They might not be one of the oldest American football teams, but if you come from Oakland, California, or you like your football played a bit dirty, then the only team in the NFL are The Oakland Raiders.
The ‘silver and blacks’ took a little while to find their feet but when they did they didn’t take any prisoners. Since 1970, when they joined the top-flight of the NFL, the Raiders have notched up an impressive twelve division titles, countless playoff places, and a modest three Super Bowl titles.
With the likes of Tom Hanks and Tiger Woods on their side, the Raiders will always be a serious force to be reckoned with.
A city bound for greatness
Before 1960 Oakland didn’t have a football team. They didn’t even have much of a stadium. But when the AFL owners invited Oakland into the league at the end of the 1950s they knew they would have to find the means from somewhere.
It’s commonly known that one of the reasons Oakland suddenly found themselves with a team is thanks to a fat-cat called Barron Hilton, demanding that another team were created on the west coast otherwise he would remove his stakes in the league.
Whatever was actually the case, the men in suits sat around a boardroom in January 1960 and cooked up the plan for what we all know as the Oakland Raiders. It’s worth mentioning that they were originally called the Oakland Senors but when the jokes started coming in thick and fast, in under a week of the christening, the more spritely name of Raiders was drafted in instead.
Without a stadium in the actual city, the Raiders had to cross the bay to San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium in order to play their home games. But the crowds didn’t seem to take to the commute and the results were just as sparse as the fans. Half a million dollars of debt, together with some of the major shareholders dropping like flies, meant things needed a serious rethink at pirate camp.
There was an unsettled and nomadic feeling surrounding the Raiders and, while a stadium was being built in the actual city, they played at both Candlestick Park and Frank Youell Field but didn’t seem to pull in the punters at either. Then someone walked through the door of the club and changed the way they did business forever…
Call him Al
Al Davis is arguably the most important name in the history of the Raiders. In 1962 he was plucked from an assistant coaching position at nearby San Diego and promoted to top dog at the Raiders. He was only 33.
He was the youngest ever football coach and manager. But there was no sign of immaturity in Davis and he wasted no time whipping up a storm. Out went the gold trimming on the jerseys and in came the symbolic silver and black, complete with new ‘vertical’ formation, which would instantly frighten the pants off the unsuspecting opposition.
The Raiders vastly improved and Davis was granted the 1963 AFL Coach of the Year. But Davis was a man who liked his money and he left the team in 1965 to become a league commissioner.
Davis didn’t leave the Raiders for good. In 1966 he returned to the team and arrived back with a few dollars in his wallet. He bought a share of the club and, from the side-lines, he orchestrated a team that would go on to win the 1967 AFL title, followed by a place in the second Super Bowl in the same year.
They continued to improve and reached another Super Bowl but lost again. Hope came when they brought home the Western Division titles and, when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, they joined the Western Division of the all new NFL.
The Madden crowd
The Raiders had produced a legendary figure off the pitch in Al Davis and they repeated this in the 1970s with one of the most famous football coaches of all time, John Madden.
Madden came on board in the summer of ‘69 and didn’t waste a second showing the new NFL how he would run things. With the likes of prolific quarterback, George Blanda, aka ‘The Fossil’, and colossal wide-receiver, Fred Biletnikoff, Madden had the players and fans at his disposal and caused opponents serious damage.
He took the Raiders to six division titles and the Super Bowl in ‘76. They had literally exploded the entire game and, like their namesake, were stealing prizes all over the country. But the treasure went to the head of their Long John Silver, Al Davis, and in 1972 he tried to get his mitts on the entire chest without the other shareholders even knowing.
Another owner, Wayne Valley, tried to sue Davis for his sneaky move but was bought out and Davis took his share in the team to 25%.
He had now confirmed his place as the king of the castle but John Madden, who had become more successful than Davis himself, finally had enough and he jumped ship in 1979 to get behind the microphone as a TV commentator (and endorser of those computer games we all used to play).
LA la land.
Al Davis continued on his dictatorial path into the 1980s. The stadium his team were playing at in Oakland, The Oakland Coliseum, wasn’t substantial enough to meet their demands and ambitions. Davis fought the other shareholders and the league officials and in 1982 the Raiders packed up and moved south to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
During this decade, their league form would be respectable but never up to their best standards. They couldn’t argue with winning the Super Bowl twice in that decade though, in 1980 and 1983.
They would reach the playoffs each year but never really climb any further than that. It didn’t take long for Davis to start looking for the wooden plank though and he called for a few of the coaching staff to take a walk down it. Names such as Tom Flores and Mike Shananhan took the plunge.
History was made in 1990 when Art Shell took the job of coach and became the first African American coach in the NFL. Art got off to a good start but then the bubble burst. Much of this could be attributed to some awfully bad luck with players’ injuries.
Marinovich, Allen and Long all suffered major injuries during his reign. On top of this, Al Davis (the Raiders version of Jack Warner) was constantly causing rifts in the team and falling out with star players, which almost always ended in them wanting to leave. When there was another dry patch in silverware during the early 1990s, one thing everyone at the team knew would please the fans, would be a return home to Cleveland. All they needed was a place big enough to stay.
In an (Oak) land far far away.
The McAfee Coliseum was ready for the Raiders in 1995 and their thirteen-year absence from their home city was soon to come to an end. A new stadium brought a new coach. Mike White took charge in 1995 but, like his numerous predecessors, he too didn’t seem to gel with a certain person who will remain nameless (Davis) and only lasted three seasons.
After a few years of settling down and under coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders finally returned to form and 2000 saw them complete their best season in years. They walked home with their first AFC West title in ten years. But then something familiar happened and you might be able to guess what by now.
Speculation that Gruden and our old friend, Al Davis, weren’t seeing eye to eye made its way around the camp and this quickly led to the Raiders’ most profitable coach in years walking off to rival team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom the Raiders would ironically end up facing in the Super Bowl in 2002. They lost, thanks to Gruden’s unmatchable knowledge of his old team’s offensive plays.
Al Davis threw more and more money at his team, in the hope that some of it would stick to league titles and Super Bowls. But sadly for the old mogul, none of it did. More and more coaches came and went and finally Davis dished himself up some humble pie and asked Art Shell to return to Oakland as coach.
Perhaps Davis should have stuck to his guns though because Shell would prove to be a disaster. In 2006 they lost all five of their first games and Shell was making as many enemies in the team as a certain owner (Davis again). Shell was finally shown the door (for a second time) in Jan 2007 and Davis followed this with a somewhat surprising but inspired appointment.
Just like his own record-breaking appointment as a fresh faced and confident 33 year old, Davis invited 31-year-old Lane Kiffin to become the new boss and become the youngest ever NFL coach. Davis hoped to see the blossom of spring in the young man from Bloomington, Minnesota. It remains to be seen what will transpire.
The Oakland Raiders are a crucial part of American Football and have gifted fans of the sport with enough drama and intrigue to keep us all talking for years. In their instantly recognisable black and silver, together with pirate logo and occasionally dubious style of play, they have always felt like something from Treasure Island.
If they are pirates then Al Davis has been, and continues to be, their Long John Silver. He remains rooted to the head of the ship and we can all be pretty confident that he will provide the team and the NFL with plenty more dramas to come. No one can deny their domination during the 1970s and 80s. The question is, will we ever see the likes again?