"The quarterback must go down, and he must go down...hard."
- Al Davis
The Oakland Raiders have gone down this season like they got sandwiched by Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak.
Last Sunday's Patriots-Raiders was kind of like a Red Sox-Yankees game circa 1967, when the Yankees hit bottom. We can only be thankful 'Zado and The Tooz were not around to watch it.
There wasn't much joy, even for a Pats fan, in that 49-26 rout. Oakland was never really in it. The excitement was pretty much gone after the Pats scored on their first three possessions. It only made me long for the days when the Raiders were the biggest, baddest dudes in the AFC.
I miss the days before Davis became old and decrepit, when he was Jerry Jones with a clue about how to put together a football team and actually let John Madden and Tom Flores do some coaching. The offense could actually run Al's beloved vertical passing game. And has a defense ever had more personality than the crew of reprobates Davis put together?
The front four, from Ben Davidson through Otis Sistrunk to Alzado and Matuszak, reliably busted heads. At linebacker, you had certifiable loonies like Phil Villapiano and Ted Hendricks (really, has Chris Berman ever given a nickname the equal of "Mad Stork"?). And that secondary, or as Chuck Noll called it, the criminal element. Between George Atkinson's penchant for knockout hits, Lester Hayes' unsanitary ways and Jack Tatum (he was a gangsta ahead of his time even before he crippled Daryl Stingley), these guys lent themselves to boos, hisses and the desire to kneecap like no other team in NFL history.
And all that intimidation won plenty of games. And three Super Bowls.
Looking at the Raiders now was kind of like visiting the site of the Montreal World's Fair my senior year in college. Fourteen years after visiting the joyous, multilingual, bustling theme park I remembered from my childhood (it was still jamming two years after the '67 fair), I walked around the place and saw the weeds crawling through the walkways, the geodesic dome rusting away, and LaRonde, the amusement park section, looking like the land time forgot (save for the empty race track which became the Grand Prix site).
They were the baddest villains in the world. They were the Superstar Billy Graham that finally sent Bruno Sammartino to the glue factory. Now, they're the Superstar with the degenerating hip that always needs replacement. Randy Moss for a fourth-round draft choice? JaMarcus Russell, the quarterback who can't throw? Shelling out big $ for Darren McFadden and putting him behind five Jell-O molds?
If the NFL can't have an LA team, fine. But it needs a functioning bunch of Raiders. Having the current bunch of jabronis from Denver represent the AFC West come playoff time is a disgrace. But I fear that may not change until Al's casket drops.
On to the picks: Last week: 13-3. Season: 192-103-1. Confidence pool points in parentheses:
COLTS 31, JAGUARS 14 (16): The studs are hot, The Edsels are not.
COWBOYS 20, RAVENS 16 (9): I'll save my horse and ride the desperate Cowboys again. I"m live-blogging this Saturday night special on SI.com.
PATRIOTS 24, CARDINALS 12 (13): In the Pats' championship seasons, it seemed like snow was a big part of every December home game - and look at that forecast. You're not in that desert dome anymore, 'Zona. Join me on SI.com for this one, too.
DOLPHINS 20, CHIEFS 13 (14): Think KC will indulge the Fish in its penchant for blowing big leads again?
49ers 17, RAMS 16 (1): WGAF Game of the Week.
SAINTS 31, LIONS 27 (4): Last chance, Detroit. But this team seems destined to take the O-fer hoime.
STEELERS 19, TITANS 10 (8): As Chumley the walrus would say, "Deh...sorry Tennessee." The Titans are tumbling back to earth, and Pittsburgh is road gold.
BROWNS 20, BENGALS 17 (2): If for no other reason that I want to see Romeo Crennel win one more before his inevitable sacking.
BUCCANEERS 25, CHARGERS 20 (5): Finally, San Diego is eliminated from playoff contention, and the Norv Turner Death Watch can begin in earnest.
JETS 21, SEAHAWKS 19 (6): Brett, if you can't win in four tries against those rotting corpses on the Left Coast, you don't deserve a hot playoff date.
TEXANS 24, RAIDERS 14 (12): Really, I'm picking Oakland after the past two phone-ins? Gimme that crack pipe.
BRONCOS 26, BILLS 13 (11): I'm surprised the bodies haven't hit the floor in Buffalo yet after the choke in New York.
EAGLES 30, REDSKINS 10 (10): Repeat to myself: I will not even suggest that the 'Skins toxic performance in Cincinnati last week killed Sammy Baugh.
VIKINGS 21, FALCONS 20 (7): Maybe the Vikes really were purified in the waters on Lake Minnetonka.
GIANTS 16, PANTHERS 13 (3): It's all about home field.
BEARS 23, PACKERS 10 (15): Anybody else think Green Bay checked out mentally?
And in our first round of bowls:
EAGLEBANK BOWL: NAVY 24, WAKE FOREST 23. Not only a jobber bowl, but a rematch. Not betting against our nation's fighting men in the nation's capital.
NEW MEXICO BOWL: FRESNO STATE 34, COLORADO STATE 30. The Bulldogs have something to prove after Boise State went point-a-minute on them in the regular seasin finale.
ST. PETERSBURG BOWL: SOUTH FLORIDA 27, MEMPHIS 9. Is this bowl really necessary?
LAS VEGAS BOWL: BYU 34, ARIZONA 15. The Cougars brought some snow down from the Wasatch Mountains, I see,
NEW ORLEANS BOWL: TROY 23, SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 20. The postseason's usually good to the Men of Troy (even if they're from Alabama instead).
POINSETTIA BOWL: BOISE STATE 38, TCU 31. The non-BCS title game will outshine the majority of BCS bowls.
HAWAII BOWL: NOTRE DAME 10, HAWAII 6. One of the most consistently entertaining bowls year after year takes a hiccup.