Super Bowl XI Raiders break through

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Super Bowl XI Raiders break through

Programming Note: Watch Super Bowl XLVI live, Sunday at 3 p.m. on NBCSports.com. Pregame simulcast will kick off at 11 a.m.

John Cannon
CSNCalifornia.com

Much was made a few weeks ago about the 30th anniversary of The Catch, but this season is also a significant anniversary for the NFL team on the other side of the Bay. Thirty-five years ago, the Oakland Raiders won the first of their three Super Bowls, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14.

For the Raiders, the victory was made sweeter by the fact that they had finally won The Big One after years of frustration. Oakland had played for a Super Bowl berth six times in the eight seasons between 1968 and 1975. It lost every one of those games and every single time, the victors went on to win the Super Bowl.

Thus, the 1976 season began with a huge weight on the shoulders of the Raiders, and especially coach John Madden and quarterback Ken Stabler. As fate would have it, their very first game was against the team that had ended their previous two seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers took a 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders came storming back with 24 fourth-quarter points and won the game on a late field goal.

The Steelers and Raiders were famous for their dislike for one another, and things didnt get any better in this game. Raiders safety George Atkinson knocked Steelers receiver Lynn Swann out with a forearm to the back of the head -- on a running play. In fact, on the NFL Films highlight you can see Atkinson clock Swann -- then a second later Franco Harris barrels past on a 25-yard run!

The comeback win, and the Atkinson-Swann incident, set the tone for the Raiders season. They barely survived games against Kansas City and Houston, and took a shaky 3-0 record to New England to face the Patriots. The Raiders were blown out, as Steve Grogan threw two TD passes to Darryl Stingley and ran for two more scores. The final score was 48-17.

As it turned out, that was the only game the Raiders lost in 1976. They had a couple of close calls, the closest being when Bears kicker Bob Thomas hit the upright on what would have been a game-winning field goal. Their biggest blowout of the season was a 49-16 win over the expansion Tampa Buccaneers led by QB Steve Spurrier.

The Raiders were unconventional on both sides of the ball. On offense, they were left-handed, with a southpaw QB in Stabler and perennial All-Pros Gene Upshaw and Art Shell at left guard and left tackle, respectively. Tight End Dave Casper often lined up on the left side, which was highly unusual at the time. They controlled the ball on the ground with an incredible line and backs Mark Van Eeghen and Clarence Davis, with Pete Banaszak coming off the bench when it was time to stick it in the end zone.

When defenses cheated up to play the run, they paid a terrible price. Flanker Cliff Branch, one of the most underrated players in NFL history, had his best season in 1976. He averaged a stunning 24.15 yards per catch, and scored 12 TDs. While he was stretching the field vertically, sticky-fingered split-end Fred Biletnikoff and Casper were finding holes underneath. Stabler completed exactly two-thirds of his 291 passes, leading the league by a fairly wide margin.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders had changed to a 3-4 defense, still a pretty novel concept at the time. The personnel was a combination of All-Pros (Ted Hendricks, Phil Villapiano, Willie Brown) and guys who came out of nowhere (Willie Hall, Monte Johnson, Skip Thomas). The result was a defense that was not easy to run on (10th in the NFL), which was a bigger deal back in 1976 than it is now.
There was little drama involving the AFC West, as the Raiders clinched the title in Week 12. The remaining intrigue in the regular season centered around Game 13, a Monday night matchup at home against the 9-3 Cincinnati Bengals. If Cincinnati won, the Steelers would have been eliminated from the playoffs, and more than one observer felt the Raiders would have been better served to lose to Cincinnati to avoid the red-hot Steel Curtain.

Madden, of course, was not interested in any such scenario, and he later called the 35-20 win over the Bengals one of the proudest of his career.

To start the playoffs, the Raiders had a rematch with the Patriots, the one team that had beaten them. The playoff game looked like a repeat, with New England taking a 21-10 lead into the 4th quarter in Oakland. Stabler dug into his bag of comebacks, however, and the Raiders survived to meet Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship for the third straight time.

Unfortunately for history, the Steeler team that played in Oakland that day was without both starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and the Raiders rolled 24-7.

After six failures on the doorstep, the Raiders werent going to be fussy about how they finally got to the Super Bowl. Instead, they dealt out some misery of their own, handing the Minnesota Vikings their fourth Super Bowl loss, controlling the game from start to finish. Biletnikoff was named the games MVP, although he didnt score any of the Raiders four TDs. He did have four catches for 79 yards, and three times was tackled at the Vikings 1-yard line.

It was a glorious day in Pasadena, the last outdoor day game in Super Bowl history, and as the Raiders carried John Madden off the field on their shoulders his grin was so wide that radio announcer Bill King said he looked like a split watermelon. It was the grin, finally, of a champion.
Media professional and Bay Area native John Cannon was a television and radio sportscaster in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter at @JCannonSports, or email him at JCannonSports@gmail.com.

Battle between Raiders, Chiefs for AFC West isn't over yet

Battle between Raiders, Chiefs for AFC West isn't over yet

The Raiders were clearly frustrated by Thursday night’s proceedings. A pivotal game against Kansas City didn’t go as planned, moving the Chiefs ahead in the AFC West with three games to play.

Few thought the Raiders would be able to win a game played two time zones away, in the bitter cold, on a short week. Players and coaches certainly did. They left Kansas City believing they could’ve and should’ve won.

Tackle Donald Penn wasn’t thrilled following this missed opportunity, and articulated how the entire team felt.

“My mindset is that I’m pissed right now,” Penn said. “I’m pissed. We had control and we gave it to somebody else.”

