Raiders, Steelers Set to Revive 'That '70s Show'

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Raiders, Steelers Set to Revive 'That '70s Show'

Nov. 18, 2010RAIDERS PAGE RAIDERS VIDEOSTEELERS PAGE GAME PREVIEW

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Suddenly, it's looking like the 1970s again for what once was the NFL's nastiest and most compelling rivalry, one so inflamed it once spilled over from the football field to a federal courtroom.

Welcome back, Raiders vs. Steelers. The NFL and its millions of fans have missed you.

Two storied franchises that have disliked each other since they first met 40 years ago face each other Sunday in what might be the most meaningful game between them since 1984. That season, the last remnants of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl teams of the 1970s upset the Raiders during the final weekend of the regular season to make the playoffs, and the Steelers went on to reach the AFC championship game.

It's a rivalry that was kindled by the most miraculous game-winning play in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception in 1972. With Hall of Famers such as Al Davis, Chuck Noll and John Madden, Mean Joe Greene and Franco Harris, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell all playing key roles, the teams faced each other in the playoffs every season from 1972-76.

The games were so fearsomely physical, there were frequent allegations of crossing-the-line play and, even, a lawsuit after Noll accused the Raiders' George Atkinson of being part of the league's "criminal element."

For much of the '70s, it was the NFL's rivalry beyond all others. Now there are hints it could be percolating again.

The Raiders scored three touchdowns in the final 8 12 minutes to beat the Steelers 27-23 in Pittsburgh last season, a significant upset that eventually put the reigning Super Bowl winners out of the playoffs. Of the Steelers' five consecutive late-season losses, this one might have hurt the most.

"We went home and kept wondering, What if? What if?'" wide receiver Hines Ward said.

The Raiders (5-4), with a dozen-plus first-round draft picks, now look to be one of the league's on-the-rise teams after winning three in a row and four of five. The Steelers (6-3), trying for a third Super Bowl in six seasons, looked like an elite team until Tom Brady shredded their defense for 350 yards passing in New England's 39-26 rout last weekend.

Oakland, tied for the AFC West lead with Kansas City, knows it can legitimize its status as a playoff contender if it can overcome the cross-country trip and beat the Steelers on their home field for a second successive season. The Steelers, tied for the AFC North lead with Baltimore, want to show that last week was an anomaly.

"I hope everybody's (ticked) off," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "The way we played last week was unacceptable. It's something we can't have if we want to be a championship team. I haven't gotten my butt whipped like that in a long time."

That loss cost longtime kicker Jeff Reed his job. He was cut after missing a 26-yard field goal attempt, with former Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham replacing him.

Raiders coach Tom Cable would love to extend the Steelers' miseries for another week.

"It's very dear to me to get this place back to respectability and back to being a team that everybody talks about like the Steelers, the Patriots, like Baltimore, like the teams that have been good here for a while," Cable said. "There was a time when you mentioned those teams, and you would mention Oakland that way."

Ward is too young to remember the height of Raiders-Steelers rivalry, but he's heard enough to know what it meant.

"Our organization, theirs, (are) probably the marquee organizations throughout history, especially on the AFC side," said Ward, who expects to play despite getting a concussion against New England. "Some of the great plays in history have come in this game. It's always great to play the Oakland Raiders, it's a lot of rich tradition."

Bruce Gradkowski's 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with 9 seconds remaining last season might not go down among those great plays, but it was enough to beat Pittsburgh. Gradkowski now backs up Jason Campbell, the former Redskins quarterback who has thrown for 743 yards, five touchdowns and one interception during Oakland's three-game winning streak.

Campbell might need to consistently pick on Pittsburgh's suspect cornerbacks to sustain any offense, especially if Darren McFadden - whose 108.1 yards rushing average leads the NFL - can't get going. Pittsburgh's defense has allowed only one 100-yard rusher in 43 games and is giving up a league-low 63.2 yards per game.

"It's a great buzz for us right now," McFadden said. "We've won three games in a row so it has been great for confidence. Guys approach the game with a 'we are supposed to win' attitude."

Oakland's dominant defensive front four of Lamarr Houston, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Trevor Scott hopes to disrupt quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as successfully as New England did when it surged through an injury-thinned offensive line to sack him five times. Roethlisberger, who leads the NFL in passing yardage since returning from his four-game suspension, threw for many of his 387 yards after the Patriots opened a 23-3 lead.

"Teams start to separate themselves in November and December," Seymour said. "We want to be one of those elite teams."

