December 29, 2016

Just Win Baby

It was January 20th, 1991.

A cold dreary Northern California day and I was home alone. My dad my have been home, but he was downstairs in the darkroom working. I was seated in front of the TV ready to watch the AFC Championship game. The Raiders were still in LA and they had been mediocre since 1986.

After the 1983 Superbowl win and a few decent season after, they boys in Silver and Black had faced a few .500 seasons under Tom Flores and Mike Shanahan. That is until 1989 when Shanahan was fired and Art Shell, the former Raider and our latest saviour, was brought on board. The 1990/91 season saw us at 12-4 with a red hot Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson combo. Jackson had gotten hurt the week before against the Bengals, but we were a game away from the Superbowl and this was the team to do it.

I was on the couch wrapped in a blanket and ready to go to school on Monday, donning my black cap and gloating in the face of all the Forty Niner fans I knew.

But then hell was unleashed in that lonely cold room:

The Bills shredded the Raiders, limiting quarterback Jay Schroeder to 13 of 31 completions for 150 yards and intercepting him 5 times, while also holding running back Marcus Allen to just 26 yards on 10 carries. On offense, the Bills amassed 502 total yards, including 202 yards on the ground. Running back Thurman Thomas rushed for 138 and a touchdown while also catching 5 passes for 61 yards, while running back Kenneth Davis tied an AFC playoff record with 3 rushing touchdowns.

Buffalo also set an NFL playoff record by scoring 41 points in the first half.

The misery continued for Los Angeles in the second half, as their first three drives ended with interceptions. Buffalo recorded a total of six interceptions, the third highest total ever in a single NFL game.

I was in tears. Like literally crying. The entire season gone just like that. My hatred for Jay Schroeder knew no bounds. To this day, I cannot even look at a photo of him.

The defeat was complete.
I was crushed.
I had never, and have not since ever, felt that deflated.

The Raiders were an average .500 team for the rest of the decade, until a spate of good seasons during the Gruden era, brought us to a disappointing, but expectant Superbowl loss in 2002. I was upset during that Superbowl loss, but the parts of my psyche that held onto things like hope or expectations were crushed on the snowy day in Buffalo a decade earlier. Then began the began the dark ages and Al Davis' dementia.

Then I moved overseas and I lost touch with my team for 14 years. I would occasionally check in and see that they had barely amassed four wins. 2006, saw a return of Art Shell for a 2-14 season. Good thing I had disengaged from football in those years, the patheticness of that season would have been too much to bare.

Which brings us to the present-

A great team. A great coach. Management that knows what it is doing. Win after win and a youthful hopefulness that I haven’t seen from this organisation since….well, I’ve never seen it.

We were right there! Playoffs clinched and rolling into a potential first place seed in the AFC. Then are franchise quarterback broke his fucking leg!

I didn’t cry, because I am a grown man now, but the feeling was reminiscent of years ago.

This is not the end of the road for us. Our future is in our hands. Even a loss this week, gives us another game in the playoffs. We have a no name quarterback who can be a hero. The team around him is solid, but it will be a long haul. I will be nauseous with anxieties the next few weeks.

I was nine years old in 1983, the last time the Raiders won the Superbowl. I have come close and left wanting a few times, but this year felt special, until last week when the light violently flickered to near extinction.

I am not sure what a Raider win will mean to me. I know what the losses feel like. I have come to expect loss and disappointment when it comes to sports. I have never celebrated a championship victory. I don’t know what it feels like to win and be the best. I guess I just want a taste.

Come boys, Just Win Baby!

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