Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Oakland Raiders.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
"Star Wars" is the best movie franchise of all time. Nobody disputes this. But what makes it so good? What makes it so compelling? It's not necessarily Luke Skywalker. I mean, he's kind of a detriment at first, because he's so whiny in Episode IV. What makes the movie sing is wanting to see the Empire get its butt handed to it. Like, didn't you want to just slap that smug Admiral Motti?
If this doesn't give you the goose pimples, you might not be alive. Seriously, check your midi-chlorian count. The poem was written by Steve Sabol. Yes, the same Steve Sabol who didn't want to give credit for the Jets victory in Super Bowl III. It's pretty incredible. Here's my favorite part:
The autumn wind is a Raider,
Pillaging just for fun.
He'll knock you 'round and upside down,
And laugh when he's conquered and won.
Part of the reason the NFL is so popular today is because of the Raiders. NFL fans not only wanted to see their favorite team win, but they also wanted to see the Raiders lose. I mean, shoot, a young man could have cut his teeth in sports writing by operating an anti-Raiders blog back in the day. That's how powerful the Raiders are.
The franchise's best
It has to be Al Davis. Who, like Darth Vader, was the face of the Empire -- I mean Raider Nation -- for years. Let's be honest: He still is.
He joined the club as head coach in 1963, took a downtrodden franchise and built it into one of the most feared and successful teams in the AFL (he was COY in 1963) and eventually NFL. Hell, the world. The Raiders aren't just a football team; they have become a part of popular culture.
The bad boys of the NFL were the only franchise to play in a Super Bowl in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. No team won with more swagger than the Raiders. And that still lives on to this day. Davis once said the greatness of the Raiders lies in their future. That's never been more true than at this moment right now.
After a Super Bowl appearance in the 2002 campaign, the Raiders suffered through 13 straight non-winning seasons. But GM Reggie McKenzie nailed it in the 2014 NFL Draft. Let's not call it the Steelers' 1974 draft just yet, but the Raiders selected OLB/DE Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr and OG Gabe Jackson with the first three picks. Fresh off a DPOY campaign, Mack is considered by some to be the very best defensive player in the game. The NFL players voted him as the fifth-best player in the NFL. That's fifth-best overall. As in one spot ahead of Aaron Rodgers. That's pretty dope.
Jackson just signed a $56 million extension and is considered one of the best road-grader guards in the league today. He's that good. But that quarterback. Oh man, that was a long time coming ...
Took long enough
Do you know who was the last quarterback to start for the Raiders prior to Carr in 2014? Yeah, it was current Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders had searched for years to find a franchise quarterback. Pryor, Carson Palmer, Jason Campbell, JaMarcus Russell, Daunte Culpepper, Andrew Walter, Kerry Collins. Yuck. The list reads like one of those terrible Garry Marshall movies -- "New Year's Eve" or "Valentine's Day" -- where a bunch of big names are thrown into roles, but there isn't much direction given. I can envision the Netflix description now: A gaggle of random QBs band together to return the Raiders to respectability. But then things go from bad to worse. (TRAGEDY). Seriously, Carson Palmer is the over-the-hill actor. JaMarcus is the Hollywood tragedy guy. Andrew Walter is the anonymous white guy you see in an episode of "Criminal Minds" years later and are all, "Where did I see that guy before?"
Driving the Carr
Carr led the Raiders to 12 wins last year -- and became a bona fide MVP candidate -- before a broken fibula ended his season. Carr has 81 touchdown passes in his young NFL career. The only QBs in NFL history with more TD strikes over their first three pro seasons? Dan Marino (98), Andrew Luck (86) and Peyton Manning (85).
And let's be honest, this practice jersey is pretty. All faded and such. He told his brother he's never getting a new one.
One of the coolest things in the league right now is the return of Marshawn Lynch. If you made me list my top three storylines entering this season, Marshawn would be one of 'em. Beast Mode is back to help get his hometown Raiders to the Super Bowl before the team heads to Las Vegas. I love everything about this. This strikes me as a move similar to the Charles Haley addition that helped the Cowboys get over the top in the early 1990s. And did you know Marshawn leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns since 2011 (51)? Yes, despite the fact that he didn't even play last season.
He is the King
Punters have become some of the biggest stars in the NFL (OK, slight exaggeration, but still ...). Marquette King stands out above them all because of his eccentric personality, both on the field and on social media. Our own Ali Bhanpuri nailed this profile right here. If you read that and are not a fan, I can't help you.
Punter fun fact
Viva Las Raiders
I'll be honest: I never felt the Raiders in Oakland. They were always an L.A. team to me. TO ME. I am not besmirching Oakland. I grew up with the Raiders in Los Angeles. What you should know: They are still the most popular team in Southern California. By far. So Las Vegas really makes a lot of sense to me, since it's basically a suburb of L.A. anyway. I don't want to make light of anybody's pain for losing a team. But come on: You're going to Vegas. So instead of driving to the stadium, you're going to hop on a Southwest jet and go to a game. What an epic weekend. I'm telling you: This will make the Raiders more popular than ever before. Especially when you consider the Raiders are a global brand that really doesn't need a municipality in front of it. Though Vegas is pretty sick.
