It’s no secret that Raider Nation has had little to cheer about over the past decade. It’s been a rough several years as we’ve seen losing season after losing season and a new head coach every fortnight. Even with that said, there have been some things to cheer about.
As Raider Nation prepares for a “new era” (Reggie McKenzie’s words, not mine), I thought I’d take some time and countdown my favorite Raider memories from the past 15 years. …I was going to do so from the past 10 years, but let’s face it folks, I don’t think I could have logged even five memories there.
So without further ado, my ‘Top 10 in 15’ (Part One):
10. No More Jamarcus
November 22, 2009
Raiders 20, Bengals 17
In 2007 our great storied franchise was set back several years when Purple Drank was drafted #1 overall. Sure there was optimism and hope when Lane Kiffin drafted him, but when he started his first full season in 2008, it was abundantly clear that Jamarcus was this millennium’s Ryan Leaf. Even still, he was given all the opportunities in the world by both Kiffin and then later Cable, but again, nothing came to fruition. The man had more turnovers than a Betty Crocker cookbook!
So why do I mention Aunt Jamarcus with my #10 choice? Well, this was the first game in the post-Jamarcus era for the Oakland Raiders. It was cool that we won – I’ll take that all day, every day, but it was even better to see that Al Davis was finally listening to reason when he pulled Russell. It took nearly two full seasons for the team to bench him, but I guess it could have been far worse.
So this game was special because the future for the Raiders finally started looking bright. And, it was even better because Oakland won. Bruce Gradkowski, whom you’ll find out from this countdown that I loved, stepped in as the signal caller and orchestrated an upset of the previously 7-2 Cincinnati Bengals.
Specifically about this game, it ended with high drama. Gradkowski threw a game tying touchdown with 33 seconds left to one Louis Murphy, and then on the ensuing kickoff, the Raiders forced a fumble and got the ball back. Seabass was able to put it away in the closing seconds with a field goal. The dramatic win was just the cherry on top to the brighter future the Raiders suddenly had inherited.
9. Dolphin Slaughter
January 7, 2001
AFC Divisional Playoff Game
Raiders 27, Dolphins 0
January 7, 2001 was the Raiders first playoff appearance in seven years, and it was the first for me as a Raiders fan (I converted in 1994). Raider Nation was on pins and needles for this one – Oakland had just finished 12-4, had won the West, and had earned a bye during the Wildcard weekend. The Dolphins won in the wildcard round and earned the right to come into the Black Hole and face the lethal combo of Jon Gruden and Rich Gannon. Still to this day, there has never been a better pairing of quarterback and coach.
This game was just fun to watch. A shut out during the playoffs? Can anything be sweeter? I remember this game looked a little ugly at first. Our journeyman quarterback was having a hard time moving the ball, and their journeyman quarterback (Jay Fiedler) was starting to get the ball rolling. Mid way through the first quarter the Dolphins had made it into the red zone when none other than Tory James picked the ball off and took it back for 6. Do you remember that defensive back tandem we had? Tory James and Charles Woodson. No offense to the current regime, but it sure beats the heck out of Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
The Raiders had this game all locked up by halftime, as Gannon was as efficient as ever (10 of 13 for 117 yards) and Wheatley ran the ball with great ease, of course. I tell ya…just remembering this game is making me nostalgic on what we had.
Not to rain on the parade, but the good times would only last that day, as the following week Tony Siragusa and all 400 pounds of him came to town and pretty much broke Gannon’s collar bone. Unfortunately Wade Wilson couldn’t save us against that defense.
8. Carson’s Got Game
November 10, 2011
Raiders 24, Chargers 17
This one’s the latest on this countdown – from just last season. It was Carson’s third game with the Raiders, and was played a mere 20 days after he signed with the team. The man was barely learning the playbook when he was asked to step at QB and play the San Diego Chargers on Thursday Night Football. At stake: the winner would be in sole possession of first in the West.
Carson had had a lot of pressure on him since his whirlwind trade from the Bengals three weeks prior. Many people questioned the sanity of Hue Jackson for how much he gave up, and many people questioned if Carson had anything left in the tank. Well, on national TV, Carson for at least that night, brought question to the doubters. His numbers might not have been great, but the man played with conviction, energy, and leadership.
