OAKLAND — With a quarter of a century of Raiders home football coming to a conclusion Sunday, the number that comes after 252 is zero.
I’ve covered 252 Raiders games at the Coliseum since 1995. There were 48 exhibition games of which I remember almost nothing, expunged immediately from my brain as being the pointless exercises they were. Five postseason games, of which the Raiders won four. And 198 regular-season games, of which the Raiders won 94 and lost 104, with No. 199 coming up Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I did miss one game in 2003. My 6-year-old son needed a hospital visit after an asthma attack and croup and wasn’t released until 6 a.m. Sunday. The Raiders lost 27-24 in overtime to the Jets that day. Since the game was blacked out locally, a common occurrence at the time, I never did see it.
I do remember senior executive Bruce Allen and CEO Amy Trask both calling me the next day to make sure he was OK. He was fine and outgrew the asthma. Sixteen years later, the Raiders have outgrown the Coliseum.
Truth be told, for the most part I saw a lot of bad football in a special place.
If your standard of being a “good” team is a winning record, I’ve seen four good teams in 24 years, with the Raiders needing to win two of their last three to get to five in 25.
It was nothing like my youth, my dad taking me to my first Raiders game in 1968 when I was 10 years old. Daryle Lamonica was the quarterback for the Raiders, Marlin Briscoe for the Denver Broncos and the roar of the crowd was unlike anything I’d ever heard at a baseball game.
My dad eventually scored some seasons tickets into the early 1970s so I was able to see a lot of great Raiders teams. Was standing in the end zone concourse when Clarence Davis made the “Sea of Hands” catch against the Dolphins. Used to argue with friends in high school who thought Roger Staubach was a better clutch quarterback than Ken Stabler. (No chance).
By the time the Raiders left for Los Angeles after the 1981 season, I’d disengaged, having chosen a media path in college and settling in as an unbiased observer.
When the Raiders came back after 13 seasons, I went from general assignment jack-of-all-trades to mostly covering the Raiders, which has been my primary responsibility ever since.
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The team was seldom as good as the one I saw in my youth other than a three-year run ignited by Jon Gruden from 2000 through 2002 and then one outlier in 2016 under Jack Del Rio.
Local Raiders fans, however, kept rising to the occasion at their much maligned venue.
Raiders fans look different, sound different and are more diverse than any other in the NFL. It’s the best tailgate spot in the NFL (good luck duplicating that in Las Vegas) and the hard core among the fan base turned out despite getting comparatively little in return from the team they worshiped eight times a year.
They hung in there despite an owner in Al Davis who was a Hall of Famer but no longer the seer and icon who helped shape the sport. They instead got a man chasing his own mortality, hiring nine coaches in 21 years in an attempt to stay relevant before his death in 2011.
Yet that didn’t shake their most serious fans, who remembered Davis for the good, set aside the bad and embraced the organization under his son Mark as he tried to hire the right people to pick up the pieces.
For that, what came to be known as Raider Nation deserves praise and a salute, without getting into city, county and stadium politics.
Twenty memories from a team and organization that became a bigger part of my life than I’d ever imagined:
A fan gets a head start on saying goodbye in last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans. Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group
1. The whole back-to-Oakland seeds were planted on Aug. 26, 1989, when the Raiders hosted an exhibition game against the Houston Oilers. Tickets sold out instantly. Totally insane parking lot scene. Todd Christensen getting standing ovations in pregame warmups. The Oilers won. No one cared.
2. An unexciting but significant 17-7 win over the San Diego Chargers to open the 1995 regular season. The Coliseum and its fans took center stage in their return to Oakland.
3. Andre Rison catching a 33-yard touchdown pass from Elvis Grbac as time expired as the Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 28-27 on Monday night in Week 2 of 1997. Coach Joe Bugel couldn’t even address the media, leaving it to cornerback Albert Lewis.
4. The Chargers and Raiders combining for 28 punts (17 by Leo Araguz, 11 by Darren Bennett) in 1998 and somehow winning when third-string quarterback Wade Wilson completes his only pass of the day — a 68-yard, third-and-10 pass to James Jett on a play called “Bingo Cross.” The Raiders win 7-6.
