Before last Sunday, the Oakland Raiders hadn’t played a home game since Sept. 15. It’s an Oakland crowd the team is on borrowed time with as it makes its way to Las Vegas next season — which is one of the many hurdles the franchise has been going through this year. But on Thursday night, in front of their home crowd for the second week in a row, the Raiders came through once again, beating the Los Angeles Chargers and building upon their promising, yet surprising, season, all while moving into second in the AFC West at 5-4, behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
History, critics and probably the every day fan says this shouldn’t be happening right now for the Raiders. The franchise has been a less than stellar football team for the past two decades but did, however, make the playoffs in 2016 as a Wild Card, losing to the Houston Texans, while quarterback Derek Carr sat on the sideline with a broken ankle. But the team simply has not been able to do what it’s became wildly known for — minus being the bad boys of the NFL — which is dominate.
In those two decades, the Raiders have struggled to do the things that would produce winning football, which includes finding a starting quarterback, hiring a worthy head coach and properly managing the team. Former owner Al Davis, in his last years, probably set the team back more than he did move it forward, making bad draft picks and head coaching hires — and the Raiders have been paying for that ever since.
In 2018, it seemed as if the Raiders were going to do typical modern day Raider things with abhorrent decision making such as hiring two television personalities to tackle its biggest needs. Oakland hired Mike Mayock, a former safety for the New York Giants, who was a draft analyst for NFL Network at the time, as their general manager and Jon Gruden, the former Super Bowl winning head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Raiders, as head coach.
The biggest headline was obviously Gruden, who had been a color commentator on Monday Night Football from 2009 until 2017 and hadn’t coached a game since 2008. It was also the terms of his contract that were eye opening: 10 years, $100 million.
It seemed as if it was either another act of desperation or an act of stupidity by the Raiders — or both. No one believed that it was actually going to work. How could a man who hadn’t coached a professional football game in 10 years come back and not only hope to head coach a team to win but revive it from mediocrity?
On top of that, couple it with the move to trade linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears because the Raiders didn’t want to give the pass rusher a new, hefty contract and the trade of wide receiver Amari Cooper mid-season in 2018, only to trade for Antonio Brown before the 2019 season. What were the Raiders thinking?
Brown, however, proved not to be what people had perceived — he was worse. He kept the Raiders in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, something that the team was used to for the past two decades. It didn’t help that the Raiders were also chosen for the wildly popular reality television series HBO’s Hard Knocks which, without surprise, displayed a lot of the Brown saga. The Raiders released Brown before the season even started.
Hard Knocks has garnered the stigma that it’s a curse to the featured team but could you curse the Raiders anymore? What was Oakland going to do, lose? Too late. But have the Raiders broken that curse? More importantly, has Gruden broken that curse?
The star of Hard Knocks was Jon Gruden, who is a bonafide television star.
He proved that on any ESPN broadcast he was ever on, whether he was coaching up-and-coming high school and college quarterbacks or analyzing the previous play on Monday Night Football. Even when HBO was trying to focus on Brown, or even another player, the camera and the story always gravitated back to Gruden. It was the same on Thursday night when, after the game, Gruden was seen celebrating with Raider fans in the stands.
The Raiders have a viable chance at making the playoffs this season, something no one would have talked about pre-season. For Gruden and his young team, he is proving that he may have been what the Raiders needed all along. Maybe it’s finally coming along for the Raiders. Maybe it was good that they traded Mack and Cooper. Maybe it was good that Brown never played a down in the silver and black. Maybe it took a television personality like Gruden to break a so-called TV curse, take on the entire personality of the team, build it, mold it to his liking and bring it back to relevance.
Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to hire Jon Gruden.