Thursday, February 5, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Raiders Won a Super Bowl

The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts new members every year, on the day before the Super Bowl. This year, with the election of Tim Brown, the Oakland Raiders now have more living members than any other team.

Which is surprising, considering that the Raiders haven't won a title since Super Bowl XVIII.

Since then, they have reached the AFC Championship Game in the 1990-91 season, but got annihilated by the Buffalo Bills; and Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002-03 season, but were defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The season before that, they controversially lost an AFC Divisional Playoff to the New England Patriots thanks to the "Tuck Rule," starting the Patriot dynasty.

I wanted the Pats to win that game. But if we knew then that the Pats would become more odious than the Raiders ever were, I would've rooted for a different outcome.

Former Raider coach John Madden once said that the biggest difference in sports is between the team that wins the Super Bowl and the team that loses it. He said the team that loses it gets made fun of more than the teams that don't make it.

Now, that's not quite fair. The team that loses the Super Bowl is still a Conference Champion. It's still a very good team. And unless you get smeared in it, or just plain don't show up, as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos didn't last year, there's no shame in being the team that lost the Super Bowl.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won 6, but have also lost 2; the San Francisco 49ers have won 5, but have also lost 1; the Dallas Cowboys have won 5, but have also lost 3; the New York Giants have won 4, but have also lost 1; the New England Patriots come into today's game having won 3, but have also lost 4, and I don't think even with a 5th lost Super Bowl, tying the Broncos for the most (and they have also won 2), that people will think of them as a pathetic joke of a franchise.

But the Raiders lost their most recent Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A team that lost its 1st 26 regular-season games. A team that has had 11 seasons of at least 12 losses -- 11 times in 39 seasons. We think of the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals as a loser of a franchise, but do you know how many times they've lost 12 or more games in their 95 seasons? 6. The Detroit Lions, in 81 seasons? 8.

And yet, the Bucs not only reached a Super Bowl, they beat "Da Raiduhs."

Think about that: The Oakland Raiders, once known as the baddest dudes in NFL history, led by the baddest dude in NFL history, Al Davis, lost a Super Bowl. To the Tampa Freakin' Bay Buccaneers.

Do you remember the ABC sitcom What's Happening!! (??) In an episode that aired on November 10, 1977 -- a month before the Bucs got their first win, and with the Raiders the defending NFL Champions -- Dwayne (Haywood Nelson), having shown a knack for picking football winners, gives Roger (Ernest Thomas) and Rerun (Fred Berry) a "sure thing": "Tampa Bay 10, Oakland 7."

Rerun takes this "sure thing" to his brother-in-law, a compulsive gambler, and tells him to bet big. He does: He calls his bookie, and lays $500 on it -- the equivalent, with inflation, of almost $2,000 today. These characters lived in Watts -- South Central Los Angeles. They didn't have 500 smackers to throw around. Rerun says, "I told you to bet big, not crazy!"

Naturally, the Raiders slaughter the Bucs. So Raj and Rerun ask Dwayne how he came up with his predictions. He goes through a bunch of things, and says, "And that's how I get the score." So how does he decide who wins? "Helmets." Whoever has the better helmets.

But with that distinction, the Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys should all have missed the Playoffs, the Cleveland Browns should have gone 0-14 (that was the last season before the 16-game schedule), and the Bucs should have beaten their fellow expansioneers, the Seattle Seahawks, in the Super Bowl! (Instead, Super Bowl XII would be the Cowboys over the Denver Broncos.)

Ah, but, you see, from the late Sixties, all through the Seventies, and most of the Eighties, the Raiders were considered winners. They followed Al Davis' command, "Just Win, Baby," and his motto, "Commitment to Excellence." They fell apart in 1987, but by 1990 were back in the AFC Championship Game. They struggled in the Nineties, but in 2001 were again a threat to make the Super Bowl. They got beat by the Patriots in the "Tuck Rule Game" -- just desserts for the Raiders having cheated to beat the Pats in a 1976 Playoff game -- and then got to the Super Bowl the next season, where they got beat by the Bucs.

