What Terrelle Pryor Means to the Raider Nation

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystSeptember 13, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 08:  Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Oakland Raiders runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Rich Gannon was the last franchise quarterback Raider Nation could cheer for on Sundays, but he also last played a meaningful snap for the team in 2004. It's been a long, hard decade, and the quarterback position has been the one consistent problem.

The Oakland Raiders have tried everything to acquire a franchise quarterback—with varying degrees of failure. The team has made foolish trades, wasted top draft picks and waded into the murky waters of free agency, but a franchise quarterback has continually eluded them.

Without a winning season since 2002, the Raider Nation now clings to the thinnest sliver of potential at the quarterback position like chewing gum to a shoe sole. In recent years, Jason Campbell was compared to Jim Plunkett, and Matt Flynn to Rich Gannon, even though everyone knew deep down that those comparisons stunk worse than a portable toilet in the parking lot of O.co Coliseum.

That's why quarterback Terrelle Pryor means so much. Pryor was Al Davis' last draft pick, he's the best chance the Raiders have of not being the laughingstock of the league in 2013 and the closest thing the Raiders have to a franchise quarterback. 

Josh (@Jkriz_7), 25, from Harrisburg, Penn., said of the situation: "The Raider Nation has had nothing to be hopeful for the last 10 years." 

You can understand fans who think Pryor is the answer to the Raiders' long, national nightmare. In the midst of darkness, the slightest bit of light can be blinding. Raiders fans are simply grading on a steep curve.

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In the entire history of the Raiders, there might be four legitimate franchise quarterbacks and another three fringe candidates. Ken Stabler, Daryle Lamonica, Jim Plunkett and Gannon all easily fit the description, while Marc Wilson, Jay Schroeder and Jeff Hostetler would be considered fringe candidates. 

All of those quarterbacks had at least 50 starts, a winning record and at least one playoff win. Only Gannon and Hostetler played for the team during the free-agency era (1994-present). Many of the younger fans only remember Gannon, and that's a shame.

The inability of the Raiders to find a franchise quarterback has left many Raiders fans skeptical of Pryor, having also been burned by small sample sizes before. Former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell looked great in a Week 17 start against the San Diego Chargers in 2007, but we all know how that worked out for the Raiders.

Shawn (@Shawn_Smetana), 32, from Charleston, S.C., said: "He makes it fun to be a Raiders fan right now and it's been tough to say that during the last ten years...but a part of me worries the last decade of despair may be clouding my judgment."

It's not fair to compare Pryor to Russell, but there's a reason former head coach Hue Jackson wouldn't let Pryor wear the No. 2 he now adorns. Unlike Russell, Pryor likely has just one season to prove himself, or the Raiders will look elsewhere. If things go south, many of these fans will probably jump off the Pryor express faster than you can say "Teddy Bridgewater."

There are some fans who don't believe Pryor is the answer; he's just the best option on a talent-deprived roster. After 10 years of poor quarterback play, many fans refuse to buy into the Pryor hype until they see him play well over an extended period of time. It's the only way not to be crushed if Pryor doesn't pan out.

After Pryor's Week 1 performance, his detractors are understandably much harder to find. It just proves how much Raider Nation wants to believe that Pryor is their future, even if it goes against their better judgment. 

There are a few fans who haven't changed their mind about Pryor and remain highly skeptical that he will ever be the team's franchise quarterback. There are definitely reasons to be skeptical about Pryor's ability to become an adequate passer.

Ryan (@Brodhisattva), 22, from Maryland, is one of those fans still skeptical about Pryor: "As much as I love all of the hype and positive press that the Raiders are getting, I don't buy Pryor as the future of the franchise. As exciting and explosive as he was last week, that really was the first that anybody had gotten to see of him in the new Raiders offense."

Just a few weeks ago, some of the smartest football minds in the world believed Matt Flynn was a better option than Pryor. Some analysts actually believed rookie fourth-round draft pick Tyler Wilson might become the starter by the end of the season. There were even a few fans calling for Matt McGloin, the undrafted rookie free agent out of Penn State.

It was an ugly quarterback situation on a team that isn't exactly bursting at the seams with talent at any position. There was talk that the Raiders could go 0-16, and they were a popular choice for the first overall pick next April.

