Letters from the Lunar Outpost

If you stand straight Do not fear a crooked shadow.
- Chinese Proverb, Anonymous Saying of Chinese Origin

raiders

A funny thing happened to me this morning. I woke up and knowing full-well that my Raiders were playing the early game today, it struck me that I had no absolutely no desire to tune into the game or have anything else to do with the NFL. This after four decades of die-hard fandom, following my Raiders almost every single game for what would have been exactly forty years this year. I had no desire to watch any of it – none, zip, zilch, nada.

It was bad enough for sports in general to see ESPN become the equivalent of MSNBC’s sports division, but at least with the propaganda ESPN spews, you couldn’t blame the leagues themselves.  Now we have to witness the same National Football League which cracks down on players for excessive celebrations turning a blind eye to players disrespecting the flag and the national anthem. To hell with those players and to hell with the league which allows it.

Athletes making millions of dollars a year crying about oppression should cry about it to their black president. If they really cared about their people, they would focus on the actual problems inside the community, such as the rate of nearly 6,000 black on black murders last year instead of putting all their energies into playing the victim card over a handful of police shootings.

After 40 years, I am done with the NFL. I have absolutely no desire to watch it any more and it looks like I’m not alone on this, either.

To Hell with the NFL#ToHellwiththeNFL

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I’ll keep my writing to a minimum on this one because I’m far more interested to hear your shares.

Here’s my list:

The Best:

# 3 – 1987. Magic’s Junior Sky Hook at the Garden. I was at band practice and imploring my bandmates to check it out but while they chose to continue jamming upstairs (sorry Marc, but you’ll never live it down!) so I went downstairs to watch the final quarter of Game Four of the NBA Finals unfold. To see Magic hit that shot and finally punk the Celtics in a pivotal Finals game in their own house, what a thing of beauty! Even though I was already 18 at the time, I’d been somewhat of a casual Lakers fan up until then. That was the game and that was the shot that made me a diehard for life. What a beautiful dagger to the heart that shot was.

# 2 – 1988. Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run. The Dodgers not given a chance by anyone, as much the underdogs as any World Series team had ever been, Gibson hobbling up to the plate on two bad legs, and while it was only Game One (the only at bat Gibson had in the entire series) that one swing pretty much took all the air out of the balloon of those “invincible” Oakland A’s. I still get chills just picturing Vin Scully’s call as I type this.

# 1 – 1977. The Raiders stomp the Vikings in Super Bowl XI. I was eight and it was the first NFL game I ever really got into. I wouldn’t even have tuned in if my neighbor Alex hadn’t called me up and asked me if I was watching the Super Bowl. (“Super what?”) He got me so pumped up on how the Raiders were the meanest, baddest team in all of football, he told me they were a bunch of convicts and murderers who got released from prison to play, and play they did.

They just pounded the Vikings, mercilessly! Definitely my greatest memory as a sports fan. (I can still remember for four or five years after that game, CBS’ NFL Today started all their broadcasts with a collection of highlights that included a tight shot of Willie Brown and the intensity in his face as he ran an interception back up the sideline for a touchdown. Man, that clip would get this Raider fan pumped every time I saw it!)

Willie Brown runs an interception back for a touchdown in Super Bowl XI.

The Worst:

Chucky Gruden

# 3 – 2003. “Chucky” Gruden gets over on his old boss as the Raiders get blown out in Super Bowl XXXVII. With new coach Callahan running the same offense that Gruden was running when he was the Raiders coach the year before, The Bucs were calling out the Raiders plays before the Raiders could run them. Final result: Al Davis finds out that karma’s a bitch.

# 2 – 1977. Reggie Jackson crushes three home runs on three swings against the Dodgers in the World Series. I was eight and I think it was the first time I ever cried without skinning my knee. Enough said.

# 1 – 2001. Even though it was a divisional playoff game and not the Super Bowl, this one stung much worse than 2003. The refs ripped that game from the Raiders’ jaws of victory just as surely as Woodson hit Brady and Brady fumbled the ball.

