A day in the sun for … Raider Nation | TheUnion.com

A day in the sun for … Raider Nation

The Associated PressAn Oakland Raider fan displays a mock, oversize Super Bowl ticket featuring the Raiders in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship against the Tennessee Titans Sunday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

The Oakland Raiders are in the Super Bowl.

Let’s say that again.

The Oakland Raiders are in the Super Bowl.

It’s almost hard to believe for the legion of die-hard fans known as the Raider Nation. For 19 years, the Raiders have struggled to get back to sport’s biggest stage.

The last time the Raiders were in the Super Bowl, Jim Plunkett was the quarterback and Marcus Allen was the running back and eventually the Super Bowl MVP. Super Bowl XVIII was played in January of 1984 and the Raiders pummeled the Joe Theisman-led Washington Redskins 38-9.

For some perspective, Super Bowl XVIII was the game that Apple Computer ran their famous “1984” George Orwell-like commercial introducing – get this – the Apple Macintosh computer.

Yes, it was that long ago.

In 1984, a David Lee Roth led Van Halen was topping the pop charts for the first time with “Jump”. Those of you who were alive in 1984 will also remember other top pop acts of the year: Wham!, Cyndi Lauper, and Billy Ocean.

Away from the game, football fans were racking their brains trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube or losing their Hacky Sacks on the roof of their parents’ homes.

Maybe they went to see Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, or the Karate Kid at the movie theater because VCRs were still way too expensive to be in every household.

Oh and on TV in 1984 was Dallas, Dynasty, The A-Team, That’s Incredible!, and Pierce Brosnan was still a James Bond wannabe in Remington Steele.

In the 19 years since the Raiders were last in the big game, Raiders fans have put up with the good, the bad, and -sometimes – the very, very ugly. Remember names like Marc Wilson and Donald Hollas? Joe Bugel and Mike White?

Raiders fans do.

After their last Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders have had several head coaches, including Mike Shanahan (yes, now of the Denver Broncos), former Raider lineman and NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell, White, Bugel, and of course Jon Gruden – none of whom ever got the Raiders to Super Sunday.

The Raiders had just moved to Los Angeles back in ’84. In fact, they had no home field advantage in the 1983 season as they were flying into Los Angeles from Oakland to play “home” games.

The move was a controversial one and Al Davis became a pain in the neck to the NFL and was despised by loyal Raiders fans for taking their team to the southland in search of more money.

After 1984, the Raiders rarely put a solid team on the field. There was always a missing piece of the puzzle. Either the defense was weak and the offense was on fire or the offense couldn’t get into the end zone and the defense was stifling. There were bad seed players on the team who just seemed to drag everyone down with their negative attitude and poor work habits.

There were glimmers of hope such as when the Raiders signed “misunderstood” quarterback Jeff George after their return to Oakland. But after a 4-12 season under Joe Bugel, it was obvious that more was needed to get the Raiders over the hump in the post-salary cap NFL. Many believed that no coach would ever succeed in Oakland because the team’s maverick owner wouldn’t let go of the steering wheel. All that changed in 1998 when he hired a young unknown named Jon Gruden.

Gruden took control of the team right from the beginning and brought in savvy veterans like Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice. The players in Oakland embraced his approach and soon the team took on the persona of its fiery young coach. The fans were hooked and the Raiders started the rise up the NFL ranks. Suddenly, highly regarded free agents wanted to wear the silver and black again. In 2000 and 2001, Gruden led the Raiders to two straight AFC Western Division titles and brought them into the playoffs again only to fall short in the AFC Championship game vs. the Ravens and then a controversial loss to New England last season.

“There really wasn’t a new approach until Jon Gruden arrived. He was the right coach at the right time,” said current Raiders Senior Administrator and former Raiders wide receiver Morris Bradshaw. “He evaluated the roster and changed the mental attitude of the team.”

After building a powerful team on the rise, coach Gruden left for Tampa Bay and the Raiders quickly tapped his long-time friend and assistant Bill Callahan as his replacement. Many doubted that it was a good move considering Callahan had never been a head coach at any level and he was the polar opposite of Gruden’s scowling persona.

Apparently, Callahan was the right man for the job. The players and the coaching staff welcomed Callahan’s more respectful demeanor and approach with open arms alike, lobbying on his behalf as Gruden’s replacement.

The result was the end to a 19-year Super Bowl drought with a solid 41-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans in front of a packed sea of black at The Net in Oakland last Sunday.

“I’ve been playing this game for 14 years and watching other teams go to the Super Bowl. Now I finally get to go. It’s a great feeling,” said long-time Raider wide receiver Tim Brown on his first trip to the Super Bowl as a player.

The season is ending on more of a soap opera note than a fairy tale one. Only a writer from Days of Our Lives or One Life to Live could conceive this Super Bowl matchup.

Gruden couldn’t get the Raiders to the big show and moves on trying with another team.

His friend and former assistant takes his old post and picks up where Gruden left off.

They both struggle through a tough NFL season and meet head to head in the biggest game in all of sports.

Heck, this game might make a movie of the week on cable some day.

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