The Oakland Raiders franchise was actually not scheduled to be located on the West Coast when the American Football League was formed in 1960. The eighth AFL team was originally targeted for Minnesota, but only months before they were scheduled to begin play the NFL convinced that ownership group, led by Max Winter, to pull their franchise in 1960 on the promise that they would be awarded an NFL team and begin play in 1961.
George Halas, who led the National Football League’s expansion plans, tried to end the AFL before it began. He also offered, Bud Adams, who was head of an ownership group in Houston, and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, ownership in NFL franchises if they would abandon their AFL plans. Only Winter, along with his business partner, Bill Boyer, relinquished their AFL team slated for Minnesota with the lure of owning an NFL team. That franchise, the Minnesota Vikings, opened play as an NFL team in 1961.
The move by Winter came in January of 1960, which left only months before the scheduled start of their inaugural season for the AFL to find a spot for their eighth franchise. Bay Area businessman Wayne Valley, along with help from Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson and a group of investors, purchased the orphaned AFL franchise and relocated it from Minnesota to Oakland.
What was to follow, once Valley hired Al Davis before the 1963 season, was the development of one of the most influential franchises in sports history. Renegades once Davis arrived, the Raiders went from the worst to the best team in the league in quick order, and developed one of the most rabid fan bases in all of football.
NBC announcer Curt Gowdy used to call the Oakland Coliseum, “The house of miracles.” He had been there for some epic battles that the Raiders seemingly always came out on top against some incredible odds. The Raiders have been involved in some contests that are the stuff that parents tell their kids about when reminiscing about the beauty of athletic competition and the Raiders role in some of the most memorable games ever played.
This love affair with their football team peaked in 1976 when the Raiders won their first Super Bowl with John Madden coaching and other future Hall of Fame members Ken Stabler, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff and Dave Casper leading the way on the field. That first Super Bowl victory for Oakland, ironically came against the team that was created and forced their move from Minnesota to Oakland, the Vikings.
For the record, that was the Vikings fourth Super Bowl appearance, and their most recent trip to the big game, and their fourth loss in the final leg to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
That solid Bay Area fan base had their team ripped from under them in 1982 when Davis moved the team from Oakland to Los Angeles. After 13 mostly disappointing campaigns in LA, the Raiders moved back to Oakland for the 1995 season.
The move back had a rocky start. Their first game back in Oakland, against the San Diego Chargers, was not a sellout. The team, which had won a second Super Bowl in Oakland during the 1980 season, added a third trophy with a win over the Washington Redskins in Super XVIII during their second season in Los Angeles.
But, the team that had a waiting list for season ticket holders before they left Oakland, were never a huge hit in Los Angeles. The once kings of Monday Night Football no longer hosted the primetime game because the league didn’t want to show all the empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
By the time they returned to Oakland, the Raiders were a struggling franchise both on the field and at the turnstile. A brief rise occurred when Jon Gruden became head coach in 1998, and the team was Super Bowl quality when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 2002 season.
The Raiders got a first round draft choice for Gruden switching teams, but that didn’t make up for Gruden leading his new team to a lopsided win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21.
After that loss the Raiders dropped like an anvil off a roof. Only the Cleveland Browns had fewer wins for the ten year period beginning in 2009 until the start of this season.
Yet, with the return of Gruden, now in his second season in his second stint as the Raiders head coach, Oakland this season is in the hunt for a playoff berth.
The height of this season’s run occurred a week ago when the Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers in a primetime Thursday night contest with a late touchdown to eek out a 26-24 victory. I know from first hand knowledge that the place was rockin' from fans that seemed to suspend their anguish over the Raiders impending move to Las Vegas.
That may have been the very top of the mountain for the Raiders and their fans this season, and do you know what happens on the other side of a peak?
Qoxhi Picks: Cincinnati Bengals (+10) over the Oakland Raiders