Other than Carson stepping into his own, this game had a lot of memorable moments. Denarius Moore had his coming out party as his speed and ability were on the ultimate of displays – five catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, the defense really stepped up in this one, as Philip Rivers was intercepted in the endzone with just three minutes left. And, oh yeah, it’s never a bad thing to beat the Chargers. This one made it three straight in favor of the Silver and Black!
7. The Raiders Clinch the West
December 24, 2000
Raiders 52, Panthers 9
Raider Nation was given quite the gift on the first Christmas of the millennium when our boys in Silver and Black clinched the Western Division crown and a trip to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. I remember this game fondly. The Raiders had to win, otherwise Denver was going to win the west, and as it would turn out, the Raiders would have then had to travel to Baltimore during the wildcard weekend. That would have meant no playoff wins for another year.
Luckily, Oakland raised to the challenge. At first I was a little nervous, because even though Oakland was literally scoring on every possession, so too were the Panthers – although maybe not in such big chunks. In the first half, it seemed like for every touchdown Oakland scored, Carolina scored a field goal. While that is a good thing, so much was at stake that it made me uneasy. That uneasiness was laid to rest however as Gannon literally lit up the score boards. The man threw for five touchdowns, and Eric Allen (another great Raider corner) ran one back for a touchdown. The Raiders finished the game with a 52 to 9 trouncing of the Panthers.
I still have newspaper clippings from this game – with Darrien Gordon (I loved him) being propped up by teammates after he had returned a fumble for a 74 yard touchdown. Since we’re on memory lane here, let me just shout out a few other names that contributed in a big way this season that we may forgotten about over the years. Rickey Dudley. More like Rickey Studley – what a great tight end he was for us. We’ve already mentioned Tyrone Wheatley earlier, but here’s one that I think very few remember – one Andre ‘Bad Moon’ Rison. I believe this was his last season with the Raiders, as once we got Jerry Rice in the next season, Rison was cut, but man was he fun to watch. He brought a swagger to that wideout lineup. Man, what a team.
To cap off this wonderful Raider memory, the team circled around the stadium and made it a point to high five and give thanks to the fans. Something tells me the Black Hole will be getting the same treatment sometime this year too.
6. A Gradkowski Glimpse Into What Could Have Been
December 6, 2009
Raiders 27, Steelers 24
I was just sifting through some old articles related to this game, and here is what one headline said:
“The Oakland Raiders? Suddenly they’re winning like they did in the old days, with remarkable comebacks and surprise finishes.”
This game was the second week in the post Jamarcus era, as well as the second week in the very short lived Bruce Gradkowski era. If you ask me, I think Gradkowski should have been given much more of a chance than he was. I don’t think the Raiders ever should have brought in Jason Campbell, and I think if Tom Cable had been able to have his way, this would have happened. Gradkowski was like a more talented, quicker Rich Gannon. The man could run, throw, and motivate. And this game exemplified that.
The 6-5 Steelers hosted the dismal Raiders in a midseason clash that meant everything to the playoff hopeful hometown team. Things boded well for Pittsburgh as they led 10 to 6 in the beginning of the 4th. But then the bald man from Toledo (my man Bruce) took over. It was a thrilling fourth quarter as the two teams exchanged touchdown after touchdown – 35 points were scored in the fourth quarter alone.
With 1:56 left in the 4th quarter, Big Ben threw what was at the time, a potential game winning touchdown to Hines Ward as Pittsburgh went up 24 to 20 on Oaktown. Now, if JMarc was still the QB in this game, 1:56 would have been enough time for him to throw three incompletions and for him to eat a 12 inch hoagie sandwich. That was not the case however with Gradkowski. For the first time since what seemed like the Gannon era, Gradkowski orchestrated the two minute drill flawlessly and capped it off with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with nine seconds left. What a game, what a finish. It’s unfortunate that even with showings like this, Gradkowski was never given the proper backing he deserved.
The ‘Top 10 in 15’ list will conclude in my next posting, but until then, I invite you all to sound off on your favorite Raider memories over the past 15 years. Feel free to discuss the ones I’ve talked about already too!