With what was probably the best of the Raiders’ teams during the Gruden / Gannon era, this game ended up as the game that started the Patriots’ dynasty of Super Bowl teams. Who knows how different things might be for both teams if the call on the field hadn’t been overturned by some obsure footnote in the rule book. (The tuck rule was abolished on March 20, 2013, by a 29-1 vote of current teams. The Patriots abstained.)

Maybe the worst part of the game was, after the team on the field and every fan was celebrating a win and a trip to the AFC Championship, having to endure watching the slow, inevitable aftermath of the call as a dispirited Raiders team gave up a game tying field goal near the end of the 4th and then a game winner in OT. Brutal.


Share your memories, you can make it short and sweet if you like, but I want to see your list of your top three best and worst memories as a sports fan.

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Grumpy Cat on the Super Bowl

You can hate a team for one single football game and what they did to your team, so it is for this Raiders fan and the Patriots over that blown call on a Tom Brady fumble in the Tuck Rule Game in 2002, so it is with the Ravens for beating my Raiders 16-3 in the AFC Championship the year before. Heck, I hate the Steelers for the Immaculate Reception in a game that happened before I was even watching football. The clip alone has been played so many times it’s as if I experienced that miserable miracle first hand.

As a lifelong Raider fan, other than two years I lived up in No. Cal., I’ve been a So. Cal. Raiders fan my whole life, so I don’t hold that same strong Bay Area Raiders / Niners rivalry that was bad enough to end in a stabbing death in a in the parking lot of a preseason game this year (it’s sports you idiots, it’s not something to kill anyone over, leave that to greasy-haired soccer fans in Europe) so in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, I was just about to root for the Niners, but then Randy Moss called himself the greatest wide receiver ever to play the game, which to deny that of Jerry Rice is just asinine, it’s like saying water isn’t wet, and then there was the homophobic diatribe from Chris Culliver and suddenly I couldn’t tell which team I liked less.

Ray Lewis? There are a lot of people who think the man got away with murder – literally – but the truth is, there are probably only three people alive who know what happened in that stabbing death after the Super Bowl in 2000 and I’m not one of them. All I know is, whatever kind of bad people he may have been associating with back then, for all we can tell, the man has been nothing but a model citizen the last thirteen years, so don’t count me in with the Ray Lewis haters.

But you have to pick one team to root for (or against) and I can still feel the sting of that AFC Championship game from 2001, so call it the lesser of two evils, but I’ll pull for the Niners today for that reason and because that Colin Kaepernick is a heck of a player and a lot of fun to watch.

Enjoy the game all – even you, Grumpy Cat!

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They say he has the intangibles, the heart of a champion, he has all those things you can’t quantify that makes someone a winner. His winning itself is so unexplainable, they’ve taken to calling it “Tebow Magic” because it seems like you can only explain it as something supernatural, something not of this world, so I ask myself maybe, just maybe, has Jesus Christ become a football fan? Has Jesus taken an active interest in this man, Tim Tebow, the most overtly devoted worshiper of Christ in football history?

Tim Tebow Always Gives Props to His Lord and Savior

Tebow's eye black, Ephesians 2:8-10 reads, 'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.'

The Tebow phenomenon is the story of how a man who had been slighted, doubted and disparaged by most analysts came in to take a hapless 1-4 team going nowhere and turn it into a 7-5 team headed for the playoffs. The story is also of a player who has put religion into the forefront of the discussion about football and how Tebow has become a lightning rod in the debate as to whether his overt displays of his faith are somehow inappropriate for the football field. It’s a story so improbable, he’s become a man so polarizing that the Tebow phenomenon has become a bigger story in the NFL than the Packers themselves, a 12-0 team in pursuit of perfection and a Super Bowl repeat.

Never has a player had so many doubters . . . from Tebow’s FRS energy drink commercial, self-described, but a career summary few would deny:

They said I couldn’t be a high school quarterback, they said I couldn’t get a [division 1 college] scholarship . . . that you can’t make it, you’re not good enough, you’re not skilled enough . . . they said I couldn’t win a Heisman, they said I couldn’t win a national championship, they said I wouldn’t be a first round draft pick, they said I couldn’t play in the league, ‘ppreciate that.