Pryor changed a lot of minds in a very short amount of time. Perceptions about him, his future and the Raiders changed seemingly overnight.

Nick (@Raidersaz20), 34, from Phoenix has been convinced by Pryor's Week 1 performance: "All last year and all offseason, I was extremely vocal on twitter against Pryor. He has changed my mind; this looks like an entirely different team when he is on the field."

Fans were bracing for a long season, but it only took Pryor one game to change everything. No one is thinking about Flynn, Wilson, McGloin or that the Raiders could go 0-16. The Raider Nation is now waiting patiently for Sunday, hoping that Pryor can take the next step in his maturation process. 

The Raiders are favored at home this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the team didn't even need an extension to sell out the stadium. Pryor is fun to watch, and there is genuine excitement again, even if it proves to all be fleeting. 

The Embodiment of a Fanbase

Supports don't just hope Pryor becomes their franchise quarterback, even though that seems to be the only word that comes close to describing what he means to them. Pryor is also the embodiment of the qualities of the fanbase—and that has quickly made him a fan favorite.

Ryan (@Brodhisattva), 22, from Maryland, added: "Despite my feelings about his ability as a NFL starter, Pryor practically embodies the spirit of the Raiders. Not just because he's big and fast, but because he's a fallen star, and an underdog."

A deep connection with Al Davis has left many in the Raider Nation hoping that Pryor is the player who can carry on his legacy for the next decade. Pryor also embraces his status as Davis' final draft pick and wants to fulfill the expectation Davis had for him.

Pryor is a hardworking, blue-collar underdog. That also describes a large portion of Raiders fans, which is probably why they have so quickly taken to the athletically gifted Ohio State product. 

Ashvin (@AshvinPrasad), 40, from Newark, Calif., and Raiders season ticket holder for 19 years, outlined his hope for the team's young quarterback: "Terrelle has the makeup of what the fans are looking for. Someone to believe in, someone who will wear the colors proudly, someone who is much like the area he plays in, blue collar, passionate, hardworking and makes no excuses. Having a franchise quarterback would signal that we are heading for the light, instead of wallowing in the darkness." 

There is no doubting Pryor is gifted, and his athletic skill is potential anyone can plainly see. Pryor might still be struggling with getting the offense out of the huddle, going through his progressions and making the right decisions, but that's all stuff that can be corrected.

That's what the Raider Nation, including Brian (@bbanifatemi) from San Francisco wants so badly to believe, and they might be right: "The sky is the limit for him and he has the chance to do something really special with this Raiders team."

Fans are also looking for a new face of the franchise. The face of the franchise was always Davis because he wouldn't tolerate any one person getting too much of the credit. It was almost like Davis himself was on the shield with a patch on his eye, ready to march into battle.

Marc (@Emdub52), 30, from San Lorenzo, Calif., hopes Pryor can replace Davis as the leader of the Raiders: "This fan base is not only dying for a franchise QB, but a face that can lead this franchise into a new era."

Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen might be the architects of the Raiders, but the Raider Nation is still having trouble seeing either of them as the face of the franchise. McKenzie operates behind the scenes, and his laid-back attitude doesn't quite jive with the personality of the fans.

Allen is a young football coach (40), but he's not like former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Allen doesn't have a scowl like Chucky or the natural charisma that has made Gruden a lot of money as an ESPN analyst.

That's not to say fans aren't starting to buy what Allen is selling, but they haven't latched onto him yet. Until he wins, they probably won't. 

Aadil (@aadilalavi), 27, believes Pryor becoming a success would be a fitting tribute to Al Davis: "For all the heat that Al got for his drafting, it would be awesome to see him have struck gold with his last pick. Also, Raider Nation would be ecstatic to have somebody as their franchise QB that had as much passion for the game as they do for their team."

Pryor has the qualities to be a face of the franchise, the only thing missing is success on the field. Pryor is a passionate, charismatic individual who wants to be great and isn't afraid to say it. He isn't just a quarterback, not to Raiders fans. Pryor is the kind of swashbuckling character who the Raider Nation can rally around.

Pryor is hope, now and in the future. If he fails, it will not just be a crushing blow to him and the team, but to a group of fans desperately grasping for something to feel good about.

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