And think of this for the fans of every visiting team playing the Raiders. They will move heaven and pigskin to get to that game. Every AFC West opponent's fans eyes will be glued to the schedule release to see when they play in Vegas. And if you're a fan of another team, you will plan your once-in-a-decade trip out there. I mean, the Bears play the Raiders in 2019. I pray -- PRAY -- that the Raiders are playing at Sam Boyd Stadium by that time. Because that would be the best.
There's only one "nation" in sports: Raider Nation. The rest of you are posers. Be a touch more creative and think of something else. You know who you are.
The Black Hole
Going to a Raiders game can, at times, feel like you are searching for a pilot at the Chalmun's Spaceport Cantina. Only a bit more dangerous. I kid, I kid. Raider Nation can be pretty cool. The Black Hole is just a bunch of fun-loving men and women trying to have a good time and support the team. Now, do they dress up as gorillas (outkick the coverage much?), Road Warriorcosplay dorks and whatever the hell this is? Sure. That's part of the fun. (BTW, my favorite might be Pharaoh Raider.)
And let me reiterate the point from above: The Raiders were miserable for most of this millennium. The Black Hole never wavered.
Millions of kids get hooked on the NFL because of EA Sports' "Madden NFL." Hell, Derek Carr might not even be an NFL quarterback today were it not for the game. Seriously, just ask his brother.
"I don't know if Derek would have been so drawn towards [football] if it hadn't been for 'Madden,' " David Carr told me. "He is a good enough athlete that he could have played something else. But because of 'Madden,' it became our connection. We bonded. He got into football because of 'Madden.' "
Now, people of my generation remember John Madden as the best color analyst ever. If Pat Summerall and Madden were calling your game, you knew it was a big freaking deal.
Turns out, Madden was a pretty great NFL coach, as well. Madden has the highest winning percentage (.759) of any coach with at least 10 years of service. Yep, better than Vince Lombardi (.738). His best season came in 1976, when the Raiders defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl XI to finish with a 16-1 record.
That's right: John Madden isn't the only video game legend associated with the Raiders. "Super Tecmo Bowl" Bo Jackson was the best:
Not enough credit
Any time I see Marcus Allen, I always joke with him that his brother (and CFL legend) Damon Allen should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then Marcus gets super serious and says, "But you know who should? Tom Flores." He's right. Flores was a true pioneer as the NFL's first Hispanic starting quarterback and first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. But he was so much more. Flores has more Super Bowl titles than Madden, with Flores' 1980 Raiders becoming the first wild-card team to win a Lombardi Trophy. In fact, Flores is the only eligible NFL coach with two Super Bowl wins not in the Hall of Fame. This man deserves a bust in Canton -- no questions asked.
Plunkett deserves the same consideration. I could make the case for him. But I'll cede the floor to Ron Rivera, who had this to say when recently asked if there is someone who immediately comes to mind as a deserving Hall of Famer:
"Jim Plunkett. Without a doubt in my mind, Jim Plunkett. I mean, two-time Super Bowl winner, No. 1 draft pick, Rookie of the Year (UPI's AFC ROY), NFL Comeback Player, Super Bowl MVP," Rivera said on the Talk of Fame Network. "I'm a huge fan. I really am. I thought he was in the Hall of Fame for the longest time until I got into a discussion with someone who said, 'No, he's not in.' I said, 'What?!' So I looked it up and he's not in.
"If you go back and you look at Bob Griese's numbers ... Now remember, the undefeated season, Griese didn't play most of those games. And again, not to disparage Bob Griese, because he is a great quarterback. But I'm just looking at who I would compare. And to me, I know it's tough and I understand there are certain things about it, but this, to me, is a guy that just ... I mean, to me, he was a great role model."
Don't ever bring up
The Tuck Rule. Just my typing of those words gave Amy Trask chills.
Side note: This is one thing Al never gets credit for. He hired Amy as CEO of the Raiders in 1997. Yes, 1997. (Wow, I wish I could all-caps 1997.) Al was so ahead of his time in so, so many ways.
One more note on The Tuck Rule
I'm going with Cliff Branch's No. 21. The NFL was different in the 1970s, when speedsters were just starting to become all the rage. Branch was one of those pioneers. He was a big-time player who thrived in the spotlight, scoring three touchdowns over the Raiders' three Super Bowl wins. And he was a regular Mr. Monday Night, flourishing in an era when the Raiders were seemingly unbeatable on "Monday Night Football."
Closing fun fact
For starters, there is so much to love on this current roster. Marshawn. DC. Mack. Dude, I've yet to even mention Amari Cooper. So if you're looking to jump on board with a good team that is ready to make the leap, there isn't a better option.
And I'm sorry, Oakland fans, but I can't tell you how much I love the idea of the Las Vegas Raiders. This is going to be so great. There is going to be a great fan base in the 702 -- because there already is one. I hate to break this to you, but Las Vegas is like an actual city. They have grocery stores, big-box retailers, schools and everything. I mean, there is even a stoplight or two! It's crazy. And then, the SoCal fans are going to be there (especially from the 951 and 909). Fans from opposing teams are going to make the trip every year (particularly AFC West rivals). Honestly, the NFL is going to wonder why it didn't hit Vegas sooner.