Source: Official FRS Healthy Energy Fuels Tim Tebow Ad

And yet at every level, despite all the doubters, Tebow just kept doing everything they said he couldn’t do.

It didn’t stop when he made the NFL. After the Broncos got off to a 1-4 start, the Denver faithful were clamoring for Tebow to get a chance to play, chanting his name, and in what looked like a throwaway season, the greatest Bronco of all, John Elway gave into the fans, probably thinking he’d just throw Tebow to the wolves and be over it. You see, John Elway thinks you need a great pocket passer to win championships (you know, a guy taken straight from the mold of John Elway himself) but sometimes, being a great player does not make you a great judge of talent.

In Week 5, after being put in the 2nd half with his team down 23-10 to the Chargers, Tebow almost pulled off a furious comeback.

The next game was his first start. Down 15-0 and with the game on the line, Tebow suddenly injected life into an offense that had been sputtering all game, throwing a TD with 2:44 to go in the 3rd and then another TD with 17 seconds on the clock, and the entire game came down to do or die, a 2-point conversion to tie, and Tebow did. Tied at 15-15, the game went into overtime, and Tebow led the team down the field to an overtime win. Both a game-tying 4th quarter drive and a game-winning overtime drive in his first pro start.

With a hiccup – getting clobbered by Detroit in his second start – Tebow Magic then went on to roll for five straight wins:

  • two road game victories against divisional rivals at the Raiders and at the Chiefs
  • beating the Jets with less than a minute to go on a memorable game-winning 20-yard TD run by Tebow
  • on the road against division rival San Diego he lead two more drives to add to the collection: a 4th quarter game-tying drive and a game-winning drive in overtime.
  • at Minnesota, he showed clutch passing in coming from behind twice in the 4th quarter, a game which the Broncos won on a game-ending FG.

As Tebow was leading his team to these victories, the cameras would cut to shots of Elway in the team suite and as he clapped somewhat artificially Elway’s face looked as if he was sucking on a lemon. You could almost read his thoughts, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, I was willing to give into the clamor of the fans and put this guy in and watch him flame out so we could be done with the whole Tebow experiment and go back to finding ourselves the kind of pure passing quarterback the Broncos deserve.”

They say he can’t throw a pass, how he’s got the worst mechanics of any NFL QB we’ve ever seen and I’ll readily admit that he’s thrown some of the worst looking passes I’ve ever seen watching pro football, but here’s a stat that overrides all of that, I call it “the Tebow 4th quarter clutch factor”:

Ugly as he can look in the first three quarters, through seven games, Tim Tebow has a quarterback rating of 109.7 in the 4th quarter and a rating of 120 when his team is within 7 points. To put that in perspective, in an 11-year Super Bowl winning career, Drew Brees has logged a QB rating of over 100 for the season only three times, with the highest at 109.6.

The scary thing is, I have a feeling that if Tebow can do it in the 4th, one day he’ll figure it out and learn to play with the same mindset and passing accuracy in the other three quarters, and when Tim Tebow learns to take his Tebow Magic and spread it across all four quarters . . . look out NFL!

As a Raider fan, even when the Broncos were too far back in the standings to worry about them, it was still such a strange thing to feel my Raider heart rooting for this Tebow kid in a Bronco uniform, but now that the Bronco team that was a hapless 1-4 have come storming back to win 6 out of 7, tying the Raiders for the AFC West lead at 7-5, it’s time to recheck my allegiances.

I’ll say it right now – Tim Tebow, I predict you will win every game to finish out the year and make the playoffs, I predict you will beat each team you meet in the playoffs and I predict that you, Tim Tebow will win the Super Bowl and be awarded the MVP.

This is Raider fan and yes, I just put the jinx on you, Tim Tebow.

May Jesus have mercy on me.