But the Raiders -- representing either Oakland or Los Angeles -- haven't won a Super Bowl since Super Bowl XVIII, beating the Washington Redskins, 38-9 at Tampa Stadium. The game was over right before the half, as Joe Theismann threw the dumbest pass in Super Bowl history -- until the one Russell Wilson just threw -- right to Raider linebacker Jack Squirek, who took it into the end zone for an easy touchdown, to make it 21-3. (Thus producing that Sports Illustrated cover above.) Marcus Allen had already scored what remains the longest touchdown run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.

That game was played on January 22, 1984. That's 31 years. "Commitment to Excellence," my ass. How long has that been?


Tom Flores was the had coach, Jim Plunkett was the quarterback, and they featured 3 future Hall-of-Famers: Allen, defensive end Howie Long (yes, the guy with the flat hair on Fox NFL Sunday), and cornerback Mike Haynes. They had abandoned the Oakland Coliseum 2 years earlier, and were now playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and frequently filled the 93,000 or so seats it then had.

The Buccaneers, New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills, the San Diego Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the team then known as the Houston Oilers, the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints had never reached an NFL Championship Game, under any name. The Denver Broncos had, but, along with the Pats, the Bucs, the Hawks, the Saints, had never won one. The Chicago Bears, the New York Giants, the franchise then known as the Cleveland Browns, and the team then known as the St. Louis Cardinals had, but not in the Super Bowl era. All of those facts have since gone from true to false.

Only 5 of the 28 teams playing in the 1983 season, capped by Super Bowl XVIII, are playing in the same stadiums they were in then: The Bills, the Chargers, the Green Bay Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints. A few stadiums had domes, but none had a retractable roof. Tampa Stadium, site of Super Bowl XVIII, has been replaced and demolished. So has the Orange Bowl in Miami, which hosted 5 Super Bowls; and Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, which hosted 3. The Pontiac Silverdome, which hosted 1, has been abandoned, and its future is unclear.

There was an NFL team in Baltimore -- for 2 more months -- but it was the Colts, not the Ravens. There was an NFL team in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. There was an NFL team in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. The NFL had 2 teams in the Los Angeles area: The Raiders at the Coliseum, and the Coliseum's former tenants, the Los Angeles Rams, sharing Anaheim Stadium with the team then known as the California Angels. The NFL did not yet have teams in Indianapolis or Carolina.

Nor did it have teams in Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee (Memphis or Nashville), or, at the time, Oakland. And has never had teams in San Antonio, Oklahoma (Oklahoma City or Tulsa) or Birmingham. But the United States Football League did have teams in those places.

And while the Giants played at the Meadowlands, and the Jets were in the process of moving there from Shea Stadium, they still called themselves "New York" -- always have, always will. The USFL already had Herschel Walker, playing for a team proudly calling itself the New Jersey Generals, and was about to feature future Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Gary Zimmerman.

Major League Baseball had a team in Montreal, while people in the Washington, D.C. area had to brave nasty traffic to go up to Baltimore. The NBA had teams in Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City. The NHL had teams in Quebec City and Hartford.

NFL pioneers Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Don Hutson, Johnny "Blood" McNally and Fritz Pollard were still alive. NFL founder George Halas had been dead for only a few weeks.

Bill Belichick was coaching linebackers and special teams for Bill Parcells on the Giants. Neither of them had yet been employed by a Super Bowl winner. Pete Carroll was the offensive coordinator at a Division I-AA school, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Jack Del Rio, who was just hired as coach of the Raiders last month, was playing at the L.A. Coliseum, having just wrapped up his junior season at the University of Southern California. Pete Rozelle was still Commissioner. Current Commissioner Roger Goodell was -- are you ready? -- an intern for the Jets!

The Quarterback Class of '83 -- John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Ken O'Brien, Todd Blackledge and Tony Eason -- had just finished their rookie seasons. Terry Bradshaw, whom most of you only know from Fox NFL Sunday, had just retired as a player.

