Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy: Week Two, Raiders @ Chiefs

Welcome back for another edition of "Sleeping With the Enemy," where we interview a fan of the team facing ours. It's week two in the NFL, and that means the Kansas City Chiefs have their home opener, and they host none other than AFC West Rival, the Oakland Raiders. The deep history between these teams has seen Kansas City have the edge in recent years, and by "recent" I mean "the last decade," but the Raiders stopped the bleeding last year, netting their first victory in Kansas City in 10 years. Both of these clubs finished at the woeful mark of 4-12 in 2007 and have re-saddled with a gunny sack of youth for this campaign. This week, we sat down with local KC bartender Zeitgeist (Editor's Note: As it turns out Zeitgeist was about 80 billion times more reliable than the Raiders fans we reached out to last year.) for an in-depth look at the two teams, and the contest.

Bankmeister: So. As a fan of an AFC West team, I'm always curious how folks get to be Raiders fans. Enlighten us, if you will, on how you fell in love with the silver and black.

Zeitgeist: Well being a Kansas City native for the better part of my life, it is always rare and equally interesting to run into a Raider fan in this hostile area that is the metro. On more occasions than not I run into the a-typical chiefs fan that can tell you anything about their team but nearly nothing about any other NFL team. If I can say anything about Chiefs fans is that they are dedicated nearly to a fault, but could you really be a fan if you were not?

My first attendance to an NFL game was when I was seven years old and living in L.A. with my mother. This of course was in the brief number of years the Raiders called it home. To see the black hole at L.A. at that age was nothing short of scary.

These guys were known in the league as the meanest, toughest, most offensive gang in all of football. Then there was the Raiders football team. Whether it was traumatic experience at such a young age or an all-out thirst for more, I was hooked. Years later, back in KC, there was no way I could call myself a Chiefs fan; my eyes were always with the Raiders. By the mid 90s the Chiefs had made such bad decisions during the period in which I was debating whether or not to embrace my home team, that I could not swallow it. It has been equally hard, however, to watch the Raiders shoot themselves in the foot too. It seems that the Chiefs and the Raiders might have a common goal: to turn into the dynamic team that the other two teams in our division represent.

B: Interesting. I can honestly say that I have never attended a home Raiders game, and I'm certain that, unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding, I never will. To me, the Raiders football team and its fan base has always puzzled me a bit. When my folks were young, they experienced the dirty, cheap-shot Raiders teams of the 70s, and educated me on it well. I imagine the same is true for other Chiefs fans my age, as there has been a common hatred for the Raiders here in ChiefsNation for as long as I can remember. The problem was that they were a really good team for many years. Somewhere, in the midst of the early-to-late 90s, they started to suck a little bit, and the Chiefs slowly took ownership over them. Along the way, the Broncos and Raiders fueled a similar hatred. San Diego, of course, never really counted for much of anything until recently. To that end, neither did the Seahawks when they were still an AFC West club.

Either way, the Raiders organization, and its fan base have maintained that "bad boy" image through thick and thin. They put horrible teams on the field, and they still have, for lack of better phraseology, evil pumping through their every vein. Of course, things got interesting when Carl Peterson made -- perhaps what you were referring to -- one of his horrible decisions -- I'd argue worst ever -- and let Rich Gannon go. He of course took the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002.

During last Monday night's Broncos/Raiders game, ESPN put up a stat that showed how good of a franchise the Raiders were for so many years, and then, starting with the season after their Super Bowl berth, they hit a wall. They've not had a winning season, a playoff berth, or a much of anything good since. This past off-season, however, many experts were saying that this would be the season they got things turned around. They've got the young coach, the two early first-round picks in JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden, plus a boatload of American dollars locked up in high-profile free agents. And they came out looking flatter than the chest of a fifth-grade girl. Regardless of last night's game, what's your gut tell you about the future of this franchise with Al Davis practically immobile in his suite, a head coach that's younger than both you and I, and an allegedly loaded roster?

Z: It's very hard to disagree with the facts, so let's address them one at a time. The old-school "dirty cheap shot" trophy was more than likely held by the Raiders for a number of years and mostly by their defense. These guys would break fingers in the midst of a dog pile, spit on opposing players, and have an all out disregard for proper officiating. Also seems funny to me that this particular era fell on or was influenced by the most talked about couch (for better or worse): John Madden. Here’s a guy that now pretty much is the most influential figure on football as it sits right now. Whatever that means, I personally think that most "bloodthirsty" teams have had their leashes yanked due to smarter and more up-to-date officiating. You really can't get away with the type of stuff today, and it was a part of the game back then. The Raiders were not the only culprits in such "win by any means" strategy. It's also interesting to notice that since San Diego has seen so much more attention lately due not only to their offense but their crushing and often smack talking defense. Let's also not forget about Mike Shanahan's firing after four games, and Art Shell’s hiring. This most certainly caused a rift in our league. If we are proud of anything in our division it's these types of flip flops in the office that leads to huge, almost dangerous rivalries.