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Al Davis Was Pimp before the Word Became an Adjective

In his white Raiders jumpsuits with his shades and slicked back hair, Al Davis was pimp before the word had even become an adjective.

I was seven years old when my thirteen year-old neighbor Alex came over and said, “Hey Mikey, you gonna watch the Super Bowl?”

“Super what?”

“The Super Bowl! Mikey, the Oakland Raiders are playing the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl! The Raiders, Mikey! They’re the meanest, badest team in all of football, a bunch of convicts and murderers released straight from prison to the football field!”

It was the first football game I’d ever really watched, but that Sunday, I was riveted and the Raiders lived up to all of Alex’s hype. To my seven year-old eyes, these guys were like pro wrestlers, they were like super-villians from comic books, but these characters were for real, and they proved it on the field with one of the most dominating Super Bowl performances ever. I’d never seen anything like it.

The Raiders were like a bunch of marauders come to pillage and plunder your town, and in the years that would follow, I’d discover that the whole character of the team stemmed from the owner, Al Davis and the type of team he envisioned as a winner. He was the master of finding players that other teams had tossed on the scrapheap, he was the master of taking the outcasts and the misfits and giving them a new home with the Raiders, and the formula had been working for years when I discovered them and kept on working for so many years after.

I was hooked from that very first game – a Raider fan for life, and at the start, it was all gravy – the first seven years I was a fan, Al Davis engineered the team to winning three Super Bowls (1976, 1980, 1983.) I can remember Raiders games at the L.A. Coliseum in the 1980s and they would always post on the scoreboard the Raiders record as the best all-time win percentage across all professional sports, so it’s been hard to come down from that high and keep rooting for a team that has hit so many lean years since then, but while you could question some of Al Davis’ picks and acquisitions and his meddling with the coaches, you could never question the fact that with every loss, you knew your owner felt the loss even deeper than you and you knew you could never question Al Davis’ commitment to spend every dollar he had to make it a better team and you could never question his dedication and the fact that this was a man who lived, breathed, ate and slept Raider football every hour of the day.

One of Al Davis’ greatest legacies is the way his dedication to “just win, baby” manifested itself by not just talking the talk when it came to judging people by the content of their character, but by walking the walk – he was a trailblazer who hired the NFL’s first Latino head coach in Tom Flores, the NFL’s first African-American head coach in Art Shell and the NFL’s first female CEO in Amy Trask.

I don’t think there’s a single owner in all the NFL who has been so identified with his team. Most fans know their team’s owner, give them a second and they can probably recall the owners for a handful of other teams, but for even the casual fan, when you would say “Raiders”, Al Davis would pop instantly into mind.

If you were a Raider fan, Al Davis was your leader, through the ups and downs, the good picks and bad, he was your leader and he was as much the Raiders as the very Silver and Black worn by the players and fans.

Al Davis had no shortage of enemies. He waged legal wars with cities, he waged wars with the NFL itself, on a personal grudge he was capable of benching a player like Marcus Allen who still had a lot left in the tank, and if you were his coach and he didn’t like the results, he’d fire you and try to find grounds to cancel the remaining contract (as he did with Lane Kiffin, although Kiffin still had kind words for Mr. Davis today) so there were probably more than a few people who harbored some hate for the man, but for most fans, he was the like the bad guy in a very good movie – the football world was so much more fun with Al Davis in it because he was the guy all the other fans loved to hate.

Raiders

It’s hard to imagine being a Raiders fan with anyone other than Al Davis as supreme commander. There were some lean years, but there were also those three Super Bowls, the beauty of seeing a bunch of misfits and castaways banded together to become World Champions, and Al Davis’ dedication to the Raiders and his Commitment to Excellence can never be questioned.

I know you’ll be up there in Raider Heaven, wearing your white jumpsuit and watching every single play of every single game. Here’s to hoping the Raiders will be making you proud, Mr. Davis.

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*** UPDATE ***

What an unbelievably dramatic win for the Raiders today. Very few regular season wins can bring tears to my eyes. This one did.

Check out Hue Jackson’s emotional postgame speech.

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