By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
Recently I had to offer a Facebook mea culpa to Baltimore Ravens fans on behalf of my woeful Las Vegas Raiders.
Last weekend the Ravens were looking for a little help to increase their playoff chances. And the Raiders were in position to offer that help by beating the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders were also attempting to keep their playoff hopes, which were on life support, alive.
Tragically, for long-suffering fans like me, the Raiders are in the midst of their latest end of season collapse and they lost to the Dolphins 26-25 (a game they led with just 19 seconds left on the clock!).
Ultimately, because the Ravens handled their business so magnificently against the N.Y. Giants and the Cleveland Browns lost, the stupid Raiders’ loss to the Dolphins didn’t really mean much as far as the Ravens playoff hopes were concerned. All they have to do is beat the Bengals on Sunday and they will be one of the Wild Card teams; just win and they’re in. Mercifully, the Raiders and their fans have been put out of their misery and Las Vegas is out of the playoff picture for 2020.
For the record, this is the second year in a row the Raiders were seemingly headed for the playoffs before suffering an end of season meltdown during Jon Gruden’s second tenure as the team’s head coach. Gruden, who allegedly has a 10-year contract worth approximately $100 million. Gruden, who has one of the worst winning percentages (.377) in the critical month of December of any head coach in NFL history.
But, allow me to reminisce for a moment on the bygone greatness of the Raiders.
Many have asked over the decades how does someone so proud to be from West Baltimore wind up a Raiders fan? And I have addressed that question in this column (Oct. 21, 2017, “The NFL Is Dead to Me”). But, for those of you who are new to “Race and Politics,” my love for the Raiders began with a game at old Memorial Stadium on Christmas Eve 1977. Old school football fans know it as “the Ghost to the Post” game. It was the first double overtime playoff game in the history of the NFL and it was the Raiders that prevailed over the Baltimore Colts 37-31. The ghost in this scenario refers to Raiders Tight End Dave Casper, an NFL Hall of Famer. On that day he torched the Colts for three touchdowns, including the game winner in the second overtime. But, Casper achieved NFL immortality when he snagged a 42-yard pass from the late great Ken “the Snake” Stabler making an implausible over the shoulder catch, to set up the game tying field goal by Errol Mann with 29 seconds left in regulation time.
I listened to every second of that game on the radio in my mother’s bedroom and I’ve been a Raiders fan ever since; from Oakland to Los Angeles, back to Oakland and now in Las Vegas.
Yet, beyond my very personal narrative the reality is the Raiders and Ravens are two NFL franchises linked significantly by history.
The very first Baltimore Ravens regular season game was played at Memorial Stadium, Sept. 1, 1996, and their opponents were the then notorious Oakland Raiders. The Ravens won that game 19-14. And although they went 4-12 in that inaugural season, four short years later the Ravens challenged the Raiders for the 2000 AFC Championship.
I remember it well.
The Ravens with arguably the greatest defense in the history of the NFL (many would also make a case for the 1985 Chicago Bears, still others would vote for the 1986 New York Giants, but I digress), made the trip to Oakland to face the Raiders’ loaded offense led by league MVP Rich Gannon. In the end the old adage “defense wins championships” shone brightly on that day. The Ravens beat my Raiders 16-3, a dominant defensive performance punctuated when “Fat” Tony Siragusa flattened Gannon and landed all 340 pounds on the prone quarterback’s body, literally knocking the air out of his lungs (and probably cracking a couple of ribs in the process). Gannon was done and so were the Raiders.
The Ravens led by that historic defense won Super Bowl 35, demolishing the Giants 34-7.
Twenty years after their first Super Bowl run, the Ravens now have a chance to capture their third world championship (as long as they beat the Bengals on Sunday). Despite all the hype over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills and even the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens have the squad to win the whole thing.
What could be sweeter than to see Trump dragged from the White House on January 20, and less than a month later on Feb. 7, watching the team that represents the city he hates most be crowned world champions?
I might be Raiders for life, but West Baltimore is always first in my heart.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.