|Raider glory: Win Super Bowl, take grandkids to Disneyland|
By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2
Can't remember the last time the Raiders were this good? I'll give you a hint: Jack Squirek.
The last time the Raiders were this good, ESPN was showing spelling bees on Sunday nights, Bill Gates was scrambling to pay his phone bill, and Dean Smith was holding Michael Jordan to 18 points a game. The cost of a Super Bowl ticket? Try 40 bucks. Outrageous, simply outrageous.
Who sang the national anthem the last time the Raiders got there? Leslie Easterbrook. Don't ask me, bubba. All I can figure is he or she had a couple of hits back in the olden days, when Jerry Rice was running routes through three miles of snow every day to get to his one-room schoolhouse.
Don't look now, sports fans, but bellbottoms are back and so are the Raiders. It took half of Rich Gannon's lifetime, but Al Davis is back where he belongs -- in the hunt for another Super Bowl. And the amazing part is, he's wearing the same clothes he did the last time he won one. Not only that, the Raiders have the same players.
Seems that way, anyhow. The Raiders are the Rolling Stones of the NFL. The Silver & Black has turned Silver & Gray. If they win the Super Bowl, they're going to take their grandkids to Disneyland. Any day now, half the team is going to qualify for their AARP (American Association of Raiders Players) cards.
It's amazing if you think about it. Here we are, at Defcon 2, championship-game weekend, and Gang Grecian is still hanging around. For months, we waited for them to act their age, for the pulled-hammie factor to disrupt their sentimental journey, but it never happened. Now, lo and be old, the Raiders of the Lost Reading Glasses are the team to beat in the AFC, if not all points beyond.
The question isn't so much how they've done it, but when. These guys are supposed to be your father's Raiders, not yours. Ten years ago, maybe even five, you could understand them being in this position. But not now, not with five of their core players, including Gannon, on the backside of 30. Not with Rice, the greatest wideout that ever was, having hit the Big 4-Oh.
Gannon is 37, as are Trace Armstrong and Rod Woodson, who led the league with eight interceptions. Tim Brown and Bill Romanowski are the group's younger generation. They're 36 going on 29. Sebastian Janikowski, the 24-year-old kicker who spends most of his workouts doing 12-ounce curls, wishes he were in the kind of shape these guys are in.
It's amazing, all right. All these years later, the Raiders have discovered the fountain of youth. Or, in the case of Romo, the pharmacy of youth. Take away that four-week senior moment in October and they've been the best team in the league. And now it's come to this: In a game in which youth must be served, 22-year-old Michael Vick will be watching the Raiders play for the AFC championship.
The Raiders in the Super Bowl. The team that went six straight seasons, from 1994 to '99, without so much as making the playoffs. The team that, in the past 19 years, has won more lawsuits against the NFL than Super Bowls. You might as well start getting used to the notion. Unless it snows in California and the officials dream up another bogus call to beat them, they're probably going.
Already, there are unmistakable signs that The Force is with them, that the football gods have them in the office pool. This was, after all, the season in which George Allen, the coach of the original Over the Hill Gang, finally was elected to the Hall of Fame. And which team does Allen's son, Bruce, work for? The Raiders.
Then there's the matter of poetic justice. A year after having a playoff game stolen from them at New England, the Raiders deserve to win the conference. Says here they will, too. To which I say: Yes!
As much as the league office would never admit it, the NFL is a better place with the Raiders in the Super Bowl. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. It's as if life in this old sports world of ours is finally back to normal. Bill Parcells is coaching again, MJ is knocking down jumpers, and it didn't take 50, much less 70-some, homers to lead the majors.
And the Raiders are the scourge of the AFC.
Just deal with it, baby.
I have to admit, for a while there I was starting to wonder about the NFL. Six years ago, when a couple of teams called the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were one step from the Super Bowl, the story line sounded like something out of Arenaball. Not anymore. Da Raiduhs is back.
It's more interesting this way, more compelling. It will be more fun to watch, assuming you're not dodging F-bombs and C batteries on the visiting sideline at Network Associates Coliseum.
So what happens if they actually win the thing? If they beat the Titans, then prevail on Super Sunday? First, they pour their official team drink, Old Grandad, all over each other. Then they stand around and laugh as Paul Tagliabue gnashes his teeth through the trophy presentation. And, of course, they'll eventually have to start worrying about next year, when they'll all be a year older.
Did I say older? Sorry. The Raiders don't get older, just better. It's like their coach, Bill Callahan, said during training camp when asked if he was concerned about all those old players on the roster.
"Old?" said Callahan. ''We're not old. We're experienced."
Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, will be a regular contributor to Page 2.