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.

Now, 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 first 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, they 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, and tells him to bet big. He does: He calls his bookie, and lays $500 on it -- the equivalent of almost $2,000 with inflation. 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 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, int the Super Bowl!

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 New England 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. Marcus Allen had already scored the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history.

That was 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 had hosted 5 Super Bowls; and Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, which had hosted 3. The Pontiac Silverdome, which had 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, but 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. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was the quarterbacks coach at Boston College, where he'd mentored Doug Flutie. Todd Bowles and Rex Ryan were in college. 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, 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.

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. 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 Celtics, 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.

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.

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.

Tom Clancy was about to publish The Hunt for Red October, and Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being. 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. 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.

Michael Jackson, riding the crest of Thriller, was the biggest musical star on the planet. The Number 1 song in America was a duet between him and former Beatle Paul McCartney, "Say, Say, Say." But 5 days after the Super Bowl, while filming a commercial for Pepsi with his brothers, 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 it.

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. 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.) Alecia Moore, the future Pink was 4. Beyonce Knowles and Christina Aguilera were 3. Justin Timberlake was about to turn 3. Britney Spears was 2. Forget Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus: Even Katy Perry, Adele and Rihanna weren't born yet.

The first 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 first 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 a live 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 first untethered spacewalk. 

Ray Kroc, and Jackie Wilson, and Johnny Weissmuller died. Whitney Port, and Olivia Wilde, 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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