at 7-2.
There have been flashes of promise and hopes of a promising future, with the hype train crashing and burning well before playoff time. There was the drafting of LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell with the No.1 pick in 2007, a “surefire” star at the time. Russell floundered, throwing for more interceptions than touchdowns in a two-year career that saw Russell balloon in weight.
The 07′ draft produced several Hall Of Fame-worthy players, including receiver Calvin Johnson, who was taken second by the Detroit Lions. Then there was the drafting of brute running back Darren Mcfadden in 2008, a workhorse that could surely lead Oakland to the promise land if he wasn’t hurt every year. With Mcfadden in the backfield, Oakland finished .500 in 2010 and 2011, with his body giving out on them at the most inconvenient times. And of course, there was the trade for Quarterback Carson Palmer after the injury to Jason Campbell in 2011 that was deemed to salvage the Raiders playoff hopes. Palmer’s performance wasn’t good enough to suffice for the 2012 first-round pick and second-round pick in 2013. Palmer failed to lead Oakland to the playoffs, before heading to the Arizona Cardinals and reviving his career.
In between those picks, there was the off the field turmoil, from players and front office alike. For every solid pick, the Raiders made in the draft, there were several bad, following former owner Al Davis’ motto of speed wins. Speed demons like cornerback Stanford Routt and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey failed to pan out.
If the bad drafts and free agencies weren’t enough, Oakland has struggled since moving back to the city since 1994 to build a new stadium. The ugly conditions of the Oakland Coliseum that the Raiders share with the Oakland Athletics baseball franchise mirrored the play.
But through it all, the fans hung in there, making their presence felt at stadiums nationwide – with their chants and their fists. CBS Sports ranks the Raiders the sixth biggest NFL franchise in a 2016 report, but it’s arguable whether they should be higher. Despite the possibility of a move to Las Vegas, Raiders fans have shown up and showed out in unprecedented numbers for away games. Celebrities like Ice Cube, MC Hammer, and Guy Fieri have long adorned the silver and black even during the worst of times.
With General Manager Reggie Mckenzie at the helm, the Raiders are suddenly doing everything right. Racking up draft picks and picking sleepers that have made great contributions. Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack have led the way on both sides of the ball. In free agency, Mckenzie took a chance on receiver Michael Crabtree after falling out of the San Francisco 49ers good graces. Crabtree has reclaimed his rep of being one of the most dominant receivers in the league, racking up 6 touchdowns thus far in 2016.
With Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Broncos, Oakland moves to 7-2 and No. 1 in the AFC West. Offensively, Oakland is ranked 5th overall in yards per game (401.1), 7th in touchdowns (17) and 4th in rushing yards per game (127.8).
Defensively, Oakland has bounced back from a horrid start to the season, ranking dead last in passing yards allowed. Raiders have moved up from 32nd to 27th in a matter of weeks in total yards allowed.
Oakland is currently undefeated on the road, with six of seven wins coming via late-game comeback. The Raiders have been one of the most exciting teams of the year, winning over naysayers and the media alike.
There are still seven games left for Oakland, in arguably the toughest division in the league. Expectations are rising, as many try to figure out the ceiling for Oakland this season. For many, a Super Bowl will suffice for the years of hardship being a fan of the Silver and Black. For others, especially in Oakland, the Raiders marginal success in 2016 has soothed the pain of possibly losing their franchise again.
The sky is the limit for Oakland, with only the football gods knowing if they will soar or crash and fall this season. Either way, these wins have put smiles on faces of fans who have scoured for too long.