Before Monday, more than 18 months had passed since I last wasted an emotion on the Oakland Raiders. I used to have this butterflies-in-the-stomach, sweaty-palmed, rapid heartbeat giddiness at the start of every season because the Silver & Black were gonna rule the world – or, at the very least – kick it in the ass.
But the perennial Commitment to Impotence and Mediocrity eventually sucked out my passion and turned me into the bitter half of one of those couples who had been together for 20 years, gotten comfortable and fallen out of love. Sure, I still told the Raiders I loved them, pecked them on the cheek when I left for work and even gave it up in the sack every Sunday night because that was our "routine." But that heat? That fire? That adrenaline rush I’d get every time I saw them? That was long gone. After a while I started ogling other teams; entertaining thoughts of illicit affairs; closing my eyes during our Sunday interludes and fantasizing I was with the Packers or the Giants.
But even though I was jilted and lonely, I never had the stones to leave them or even cheat, so I settled in on Monday night for a new season of doormat football. I was going to watch a quarter and go to bed because how long can it really last when you’ve got Tom Cable, a quarterback who looks like he ate Aaron Brooks, two rookie wide receivers and a defense led by a guy who got Shanghaied out of Foxboro?
But when we came out of the gate, we weren’t just aggressive, we were nasty. A punishing rushing attack was followed up with a bust-you-in-the-mouth defense. Bodies flew around the field. First round busts emerged from the ether. The Stay-Puft quarterback blew people up on blocks. We were switched on; energized. It felt like vintage Raider football but with young players who had no idea what that was all about. For once, the Silver & Black looked like a legit NFL team instead of the deformed hobgoblin that hides in the damp, dark recesses of Roger Goodell’s soul. And even though Jamarcus Russell couldn’t hit the ocean from the beach, we looked so decent and the Chargers so bad that I started to wonder if NFL Films had replaced the game with a flashback video from the 1990s the way ABC had with the Florida State/Miami tilt a couple weeks back.
That hesitant wonder turned to unabashed, obnoxious glee. And when we went up 20-17 with a little more than two minutes to play on a 4th and 14 miracle bomb from Russell to rookie Louis Murphy, I called my friend Maine, fellow Raider fan and malcontent:
"Do you believe what we’re seeing? Could it happen?"
"Don’t talk to me. You’ll jinx it. I’ll call you back."
I should have known better than to call him with that much time on the clock. Philip Rivers could still hit LT for the touchdown with 7 seconds left to play and deep down, I knew it was the most likely outcome. But I was so wrapped up in that moment that I didn’t care. Christ, I couldn’t care. All of those old emotions came flooding back and for the first time since 2002, I really believed. I was giddy with it, anxious with it. I was living with every Richard Seymour tackle and dying with every inaccurate Jamarcus pass, all the while knowing and believing that the Raiders weren’t going to merely pull off an upset, they were going to turn the league on its ear.
But then came Philip Rivers, Darren Sproles and a defensive regression to 2004. I didn’t have Sproles programmed into my doom and gloom scenario but I didn’t count on our defense bitching out and getting soft either. Rivers went 7/7 and moved the ball up the field with ease before Sproles took the draw and strolled into the endzone to give the Chargers the 24-20 win.
I was gutted. I still am. It’s been a long time since Oakland has made me feel so low but there’s no one to blame but myself. They were able to rip out my still-beating heart, shit on it and set it aflame because I was weak enough to believe again. It was like being a Bills fan for a day.
I remarked to a friend yesterday morning that the worst thing about football season these days isn’t knowing that we’re going to lose but knowing that there’s no hope. He said, "Welcome to my time in the Rich Kotite era." We had a good laugh over it but after last night, I realized that those hopeless days in Oakland might just be gone. I also realized that the spineless part of me wants them back.