It’s hard feeling like a failure. Like no matter what you do, you’re not going to succeed. Everyone wants to win, everyone wants to succeed; everyone wants a taste of some sense of accomplishment. But what if a victory seems like the one thing you can’t have? What if you consistently feel like, no matter all of your hard work, no matter all of your trying, the only thing you seem capable of achieving is failure? For the 0-7 (at the time of this writing) Oakland Raiders, this scenario is very much a reality.
The easy thing to do, of course, is to start throwing around blame. They need better players who will make plays. They need better coaches who put players in position to make those plays. They need a better general manager (GM) who will bring in more talent and retain the talent they have. They need a new owner who cares enough to hire a new GM who can do his job worth a damn. And while fans tend to have their own hypotheses about what ails the team, their own specific areas in which to place blame, the painful truth is that the team’s problems are pretty much rooted in all of the above, leading the team to beat themselves in every game. As interim head coach Tony Sparano says, the Raiders can fix their problems, but they keep creating more problems. How can anyone succeed under such a condition of self-sabotage? It may not be intentional, but that’s what it is.
When you’re dwelling in the basement of failure for so long, people come to make a joke of you, or feel pity for you, or just ignore you because you’re irrelevant to them. And all of that has an effect, mentally; it takes its toll. Over time, that spirit of losing becomes normal and makes you numb. You still feel disappointed at every loss, but that spark, that desire to fight, fades more and more. You begin to shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well,” as if failure isn’t optional, but inevitable. And that’s when people who do succeed begin to look at you and wonder why you can’t do the same; what is so wrong with you that you can’t succeed even once.
Some Raiders fans say that the way to reignite that spark is to move the team to a new city where they will have a new stadium to play in. Clearly, the city of Oakland doesn’t want the Raiders anymore given that they’ve dragged their feet so long on building a new stadium for the team. But it’s not difficult to see why Oakland officials would be so hesitant to spend a shitload of money on a new stadium for a below-average team that can’t seem to get out of its losing ways. Arguments aside, the fact is that the Raiders are most likely moving out of Oakland in the coming years, either to Los Angeles or San Antonio. Will the change of venue lead to some wins? Who knows? But as stated above, the problems with the Raiders are embedded in the organization itself, not necessarily the place they play. The Denver Broncos, for example, could play in a giant hot dog stand and still rack up the wins. And being a Raiders fan, you know how much I hate giving props to the Broncos.
It hurts. Not just having to admit that the Broncos are a superior team, but admitting that every other team in our Division, every other team in the league, is superior. It hurts. I’m not sure whether it hurts the Raiders players more or the Raiders fans more, or maybe both in a separate but equal way, but speaking as a fan, it hurts. And it especially hurts when we can’t even brag about the Raiders beating one team, not even one of the other worst teams in the league. We can’t even say that they were able to catch an overconfident team off-guard on a given Sunday. Actually, I think they’ve faced a couple of overconfident teams that were off-guard and they still couldn’t pull a win out of their asses. And that hurts.
Maybe the team is cursed. That’s really the explanation I’m down to now. Ever since the team’s late former owner, Al Davis, kicked then head coach Jon Gruden – who fans lovingly referred to as Chucky Gruden for his angry facial expressions resembling the horror film character – out of Oakland, things just haven’t been the same. Sure, the very next season is when the Raiders rode some easy victories to a Super Bowl appearance, but as dominant as the Raiders were during that season is as dominated as they were in the Super Bowl against Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And the team’s been getting their asses kicked ever since. Year after year, instead of ebb and flow, the team has only been dropping to new lows, one of the most infamous being when Al Davis passed up drafting big-play wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Megatron, for quarterback JaMarcus Russell who ended up being the biggest bust of any #1 pick, ever, and is currently sitting on a coach somewhere spending all of the money the Raiders paid him to be the biggest bust of any #1 pick, ever.
But it’s not only Russell who has been a bust, as the Raiders have struggled to find a star QB since Rich Gannon sat at the helm over ten years ago. To make matters worse, the Raiders have struggled to find a star head coach since Gruden, consistently hiring and firing coaches, leading to the destabilized mess the team is in now. Even former head coach Art Shell was brought back for a turn at an embarrassing 2-14 season. It’s like the Curse of Chucky Gruden is upon us. And I’m really starting to believe that the curse won’t be lifted until the Raiders hire Gruden back, which is why I’m in the camp begging for Chucky to return.
Then, of course, with the death of Al Davis, the team fell into even more disarray at a time when it looked as if they had finally found their footing, with head coach Hue Jackson leading the Raiders to an 8-8 record following a previous season at 8-8 under Tom Cable. It was like having a semblance of hope and then having it ripped away when Davis’s son, Mark, hired Reggie McKenzie on as GM. He immediately let go of Jackson and brought in his own head coach in Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. And thus began, as podcaster Raider Greg would put it, the era of buffoonery. Obviously bad coaches were hired and obviously bad coaches were fired so that more obviously bad coaches could be hired in their place. Draft picks were wasted on players everyone knew shouldn’t have been drafted and Free Agency was wasted on contributing to the bank account of players who weren’t contributing out on the field as the team spiraled even further into the abyss. The third year of the McKenzie/Allen rebuilding era was supposed to show improvement over their first two seasons at 4-12. Instead, the third year has been a spectacular disaster. It truly feels like the greatness of the Raiders – the commitment to excellence, the pride and poise, the will to win – died with Al Davis.
And that’s where we are now: 0-7 and staring at a highly probable 0-16 season with the fans chanting for just one fucking win. The new Raiders organization, in its first two and half years, have yet to deliver anything resembling the mystique of Al Davis’s Raiders. In my lifetime I have seen the Raiders rise to greatness three times and fall from grace many times more. The sad truth is that I don’t remember those great times because they took place so long ago. That said, whoever these new Raiders end up being, I will continue to watch and, as a young boy with a suave haircut once said to a gladiator who just happened to resemble Russell Crowe, I will cheer for them. They are the Silver and Black. Whether in Oakland, or L.A. or San Antonio, they will always be the Raiders and my loyalty to the spirit of the Autumn Wind will always remain unbroken.
But if there’s any pretty-colored lining to be found in this season’s cloud, it may be the fact that the Raiders are off to their worst start since 1962’s 0-5 start, when they finished 1-13. That was the year prior to Al Davis becoming the head coach and leading the team to a 10-4 record the very next year. Perhaps the great fall this season is a sign of the return to excellence to come under the next Raiders head coach. And if that happens, look out, ‘cause the Raider Nation will be celebrating like you won’t believe. That’s the positive thing about constantly failing: success, especially big success, will taste that much sweeter.