Records are now even at 10-3, but Kansas City has a tiebreaker in hand following a season sweep. The Raiders dropped into the wild-card pool and are currently the AFC’s No. 5 seed.

Those facts would only matter if the season ended today. It, you know, doesn’t. That makes the where-are-they-now exercise purely academic, with time for things to change.

“We will continue working,” running back Latavius Murray said. “Like Coach (Del Rio), ‘What we want in our goals and what we’re after, those things are still out there for us.’ We won’t let this determine who we are and what we want to accomplish."

Kansas City can win the division by winning out. They have home games against Tennessee and Denver before wrapping the season at San Diego, teams with a combined 19-17 record and two pushing for the playoffs.

The Raiders have a tough slate ahead, with a game at San Diego, home against Indianapolis and at Denver to end the year. That trio has an identical record to K.C.’s slate, with two common opponents.

So, with that in mind, the Raiders-Chiefs competition will continue through season’s end. How each team fares will determine the AFC West, although Denver shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.

That should make for a fantastic finish in a talented division that should qualify at least two teams for the postseason.

That also means the Raiders and Chiefs might meet again in the rivalry that will define the season for both teams.

“I feel pretty confident that both of our teams will end up in the playoffs,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “There are still three games to be played. We’ll see how it ends up. They have the leg up right now, and did enough to win both games this year. For now, that’s all there is to the story. They’ve earned that. We’ll just have to get back on the right track next week.”

The Raiders may be down, but they definitely aren’t out of the division race. Thursday’s game was heavily hyped and rightfully so, but losing wasn’t a death sentence. A strong response could claim the division title or, at the very least, provide positive momentum heading into the playoffs.

The Raiders and Chiefs could meet again in January, when it truly matters most.

“There is a potential to play again,” quarterback Derek Carr said, “which is awesome.”

Oakland takes stage in latest act of Empty Gesture Theatre

Oakland takes stage in latest act of Empty Gesture Theatre

Editor's Note: The above video is from Nov. 6, 2016.

As we consider with the distance and clarity of the new day the latest developments from the City of Oakland in the attempt to attract the Raiders to stay where they are, we are reminded of one very important thing.

The Raiders STILL aren’t a part of these talks. Haven’t been, don’t want to be, and unless put in a bind won’t consider it.

In other words, what we have here is a deal between a city and a developer to buy land and build something FOR NO INTERESTED TENANT. Why this has escaped most people is an amazement, but there we are.

So I am now willing to predict a third potential outcome for this slow-motion train to nowhere: The league kicks the can down the road, putting off making a decision on the fate of the Raiders until one of these deals gets sweetened to its liking.

Now, back to the hilarious present.

The only intriguing thing about this new term sheet between the City of Oakland (throw-weight, $200 million) and the Ronnie Lott-fronted Fortress group (throw-weight: $175 million for the land as a starter) is that it exists at all.

But it isn’t a deal that seems to be attracting much notice from the NFL, the Raiders, or really anyone else. It is Empty Gesture Theatre, and frankly, it probably shouldn’t be anything more than that. Cities have been screwed into near-bankruptcy pandering to sports teams for decades, and both Oakland and Nevada deserve better -- though people don't often recognize what they deserve.

Now let’s reiterate the problems here:

The Raiders desperately want to leave. Mark Davis believes his best chance at future glory is in Nevada, and nobody has been able to shift him off that position, even though he has apparently been told as recently as two weeks ago that he does not yet have the 24 votes from his fellow owners at present.

Oakland has neither the money nor the political will to make a proposal that will dazzle the Raiders into staying. Mayor Libby Schaaf has committed the city to $200 million in infrastructure costs and no more, and part of the time-honored stadium soak is that a city throws in a lot more money, either through bond issues, tax increases, free land or a deal with the concrete guy. That cities shouldn’t even be in this business has dawned on Schaaf, and she really wants out of this deal is a regular tenant who will see to it that the taxes are paid in regular installments.

The NFL is frustrated that Oakland isn’t playing the city’s traditional role as a sucker. It doesn’t much like the Fortress people, either, which is still slightly more benign than its view of Las Vegas Casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who is still a linchpin of the Vegas deal even though he threatens to leave.

In short, Oakland provided no particular reason to have the owners look more kindly upon it, at a time when they want a reason to reject Vegas on market-size grounds. It is in many ways the Carson-v.-Inglewood fight of 11 months ago, in which the league’s owners had to decide on the site they liked (Inglewood and Rams owner Stan Kroenke) against the guy they liked (San Diego Changers owner Dean Spanos).

They voted the money, as you knew they would. The Rams are building in Inglewood, and apparently will joined, albeit with great reluctance, by the Chargers, who were rejected with great vigor by the voting citizens of San Diego last month.

Now in this scenario, the Vegas deal is the one with the short-term money but the long-term danger signs, while the Oakland deal has the market size but not the money or the will. And in the Oakland deal, the league doesn’t have direct leverage over Davis to modify his level of franchise control, which it very much wants to happen sooner rather than later.

So the other 31 owners can either accept one deal they don't like, another deal they don’t like, or give it another year in hopes that some deus ex machina will appear and make the decision for them. Typically the NFL at its most powerful had the outcome cemented ahead of time and just acted, but this is not the NFL of 20 years ago. It has been reactive throughout, letting events come to it, in exchange for which it now has two unappealing options with which to deal.

So I would expect the NFL to consider its options and delay a decision yet again. It wants neither Adelson, Fortress, the Oakland plan or the Vegas market, so it is most likely, barring some radical change in the current equation, to wait for a more clement time to strong-arm its desired conclusion upon everyone.

In the true spirit of NFL Christmas: Ho ho ho, and hands up, suckers.