Peyton Manning was 7 years old, Tom Brady was 6, current active receiving yards leader Reggie Wayne was 5, Drew Brees had just turned 5, Michael Vick was 3, Eli Manning had just turned 3, Troy Polamalu was about to turn 3, Ben Roethlisberger and current active sacks leader Jared Allen were about to turn 2, current active rushing yards leader Steven Jackson was 6 months old, Aaron Rodgers was 7 weeks old, and Joe Flacco, Richard Sherman, Mark Sanchez, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and current Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr weren't born yet.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was the quarterbacks coach at Boston College, where he'd mentored Doug Flutie. Terry Collins of the Mets was managing the Albuquerque Dukes, the Los Angeles Dodgers' top farm team. Lionel Hollins of the Nets was playing for the Detroit Pistons. Alain Vigneault of the Rangers was playing in the minor leagues for the Montana Magic. Jets coach Todd Bowles, recently fired Jets coach Rex Ryan, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi were in college. Jack Capuano of the Islanders and Peter DeBoer of the Devils were in high school. And Derek Fisher of the Knicks was just 9 years old.

The Raiders won by dethroning the defending Champions, the Redskins. The other defending champions were the Baltimore Orioles, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the New York Islanders. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Larry Holmes. Out of the Raiders, the O's, the Sixers and the Isles, none of those teams have won a title since.

In fact, the period from the Raiders' win on January 22 to the Boston Celtics' NBA title win on June 12, 1984, dethroning the 76ers, would be the last time the World Championships in the 4 major sports were all held by teams that have never won it again until October 28, 2011, when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, and the other titles were held by the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Bruins.

Since 1984, the Orioles haven't even won another Pennant, while the Raiders, 76ers and Islanders have each been to their sport's finals only once since, losing badly each time.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 3 times, Canada twice, Bosnia (then still part of Yugoslavia), Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in America, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

There were 26 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The idea that people of the same gender could marry each other was not seriously considered. Then again, neither was the idea that corporations were "people" and entitled to the same rights and privileges thereof. No Justice then on the Supreme Court is still on it now.

The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan, and he was doing a terrible job: Not only was the Cold War especially frigid at that point, in large (but not sole) part due to his escalating rhetoric, but unemployment was 8 percent, higher than the 7 percent he'd inherited from the unfairly maligned Jimmy Carter.

George Bush was his Vice President -- we generally didn't add the "H.W." initials until his son, George W., became President.  George W. was drinking like a fish and running an energy company into the ground. Bill Clinton was in his 2nd term as Governor of Arkansas. Barack Obama was at Harvard Law School. Former Presidents Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, and their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were still alive.

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo. The current Governor, his son Andrew, was one of his policy advisors. The Mayor of New York, uh, was, uh, Ed Koch. The current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, was studying at New York University, and was still using his birth name, Warren Wilhelm Jr. The Governor of New Jersey was Tom Kean. The current Governor, Chris Christie, was a student at the University of Delaware.

The Governor of the Raiders' home State, California, was George Deukmejian. The current Governor, Jerry Brown, had served 2 terms as Governor already, but was in the political wilderness, and, as befitting his image as "Governor Moonbeam," went abroad to study philosophy and religion. The Mayor of Los Angeles was Tom Bradley, and the current Mayor, Eric Garcetti, was in junior high school.

There were still living veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Campaign, the Boxer Rebellion, the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War and the Potemkin Mutiny. Polish Cold War hero Lech Wałęsa was the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope was John Paul II. The current Pope, Francis, was Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, teaching in San Miguel, Argentina.

Lech Walesa had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, although he was about to retire. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Liverpool were the holders of the Football League title, Manchester United of the FA Cup. 
There have since been 5 Presidents of the United States, 5 Prime Ministers of Britain, and 3 Popes.

Tom Clancy was about to publish The Hunt for Red October, and Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Stephen King had recently published Pet Sematary. George R.R. Martin published the murder mystery/fantasy The Armageddon Rag. J.K. Rowling was a freshman at the University of Exeter.

Angel, about an honor student by day and a hooker by night, was in theaters. Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose was about to premiere. Footloose would arrive the next month. George Lucas was still reaping the benefits of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Gene Roddenberry was overseeing the filming of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Steven Spielberg that of Gremlins, while Lucas and Spielberg were working on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Roger Moore was still playing James Bond, Peter Davison was still playing The Doctor, Christopher Reeve was still playing Superman, and Adam West was still the last live-action Batman.

Night Court had recently premiered on NBC, and a pair of super-helicopter shows, trying and failing to copy NBC's Knight Rider, also did: ABC did Blue Thunder, based on the previous year's film; and, after showing the Super Bowl, CBS premiered Airwolf.

