In this nostalgic time of long pre-Super Bowl hype buildup, it's good to consider the past a bit, to appreciate what went before. While the Oakland Raiders won't be playing for the Lombardi this February (but surely they'll get a decent chance to hoist the silver before decade's end, right?), at least fans of the team can take pride in history.
At five appearances, the Raiders have appeared in more Super Bowls than 26 teams out there; the remainder with five or more appearances are the franchises who mainly took their multiple titles in isolated runs: the Dolphins in 1970s, Steelers in the '80s, 49ers in the '90s, Patriots in the '00s. The Denver Broncos, who staggered six Super Bowl appearances over 21 years, and the Dallas Cowboys have as storied playoff excellence; the former hasn't seriously threatened since John Elway left, and the latter hasn't won a playoff game in 11 freaking years.
Today, then, a shout out to the Raider Nation, and a solicitation of opinion. As Tony Reali might say, "I've been working on this question all week."
What has been your favorite Raider Super Bowl and why?
Assuming that no Raider backer worth his or her salt would choose II or XXXVII as game of choice, this writer sought to answer the question with a little reminiscing and clip-watching.
And the nominees for Best Raider Super Bowl Appearance Ever are...
• Super Bowl XI: Raiders 32, Vikings 14. Ah, my earliest clear memories of football stem from this game. (Although there are some vague recollections, mostly of relatives angrily grousing while the Patriots chumped it against the hated Raiders in the divisionals a few weeks before.) Playing the game in Pasadena essentially gave the Raiders the first and only home-field advantage in the Super Bowl, but they might not even have needed it.
In all the discussion about the greatest single-season team ever, the 16-1 Raiders of '76 tend to get the short shrift. Watch the highlights from this game: Over and over guys like Art Shell and Gene Upshaw held off the daunted "Purple People Eaters" on southpaw Kenny Stabler's left side as the Snake passed at will. Fred Biletnikoff took home the MVP for this one, but it could just as easily have been given to the offensive line as a whole.
Super Bowl XI was a tour de force performance from Madden's boys, the sort of show to get misty-eyed about. A great game to cut one's football milk teeth on: a nice, quick, memorable education in line play and the off-tackle run. (Of course, that's what the pre-Montana/Marino late '70s were all about, though, weren't they?)
• Super Bowl XV: Raiders 27, Eagles 10. Poor Ron Jaworski. A devilishly clever and hard-working quarterback who, in Elwayesque fashion, did more with less for years. In 1980, it seemed like Jaws, Dick Vermeil and the lot (sans Harold Carmicheal) were about to have their time in the sun, buzzing through NFC opponents in the playoffs after a respectable 12-4 season. And then they ran into Cinderella.
Led by 33-year-old (and, until 1980, consistently disappointing) Jim Plunkett, the (Los Angeles) Raiders became the first wild-card team to win the big game. With a running game fueled by not-so-household names like Mark van Eeghan and Kenny King and injuries throughout the year, this team represented one of the ultimate demonstrations of whole greater than the sum of parts. Sure, Lester "The Molester" Hayes turned in a ridiculous season at corner and Ted Hendricks was his usual badder-than-thou self, but 1980 was a team effort.
Key play of this game: Plunkett's 80-yard strike to Kenny King, which helped practically ice the game in the first quarter; there was never any way the Eagles were going to beat this 'D'. Plunkett was named MVP and this writer recalls some grousing about how ol' Jimbo was mostly played crippled after being drafted by New England.
(An interesting comparison of XV and the Steelers/Seahawks game of three years back, written before the game, runs here.)
• Super Bowl XVIII: (Los Angeles) Raiders 38, Washington 9. Naturally, what most people remember about this game is The Run, Marcus Allen's insane 74-yard scamper in which he flies past nearly every defender out there.
But the blowout - I mean, game - itself was a showcase of another great Raider squad. An excellent stock of youth (Allen, Howie Long, Matt Millen) was joined by a number of key veterans consciously making one last push for the Lombardi: 30-somethings Plunkett, Hendricks, Dave Dalby, Cliff Branch and Ray Guy were still around, plus key additions in Greg Pruitt and Lyle Alzado.
Aside from MVP Allen, Branch contributed a half-dozen receptions, including the 50-yard stretch for the TD Plunkett was good enough (16 of 25 for 172 yards, one TD) and at 36, looking a lot more like a peak player than Joe Theismann (16 of 35 for 243 yards and two picks against zero touchdowns).
Be sure to check out the highlight clip, if only for the bizarre sideswipe the official voice of NFL Films takes at Al Davis right around the 3:10 mark or so.
As for my personal favorite, as much as you had to love that 1983 team, they always say that your first is your best, right? I'll go with XI and that crushing display, a perfect cap on one of the greatest single seasons in this writer's lifetime.
Reminiscing all year-round (except when there's a game on) at RealFootball365.com.