Oakland Raiders Demise: Understanding What the NFL is Missing

noel ramosCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2010

"The NFL is a better league when the Raiders are good." - John Madden, former Raiders head coach .

It is not just the personal bias of a man who guided the renegade Raider teams of the 1970s but a sentiment shared by most affiliated with the NFL.

Like any film, it's only as good as the main antagonist. The Raiders are the NFL's bad boys, the renegades and misfits, the villains of football, and for nearly four decades the NFL's most successful franchise. Only in recent years have the Raiders fallen from their usual status as one of the NFL's elite. In that time the NFL, its fans, and more importantly its players have forgotten what the Oakland Raiders are.

Led by one of the game's greatest pioneers and one of professional sports' most revered and simultaneously hated figures, Al Davis, the Raiders were once the epitome of excellence. Since the Raiders' self-destruction in Super Bowl XXXVII, he has been chastised endlessly by the sports media and vilified by the legions of Raider fans impatiently waiting for the team's return to their standard of excellence.

The Raiders of old were teams that no one wanted to play. They were the team that mercilessly pummeled lower opponents, won when they shouldn't have, and forced any team that beat them to be sorry that they did so. It was a foregone conclusion that a Super Bowl berth would eventually have to be earned by a win over Oakland.

Over the last seven years since the Super Bowl collapse the Raiders' struggles have been well documented. They have become a mere punchline, a league-wide joke.

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If someone started to watch the NFL in the 2010 season, they would assume the Raiders have always been pushovers just hearing any major sports magazine or reporter talk about them. They wouldn't understand that an Oakland team that is average by NFL standards is mediocre by the standard set forth by the historical Raider teams.

A long-time NFL fan would probably remember this. Any number retired NFL veterans who played against one of these teams would agree. Unfortunately modern players aren't old enough to have witnessed this. Modern fans have become accustomed to bad Raider teams year-in and year-out.

In postgame interviews, players of teams that the Raiders have beaten since 2003 are at a loss for words. They repeat the usual "we never overlook a team" and then tip their hand with "this is a team we should have beaten." The franchise is disrespected, and perhaps deservedly so.

The Raiders of old gained their reputation of being bad boys through extremely rough play that bordered on illegal and sometimes crossed the line altogether. They were labeled as "dirty" and "cheaters." Al Davis reveled in the image and promoted it. The team's success despite all the controversy spawned a large amount of contempt and hate.

The Raiders logo, the colors, and the team itself is one of the most recognizable and iconic in all professional sports. The Raider Nation, the devout fanbase, is almost as notorious and recognizable as the team itself. But they too are ridiculed by most of the NFL's fans and media.

The team's reputation has brought the negative press on itself. Al Davis's personnel moves and the teams continued struggles have anchored the franchise on the NFL's doormat. They've been there long enough that people have forgotten what a good Raiders team is and the NFL is worse for it.

In the words of NFL Films, "there are 31 teams in the NFL. And then there are the Oakland Raiders."

A film is only as good as its antagonist. The same holds true for the NFL, and its villains, the Oakland Raiders.