Elite isn't a word that's been heard around the Raiders for a long time. They might hear it again if, for the first time in franchise history, they can win in Pittsburgh in successive seasons.

"Last year is last year," linebacker Sam Williams said. "This is a new team, different players everywhere on the field. This is a new team that's focused and not even close to the team we had last year."

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley’s name has been sullied, at least temporarily. He feared it would be long enough to send him free falling down the NFL Draft.

The Ohio State cornerback and top-15 prospect was accused of rape stemming from an April 9 incident in Cleveland, an allegation he called “completely false.”

The Raiders clearly believe him. That’s why they drafted him No. 24 overall on Thursday evening, and expect him to be a long-term solution in their secondary.

Conley wasn’t sure how far he’d fall after being beaten down by one rough week, when the allegation went public. Reggie McKenzie’s first-round selection and subsequent call was more emotional than expected.

“It made it 10 times more special,” Conley said Thursday night in a conference call. “Just having that doubt in my mind, just not knowing (how far I would fall). Just having faith and having doubt, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When it came, it shocked me. It felt unreal, honestly. It still feels unreal.”

Being a top pick was expected after an excellent career at Ohio State. The rape accusation threatened to destroy his draft-day dreams. Conley has not been arrested or charged in relation to the incident, though an investigation is ongoing.

Conley said he volunteered to take a polygraph test that was shared with NFL teams, and reportedly passed the one he took. He said in a statement there are witnesses and video evidence proving he didn’t do anything illegal.

Conley spent the last few days trying to proclaim his innocence. 

He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police on Monday to discuss the April 9 incident -- he'll also submit a DNA sample, according to ESPN -- where group sex was suggested and a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted.

Conley believes his name will be cleared in time.

“I’m very confident it will be resolved," Conley said. "I took a test today that helps. Then when I made my statement and all the evidence that I have, I feel confident it’ll be resolved.”

Conley admits he shouldn’t have put himself in a compromising position, which occurred at a Cleveland hotel earlier this month.

“I could’ve made way better judgment,” Conley said. “I mean, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I definitely could’ve made a better decision.”

Conley hopes to move beyond it quickly and start focusing on football. He is scheduled to fly west for a press conference on Friday.

Conley is thankful to the Raiders for believing in him despite his recent troubles.

“It’s off the charts, honestly,” Conley said. “Just to know that they have faith in me, not even just as a football player but as a person like that, it speaks highly of them, and I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be a part of the Raider organization.”

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders used the No. 24 overall pick on Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley. This wasn’t a second-round flier or a late-round gamble.

That’s a first-round pick. Rolling the dice this early is ill advised. The Raiders don't believe they did with a selection accompanied by a $5.78 million signing bonus, $10.5 million in total money and a valuable fifth-year option to keep a player in town.

They wouldn’t risk such an asset on someone in serious legal trouble. The Raiders did significant research on Conley, who was accused of rape earlier this week, before making a selection. Results gave the Raiders confidence in their choice. 

Conley has not been arrested or charged over an allegation that stems from an April 9 interaction in a Cleveland hotel.

Conley said the accusations are “completely false,” in a statement released by his agent. He claims to have witnesses and video evidence that he didn’t do anything illegal during an exchange where group sex was suggested. He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police about the allegation and an investigation into it on Monday.

Conley said he took and passed polygraph test prior to the draft, hoping to avoid a free fall into the draft’s later rounds.

The Raiders clearly believe him. They wouldn’t have used such a high pick on the Ohio State cornerback otherwise. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team thoroughly investigated the matter, and felt comfortable using a high pick on someone who sat alone atop their draft board at No. 24 overall.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process,” McKenzie said Thursday night, after making the Conley pick. “We trust our research, reports, everything that we have on Mr. Conley. We feel really good about picking Gareon Conley and having him join the Raiders team and having him be a great teammate for our players.”

McKenzie didn’t detail the Raiders research efforts, but didn’t seem concerned about this off-field issue.

“I don’t want to get into all the details,” McKenzie said, “but the bottom line is that we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”

McKenzie said he spoke with owner Mark Davis about Conley, as he does most first-round options.

The Raiders were impressed by Conley’s workouts and his game tape. The rape accusation obviously gave the NFL pause regarding his draft status, and he slipped somewhat in the first round.

The Raiders are confident following an internal investigation that his legal troubles will pass without incident.

“The research was done,” McKenzie said. "It wasn’t just a gut (feeling). It was based on research, and we’re very confident in all the information that we got.”