No one had yet heard of Celie Harris, Forrest Gump, Jack Ryan, Goku, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Terminator, the Ghostbusters, or Freddy Kreuger. All would be introduced in 1984.

Nor had anyone yet heard of the Thundercats, Marty McFly, Bart Simpson, Robocop, Codename V, John McClane, Zack Morris, Hayden Fox, the Seinfeld Four, Deadpool, Buffy Summers, Fox Mulder, Ross Geller & Rachel Greene, Bridget Jones, Xena, Carrie Bradshaw, Tony Soprano, Jed Bartlet, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Rick Grimes, Lisbeth Salander, Bella Swan, Don Draper, Katniss Everdeen, Walter White or Richard Castle.

The Number 1 song in America was "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes. It dethroned "Say Say Say," a duet between former Beatle Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Jackson, riding the crest of Thriller, was the biggest musical star on the planet. But 5 days after the Super Bowl, while filming a commercial for Pepsi with his brothers, in preparation for their upcoming Victory Tour, a spark from an explosion set his hair on fire, and he was badly burned. While he was back performing within weeks, there are people who think his troubles began with the pain medication he took for his injury.

Yoko Ono released Milk and Honey, the album she and John Lennon were working on when he was killed. Bruce Springsteen was finishing up Born in the U.S.A. Billy Joel was enjoying the success of An Innocent Man and his relationship with Christie Brinkley (although it would be another year before they got married). Bon Jovi released their self-titled debut album the day before the Super Bowl. Madonna had debuted, but wasn't yet a superstar. Prince had released 1999, but was still working on Purple Rain.

Andre Romelle Young had just begun deejaying under the name Dr. J, named for his favorite athlete, Julius Erving; he would soon change this to Dr. Dre. Kurt Cobain was in high school. Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg and Eminem were in junior high. (Though the idea of Snoop only being a junior "high" is funny.) Kanye West was 6. Kourtney Kardashian and Alecia Moore, the future Pink, were 4. Kim Kardashian, Beyonce Knowles and Christina Aguilera were 3. Justin Timberlake was about to turn 3. Britney Spears was 2. Forget Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus: Even Khloe Kardashian, Katy Perry, Drake, Adele and Rihanna weren't born yet.

Inflation was such that what $1.00 bought then, $2.30 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp cost 20 cents, and a New York Subway ride 90 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.20, a cup of coffee $1.18, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $2.85, a movie ticket $3.46, a new car $11,374, and a new house $94,700. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the previous Friday at 1,259.11.

The tallest building in the world was the Sears Tower. The 1st analog cellular system widely deployed in North America was introduced in 3 months earlier: The Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). There were personal computers, but almost nobody had yet heard of the Internet. Even VCRs weren't in every home yet. Home video games were a battle between the Atari 5200 SuperSytem and ColecoVision -- Nintendo's systems were yet to come. Chrysler had recently introduced the 1st minivan, the Dodge Caravan.

During the Super Bowl, Apple aired, for the one and only time, its renowned "1984" ad, directed by Ridley Scott, and 2 days later put the 1st Macintosh computers on sale. The hammer-thrower, dressed in what looks retroactively like a Hooters waitress' outfit, was 17-year-old British discus thrower Anya Major. She later played the title character in Elton John's video for "Nikita." Contrary to a rumor, she did not die of cancer a few years ago; rather, she is alive and well, living in England with a husband and 3 children.

In early 1984, the court-ordered breakup of AT&T's "Bell System" took effect. The British protectorate of Brunei gained independence. Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov died, taking with him the Soviet Union's best chance to survive to the present day. Medicare, Australia's universal-health care system, went into effect. And American astronauts from the space shuttle Challenger made the 1st untethered spacewalk. 

Ray Kroc, and Jackie Wilson, and Johnny Weissmuller died. Olivia Wilde, and Jon Lester, and Arjen Robben were born.

January 22, 1984. The Raiders, then in Los Angeles, won Super Bowl XVIII. In Los Angeles and Oakland, they have never won another.

Al Davis is gone. His son, Mark Davis, has shown the same ruthlessness when it comes to firing coaches. But does he have the same "Commitment to Excellence" that will result in a team making a serious run at the title? It hasn't happened so far. Stay tuned.

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