Though Thanksgiving may have come and passed, the period of self-reflection and counting our blessings for what we are fortunate to have in our lives does not end.
Athletes, sports franchises and fan bases are no different. Every now and again, the industry and professional athletics give themselves moments of introspection, to acknowledge all that they are grateful for. After all, the wild world of sports is a very unique profession, where owners, players and fans all have some impact on the business and some satisfaction in the result.
This year, for the first time in nearly a decade, Oakland Raiders fans have plenty to be appreciative of. After nine seasons without a winning record, the Raiders have staked themselves to sole possession of first place in the AFC West with five games to go. Should they keep their top spot, the Raiders will earn a trip to the playoffs, something fans have been longing for since 2002. A postseason berth would surely be the ultimate gift this holiday season.
Here are five things Oakland Raiders fans are thankful for this year.
It’s no secret that the Raiders’ most valuable running back this season has not been Darren McFadden but rather super backup Michael Bush. It’s no secret that McFadden, the otherworldly starter, is one of the most dynamic runners in the game, both a threat on the ground and coming out of the backfield.
It’s also no secret that McFadden is one of the most frangible players in the game, having missed 10 games in his previous three seasons due to various injuries.
Thus, having a quality backup like Bush is of the utmost importance. True to form, McFadden injured his foot in Oakland’s Week 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs and he has not returned since.
Fortunately, the fourth-year running back has filled in nicely for McFadden, and the Raiders offense has not missed a single beat. Since coming in during the first quarter against the Chiefs, Bush has rushed for 530 yards and three touchdowns in five games. He has also caught 13 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.
Raiders fans watch in awe at Bush’s bruising style of play. His fierce between-the-tackles running lulls opposing defenses to sleep. With quarterback Carson Palmer acclimating himself to the offense, it’s exciting to see the Raiders offense clicking on all cylinders with Bush leading the way.
Without McFadden, the Raiders lose a major weapon; but without Bush, the Raiders would be lost at sea.
Scoring points and stopping opposing offenses is the name of any football game. But one of the more overlooked phases of the football game is the battle for field position.
Fortunately, the Oakland Raiders realize the importance of this facet and have made their special teams a high priority. Punter Shane Lechler and place kicker Sebastian Janikowski are considered by many to be the best in the game at their respective positions. And without them, the Raiders would almost surely have lost another game or two this season.
Lechler, the six-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro selection, is one of the most decorated punters in NFL history. And his career punting average of 47.5 yards per punt is tops all-time. He even boomed a team record 80-yarder last weekend against the Chicago Bears.
The 12-year pro is so valuable to the Raiders’ philosophy of winning field position, Oakland signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract in 2009, making him the highest paid punter in league history.
Speaking of which, Janikowski is likewise the highest-paid placekicker ever at $16 million over four years. Janikowski, like Lechler, is also in his 12th season with the Raiders, having been drafted in 2000. Oakland valued Janikowski so highly, they selected him in the first round.
He has proven to be worth every dollar.
He has broken and set the Oakland team record for longest field goal a handful of times, the last of which was this season’s NFL record-tying 63-yarder against the Denver Broncos in Week 1. Further, his powerful left leg comes in handy during close games.
Janikowski has attempted over 60 field goals of 50 yards or longer since 2001. With his length, the Raiders continually put up points even when they’re well outside of the red zone. His six field goals last weekend proved to be of tremendous significance during Oakland’s 25-20 victory over the Bears.
The cannon legs of both Lechler and Janikowski are incredibly important to the Raiders. With them, Oakland often has the advantage in special teams and field position. And for their fans, these two stalwarts make the kicking game surprisingly exciting.
Last season, the Oakland Raiders showed glimpses of being a near-elite team. They completed a sweep of the AFC West, going 6-0 in their division, and were in playoff contention during the final month of the season. They finished with their first non-losing record since 2002, the year they went to the Super Bowl.
But baby steps were not good enough for the Oakland Raiders, and then-coach Tom Cable was not re-signed upon season’s end, despite the evident eradication of the losing culture that had contaminated the organization for nearly a decade. No, Cable would not be the one to oversee a winning Raiders season.
Hue Jackson was.
Promoted from offensive coordinator after just one season, Jackson, who previously had no head coaching experience, was considered to be the right person to be the man in charge of the Raiders’ return to glory. His extremely confident approach and loyalty to the Raiders organization emits a bravado that emanates throughout the rest of the team.
Thus, Jackson nearly daily affirms how extremely talented his football team is and how likely they will outperform the opposition. In doing so, he has reintroduced a swagger that has infected his players. This epidemic has spread to audiences as well, as fans themselves are adherents to Jackson’s every word.
When starting quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6, Jackson brought his former tutee Carson Palmer, swearing that this would be the most glorious since ever.
And five weeks and a three-game winning streak later, fans might agree. At least, they agree that Jackson has done all the right things in the name of the organization and with one goal in mind—to win.
Who isn’t thankful for winning? After all, winning cures practically everything in life.
Winning makes people more cheerful and aglow. They are so jubilant, they go out and celebrate. Celebration leads to purchasing. And consumer spending solves all our economic woes.
It may not be an all-powerful ripple effect, but winning does make fan bases happier and more positive-minded. With a potential winning season and postseason berth in sights, the Oakland Raiders are bringing excitement back to the recently dwindling Raider Nation.
Games are sold out.
Tailgates are teeming.
The Black Hole is lethal again.
All is good again for Raiders fans.
Winning solves everything. And its power on fans is exponential. The more the team wins, the better everybody feels. With a promising AFC West division title, the Raiders would reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002. For a team with such a winning history and national following, a return to the postseason is not only good for fans but for all of the NFL.
If the Raiders keep up their winning ways, Oakland fans will have even more to be thankful for come January.
Al Davis was and—to a degree—still is the Oakland Raiders. The owner, general manager and dictator of the Raiders for 45 years, Davis passed away earlier this season at age 82.
Davis’ influence on the game of football and the NFL is immeasurable. But perhaps his devotion to his team is what defines him. Davis bled silver and black; and it’s not entirely out of the question to presume he wore an eye patch and sported a Darth Vader outfit in his spare time. One thing is for certain: Al Davis loved his Oakland Raiders.
Always the maverick, Davis was renowned for his unusual and unorthodox personnel changes and acquisitions. But he was always a dedicated and loyal man to his players and coaches.
That love for an organization is not often present in today’s owners. Some are invisible and others are indifferent. But Davis was everything to his team. And Raider Nation adored his and the organization’s commitment to excellence.
With the Raider renaissance in full form this season, there would be nothing more wonderful than a playoff appearance. And it would do Davis proud to see his motley crew of bandits and rebels succeed. With Davis’ spirit guiding the way, the Raiders are headed for a fateful AFC West crown.
Fans know that Oakland is playing with heavy heart, and it would be apropos to see the Raiders win for their former owner. Raiders fans are thankful for his continued omnipresent adage: Just win, baby.