The Oakland Raiders.
There is so much that comes to mind when one mentions that name. Al Davis, Silver and Black, dirty, nasty, champions, losers, dysfunctional, greatness, etc.
Without a doubt, the Raiders are one of the most storied teams in the NFL, with a history that is similar to the stock market. Depending on your age or knowledge of the game, your understanding of the Raiders will vary.
One thing is certain, there is something developing in Oakland that we have never seen before.
The mystique that has been attributed to the Raiders is a direct result of Al Davis and the types of players that the Raiders would acquire.
Al Davis was a rebel to the core. Prior to Davis' tenure as a coach, the Raiders had a stretch of 19 straight loses. When he took over, they had their first winning season and he became Coach of the Year at a time when he was the youngest coach in the league at 33.
He transformed the game by utilizing the "vertical game" which focuses more on passing than running to move the chains. In 1963, Davis changed the colors of the team from black and gold, to silver and black, and added the logo to the helmet which signaled the beginning of a legacy.
Davis put together teams with players that other teams would cast off and make champions out of them. As a result, you would have a large portion of the team with a chip on their shoulder and an ax to grind. The rest were players that were drafted who would compliment the team he built or carry the same mentality.
This was a major contributor to the development of the mystique.
The Oakland Raiders were once known as the winningest team in football, the team of the decades, the dirtiest team in the NFL, etc.
This was primarily because the Raiders historically had very tough, hard-hitting players on both offense and defense who wanted to leave a lasting impression on all teams they played.
Many of these players weren't just tough on the field, their antics would often take place off the field as well.This attitude was what developed a mantra that is still associated with the Raiders.
But there are players whose names still carry the pain and fear that they inflicted on the field. Names like, Lyle Alzado, Jack Tatum, George Atkinson, Matt Millen, Gene Upshaw, Steve Wisniewski, Otis Sistrunk, Ted Hendricks, etc.
These are a few of the players that established the Raiders as one of the teams that plays with a criminal element, but yet extremely talented.
This year, Hue Jackson assumes the responsibilities of head coach, and is the first coach that I can think of that came in with the intention of returning the Raiders to glory by using the tradition of the team as a foundation.
Maybe this is because Jackson is a native of California, and the tradition of the Raiders is something that is really a part of who he is.
Soon after he became head coach, he coined the phrase "Building a Bully". Jackson exposed the entire team to film clips of the history of the Raiders in order for the current team to understand the legacy and what it means to be a Raider.
In addition to his energetic and enthusiastic approach to coaching, Jackson appears to have changed the culture of apathy that has plagued Oakland for almost a decade, to one in which championships are built on.
The Raiders of old have been looked upon as being a hodgepodge of throwaways and dirty players who somehow ended up hoisting the Lombardi trophy three times.
The new Raiders seem to be making the most of the draft and developing their own legacy that is being built on thoughts instead of threats.
The draft class of 2010 is arguably the greatest in Raider history. If you go back as far as 2008, you will find that within the last three years (excluding the 2011 draft class) you will find as many 10 starters came from these classes.
With the acquisition of many key players through free agency and trades, the Raiders have built a team that is one of the most talented groups that I have seen since they were last in the Super Bowl.
Let's face it, it's quite evident that this team doesn't have the menacing personalities of past teams that help develop the persona of the Raiders. At the same time, it isn't necessary for this team to be as nasty to be ranked amongst the greats.
We now have the likes of Seymour, Houston, McClain, Huff, Mitchell, etc. None of these guys cross you as crazed criminals, but they play with a level of intensity that can still propel this team far into the postseason.
When you combine this talent with what I believe to be the best coaching staff the Raiders have had in probably over 20 years or more, you have a situation that could turn into something very special. I don't think there has ever been a Raiders coaching staff that has this level of energy, commitment and enthusiasm about the team.
Like Jackson, Al Saunders, who some say is one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL, is a California native and is even more closely related to the Raiders than Jackson is.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan coached in Oakland before, while defensive backs coach Rod Woodson and linebackers coach Greg Biekert both played in Oakland before. Each of them know the tradition of the Raiders and have a vested interest in returning them to where they once were and should be, amongst the NFL's elite.
The Oakland Raiders have one of the most absorbing legacies of all the teams in the NFL. I think Al Davis, the new coaching staff and the current team are adding a new chapter to the history of the Oakland Raiders.
Though it may not reflect the Raiders of past decades, this team may very well be the first in long time to reach the playoffs, and eventually hoist up their fourth Lombardi trophy.