It has only been five days, but the Oakland Raiders’ acerbic loss to the San Diego Chargers last weekend still provides a sunken feeling for Raider Nation. After all, it was the most perfect of storms that made Oakland’s defeat so imperfectly abysmal.
A division title on the line. A potential playoff berth via wild card. A divisional game against arch nemesis San Diego. A winning season for the first time in nine seasons. So much was at stake at the Oakland Coliseum; there was that much weight attached to this game.
And, thus, because of the immense feeling of depression that could be felt by fans afterward, it could be concluded that the loss was more devastating than any other since the team moved back to Oakland. It even has the potential to be the most crippling in team history.
Yes, there have been numerous memorable key losses by the Raiders—in Super Bowls, conference championships and playoff games. Super Bowl II. The Immaculate Reception. The Tuck Rule. These games all bring to mind timeless sorrow and frustration for Raiders fans.
But the difference between those defeats and last Sunday’s is the fortitude of the franchise during those eras. Many of the worst losses in team history were during periods of success and promise. During postseason appearances that occurred regularly. When the organization was truly committing itself to excellence, adhering to its slogan as Team of the Decades.
But that is not the case for this version of the Oakland Raiders.
The edition that lost last weekend is a completely different franchise than it was in the days of yore. It’s a franchise that has had nine straight non-winning seasons, the worst stretch in its history. And that included a seven-year streak of 11 losses or more—a league record. This is the same franchise that has had six different head coaches since 2002. That selected JaMarcus Russell as the 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick. A franchise that scored only 168 total points in 2006 and allowed a whopping 395 in the 2011 campaign—the same year it set an NFL record for most penalties in a season.
And yet a win on Sunday could have erased all the negative connotations and those hellacious memories from the past decade. It could have resurrected a team on the verge of decay prior to this season—a team that had firmly rooted itself as a ramshackle laughingstock around the league for the better part of the millennium.
All of that would have changed in one game.
Though the downward spiral is seemingly halted, after back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the destruction to the team’s psyche from losing the season finale does not keep the Raiders from reaching oblivion, especially when accounting for head coach Hue Jackson’s staunch faith that Oakland would in fact win the AFC West title.
His vehement confidence in his team’s ability to make the playoffs created the lofty expectations on the 2011 campaign. So much so that the Raider Nation, a following that had previously could have been referred to as HiberNation, finally awoke this season, selling out all eight home games for the first time since arriving in Oakland in 1995. Needless to say, the fanbase flocked to follow their shepherd, Jackson, in hopes of seeing the postseason for the first time in nine seasons.
Jackson, of course, is the new man in charge, taking the reins from the dearly departed emperor, Al Davis. Jackson’s boldness was a welcoming aura in the Oakland clubhouse, an emanation not felt during the dark years of the early 2000s. His audacity to trade for Carson Palmer midseason and sign T.J. Houshmandzadeh sent shock waves throughout the NFL. And it only heightened Raider Nation’s expectations, as he continued to build up their hopes all season.
All of this came crashing down with one debacle of a game.
To be sure, there were many opportunities for the Raiders to tighten their stranglehold of their playoff destiny. But everybody knows Sunday was the game in which everything was laid out for them, with everything possible on the line. It was about as all-in as a team could get.
And because they lost it all, they might not recover for a while.
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