As for horrible teams on the field, I hate to say it but I think that up until the last five years. Denver was the only team in our division who was not guilty of this. Yes, Gruden had something with the Raiders but in the end he had nothing with Al Davis. Forced to make a decision at the threshold of an upcoming Super Bowl season, Gruden went to Tampa, as did Dungy to Indy. You can see how quickly the decisions of an out-of-touch owner/GM can massively affect the outcome of a franchise. Unfortunately, the game is sometimes lost before it even hits the field. I believe the Raiders’ record since losing the Super Bowl to the Bucs, is like 16 wins, which in any portfolio is a direct finger pointed at the owner/GM. My point is that if you can't get it right in the office, there is no reason to even hit the field. This right now is where my frustration lies.

Russell is the change in leadership that the Raiders have been looking for. That will take at least a couple of games -- if not a season -- to develop. Behind him you have Fargas and McFadden, hungry for stats to determine who the “real” starter is. On paper it looks good. The problem is the veterans and their lack of leadership. In this league you make plays, hype up young players or get traded, and the Raiders have suffered from most of the worst and are now relying on youth to save. Time can only tell as long as Al Davis can stay in his coffin long enough to play one season without wiping the slate clean again.

B: Well said. So you're like most Raider fans I know, just chomping at the bit for old Al to kick the bucket, which is obviously morbid and sad, but also the polar opposite of how Chiefs fans were with Lamar Hunt. I also think that most Broncos fans embrace Pat Bowlen, yet I have no feel for what Chargers fans feel for the ownership of their team. But who cares about them.

So the veterans on this year's Raiders squad lack leadership? Are you talking the likes of the receiving corps, i.e. Ronald Curry, Ashley Lelie, and Javon Walker, or does it go deeper than that? How do you see the battle for carries between McFadden and Fargas panning out? The rookie left Monday's game with a "stinger" in his shoulder, but I've got to believe that won't keep him out of any action.

Z: I always saw Lamar Hunt as one of the most adored owners out there. He had a huge compassion for the game and for humanity in a whole. We all knew he was getting to that age, but it was still a sad day for the NFL and for those who benefited from his selflessness. Carl Peterson on the other hand always seemed like the slightly evil advisory lurking behind the King’s ear, twisting his waxed mustache. Al Davis is nothing in comparison to Lamar Hunt. He seems to feed off of others rather than help them, but enough about that.

Veteran-wise I don't want to get too personal. Ronald Curry, however, dropped a very crucial pass in the first half that could’ve meant a touchdown. A wide out of of his caliber should’ve understood the defense, bumped up his speed, and adjusted his path. At the same time he had to traverse a baseball diamond. This cost the hard throwing Russell to lose his competition with the almost perfect Jay Cutler. The Raiders are among three total teams that share a stadium with a major league baseball team, two of which opened at home and both of which lost. Now let’s talk about DeAngelo Hall, who was completely disassembled by the Denver rookie known as Eddie Royal.

Whether or not this kid is a phenom is up to this season. The real slice is that Hall could not even try to understand his speed or route routine. Hall was a good acquisition from Atlanta and should prove to be an influence on the corner position. However on this night he was a loss, and now he might be injured. Nnamdi Asomugha on the other hand was holding up his end, and then some, almost to the point of taking over Hall’s position. So maybe at the same time it looks like these guys need to become a team before they can be a franchise. This looks as if it might be the trench idea you and I have grown up on. Right now the two teams are struggling for some kind of identity and neither one of them have it as of yet. I would not be lying by telling you I am very much looking forward to this match up.

B: As am I. Before last weekend's Kickoff, I sort of feared the Raiders-Chiefs games this year, confident that they would field a better club than KC. Now, having seen the Chiefs hang in there with the almighty New England, and Denver having manhandled Oakland, I think it's quite possibly anybody's edge. Your thoughts on how it'll shake down?

Z: Agreed. This game is going to be a proving ground for both teams. Like Thomas Wayne asks the young Batman: "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up." Hopefully the Raiders learned a great deal of lessons from last week’s thrashing, and can come to week two with a little more self awareness. With Brodie Croyle out for the Chiefs it's time once again for Huard to take over. It's a rare occasion that most people feel a little better that a backup QB is on the field, but this is a common occurrence in Kansas City when it comes to Huard. Put simply: if the Chiefs lose this game at home to a confused Raiders team, well let’s just say that's a pretty big fall. Personally it's very hard for me to tell who is going to come out on top. If Jamarcus Russell is on point and Raiders defense can get their stuff together, I would say it's their game. However, if players like Dwayne Bowe can hold on to the ball, Huard has been known to have a field day. Also let's not forget Chiefs have Arrowhead on their side which is a natural twelfth man. There are just so many variables at hand for this matchup. I really am quite excited to watch this game.

Being a true Raider fan has had its ups and downs but to ever say that the Chiefs are going to win is a personal travesty. My belief is that the Raiders with pull it off in a shootout.

B: Interesting. My belief is that these two clubs are supposed to have better-than-decent defenses, so a shootout seems like a bit of a stretch. Certainly possible, though. Either way, the House of Georges thanks you for joining us, Mr. Geist. Best of luck tomorrow, and by "best of luck," I mean "may your team perish in a kerosene fire and the win still count for the Chiefs."