For the last thirty years, whenever a troubled or controversial NFL player becomes available, the Raiders are the first team ‘rumored’ to be interested. It’s a stereotype born from the Raiders first tenure in Oakland.
The Raiders departure to Los Angeles in 1982 killed off a great portion of the Oakland fan base. Many of those who turned their backs were long time season ticket holders who felt betrayed. Today’s Raider fan base is younger. Back then, we went to games with our folks. To us Lyle Alzado was a Raider, and only a Raider. Our collective memory no longer includes the prequel to our icons. However, it’s an important part of our legacy that needs to be understood.
Al Davis built teams. His brilliance always came from piecing together the right players to create certain chemistry. We have Mr. Davis to thank for George Blanda, who finished his remarkable 26 year career in Oakland, his fifth team. Willie Brown started off as an Oiler, but was cut during camp. The Broncos picked him up and Brown played his first four seasons in Denver before being traded to Oakland. Ted Hendricks played for the (Baltimore) Colts and Packers before joining the Raiders.
The Tooz, John Matuszak, epitomized the image of a Raider. He wanted to play in the now defunct World Football League while still playing under contract with the Oilers. With that, the Oilers traded him off to Kansas City and he played for three seasons as a Chief before being exiled to Oakland. Lyle Alzado spent only the last four of his 15 year career as a Raider. He was a Bronco for eight seasons.
We celebrate these acquisitions. Oakland was not the garbage can of the NFL. These teams dominated and created the “Raider Mystique.” Sadly, this archetype merged with the ugly underbelly of Raider history, resulting in the stereotype we battle today.
John Matuszak died of heart failure at 38 years old. His drug use and lifestyle was legendary and in no doubt played a part in his death. Lyle Alzado died at 43 of a brain tumor after years of steroid abuse. QB Todd Marinovich, whom the Raiders drafted over Brett Favre, lasted just two years in the league because of substance abuse. At 29, Darrell Russell was killed in an auto accident just three years after being accused of videotaping a rape in Alameda County, CA. Barrett Robbins went AWOL the week before Super Bowl XXXVII, and three years later was charged with attempted murder after an altercation in which he was shot three times.
It’s hard to hear your team as the punch line of a joke. We want so badly to hold on to the rebel attitude. It’s all we’ve known. But there’s a new Raider image emerging; one of work ethic and one of professionalism. Look at the roster changes being made. This is now the direction. Don’t worry, it will all feel comfortable when they start winning. Just win, baby. Now that will never change.
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Written by Julie Schloss