The Oakland Raiders are in first place late in the season for the first time in 14 years. They are starting to look and act like the OAKLAND Raiders of my youth. Has Jack Del Rio put the OAKLAND back in the OAKLAND Raiders?
As Joe DiMaggio would have put it, "This is like deja vu all over again!"
For someone like me, who has followed the Raiders since the get-go, this season seems like a walk down Memory Lane.
Because these are NOT for daddy’s Oakland Raiders. These are your GRANDdaddy’s Oakland Raiders.
And it’s not just because the Raiders are playing King of the Mountain with their arch rivals, the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s the way they’ve battled their way to sole possession of first place during the first two-thirds of the 2016 season.
Fully seven out of their first 10 games have been won (or lost) by seven points or less. Included were two games by just one point and one game by just three points.
That’s what made your granddaddy’s Oakland Raiders so exciting. That was an integral part of their legendary mystique.
And that is why for the first time in a long time the Oakland Raiders are relevant.
Never Say Die!
It’s not that the Raiders dominate; they don't, as today's game proved. It’s that they never give up.
In the Good Old Days, it was never a good idea to leave an Oakland Raiders' game early just because they were behind by two touchdowns with only two minutes left on the clock.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, look up the "Heidi Game" on Wikipedia. It was just one of many examples ...
The Raiders were always known as a fourth quarter ball club, and many of their games were won (or lost) in the final minutes - if not seconds - of the game.
There were the victories snatched from the jaws of defeat, and the defeats snatched from the jaws of victory.
This is what made the Raiders relevant. It is what made the Raiders fun to watch – for fans and non-fans alike.
Largest Television Audiences
The Oakland Raiders always drew the largest television audiences when they played on national television.
As the saying used to go, you either loved them or you hated them but nobody was ever indifferent about the Oakland Raiders.
It’s those gambles that Head Coach Jack Del Rio takes that hark back to an era when you could walk the length of East 14th Street and know exactly what down it was because every house and business was listening to the game on the radio.
Why NOT throw or run the ball on a fourth down rather than punting the ball or settling for a three-point field goal?
Not every time, but SOME times it makes sense.
According to a study by The New York Times, most football coaches over-estimate the risk and under-estimate the potential gain of attempting a first down on a fourth down – especially if you’ve only got just one or two yards to go.
Two Point Conversion
And what about opting for that “risky” two-point conversion to win the game against the New Orleans Saints rather than settling for a tie?
How many NFL coaches would have taken such a risk?
A one-point conversion attempt might have seemed a safer strategy, but it would NOT have been a given. Field goal attempts DO sometimes fail.
And sending the game into overtime would NOT have guaranteed a Raiders' victory.
If an American football game goes into sudden death overtime, the team that wins the coin toss is the odds on favourite to win the game. So it would STILL have been a 50-50 crap shoot, anyway.
Good call, Coach Jack!
Away Game Advantage?
The Oakland Raiders have six more games to play, and three of them are against other Western Division teams.
All three of these games are ALSO away games – if you can consider a Raiders game played in San Diego, a.k.a. Baja Oakland, an “away game”.
The Raiders routinely attract more fans than the Chargers when they play at Qualcomm Stadium.
If there is one things that is different this season from the 1960’s and ‘70’s, it’s the Raiders' dismal at-home record.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Raiders had the best home field advantage of any professional sports franchise in the United States or Canada.
At 67%, it was not only the best home field advantage in the NFL, but also in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey League (NHL).
The Oakland Raiders have only lost two games this season, and both of those games were played at Oaktown’s notorious Black Hole.
The Raiders were defeated by the Atlanta Falcons on 18 September and the Kansas City Chiefs on 16 October.
They defeated the San Diego Chargers on 9 October and the Denver Broncos on 6 November.
So they're 50% at home - unless you consider their victory over the Houston Texans at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City a home game.
Pride and Poise
Coach Jack was born in 1963, the same year that Al Davis was appointed Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders, who were established just two years earlier.
Coach Jack was just four years old when the Raiders won the now-defunct American Football League championship, playing in the second Super Bowl, and losing to the Green Bay Packers.
And for the record, he has born in Castro Valley, he attended Hayward High School, and - if you don't know California geography - this is what is known as "Raiders Country".
Did Coach Jack attend home games at Frank Youell Field before the Oakland Coliseum - then thought of as a state-of-the-art facility - opened in 1966?
Did he attend that first game at the Oakland Coliseum against the Kansas City Chiefs?
Did he listen to away games on the radio?
I can't help but think that Head Coach Jack is different from the other head coaches that have coached the Raiders in recent years. I knew it before he coached his first game.
"He's gonna put the OAKLAND back in the OAKLAND Raiders," I thought. And he has.
Think: Pride and Poise, baby. Think: Commitment to Excellence, baby. Think: Just Win, baby!
The OAKLAND Raiders are back ... with thanks, in large part, to a hometown boy from Southern Alameda County called Jack Del Rio!