5. The Raiders beating a playoff bound Tampa Bay team 45-0 in Week 15, putting both Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman over 100 yards rushing and looking like they might be on to something the next season.
6. Cornerback Tory James intercepting a Jay Fiedler pass and returning it 90 yards for a touchdown on Miami’s first possession in the Raiders first playoff game since their return to Oakland following the 2000 season. Still the loudest I’ve ever heard the place. The Raiders won 27-0.
7. Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa bellyflopping on Rich Gannon the next week, injuring his shoulder in the AFC Championship game. The Ravens win 16-3 and go on to win the Super Bowl.
8. Tim Brown, owner of more catches than anyone in Coliseum history with 393, catching his 1,000th career pass with his mother in attendance in a 26-20 win over the Jets on Dec. 3, 2002.
Tim Brown is the all-time leader of receptions at the Coliseum with 393. Mercury News file photo
9. Charlie Garner dragging his injured leg out to his car on a Friday at the team facility, then somehow playing the next night against the New York Jets in the playoffs after the 2001 season. He rushed for 154 yards and had an 80-yard touchdown run. Jerry Rice found the fountain of youth with nine receptions, 183 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders win 38-24. They go on to play the New England Patriots the next week on the road and . . . well, you know what happened.
10. Charles Woodson coming off a six-week absence with a cracked bone in his shoulder, being asked to cover Terrell Owens one-on-one and giving up 12 receptions for 191 yards in a 23-20 overtime loss to the 49ers in 2002. That wasn’t the amazing part. Woodson faced the media afterward and steadfastly refused to consider his injury and layoff as an excuse. It told you as much about the man as any of his successes.
11. The Raiders beating the Tennessee Titans 41-24, confetti falling at the Coliseum and the Raiders winning the AFC Championship and returning to the Super Bowl. After that . . . never mind.
12. Brett Favre passing for 399 yards and four touchdowns the day after learning of the death of his father on Monday night as the Packers annihilate the reeling Raiders 38-7 on Dec. 22, 2003.
13. Gruden coming back to town in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Raiders jumping to a 30-6 lead en route to a 30-20 win. Gannon, NFL MVP in 2002, injures his neck in a collision with Derek Brooks in the first quarter and it ends his career.
14. Art Shell returning to the sidelines in 2006 and the Raiders looking shockingly inept in all phases in a 27-0 season-opening loss on Monday night. Got more bitter Raiders fan posts on a first-year “Inside the Raiders” blog than at any other time.
15. The Raiders losing 38-26 to the Chargers in the 2011 regular-season finale, missing the playoffs at 8-8, and coach Hue Jackson airing out his team in the aftermath and promising to make changes in the organization. Mark Davis, who assumed control following his father’s death on Oct. 8, has other ideas. Jackson is fired.
Derek Carr calls for help after breaking his leg after being sacked on Christmas Eve, 2016. Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group
16. The lone exhibition memory — Derek Carr throwing three touchdown passes in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason finale in 2014 and winning the job as starting quarterback from Matt Schaub.
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17. An 0-10 Raiders team gets its first win despite a Sio Moore-Khalil Mack sack dance which causes Justin Tuck to call a time out with the Raiders leading 24-20. Hilarity in the press box. The Raiders hold on.
18. Charles Woodson announces his retirement to the media during the week, and the Raiders beat the Chargers 23-20 in overtime on Christmas Eve, 2015. Woodson makes an emotional speech to the fans following the game.
19. With the organization rejuvenated under Del Rio and poised for an AFC West title and maybe more, Carr is sacked and suffers a broken leg in a win over the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve, 2016. They lose the division title to Denver the next week, then are blown out in the wild card game.
20. The 2019 season opens with a 24-16 win over the Denver Broncos, with Carr completing 22 of 26 passes for 259 yards and rookie Josh Jacobs rushing for 85 yards. It’s considerably more impressive than any of the four wins in Gruden’s first year back in 2018.
After a dress rehearsal of sorts a year ago against Denver — the Raiders were threatening to play elsewhere for a year before going to Vegas because of their ever-present disputes with the city and county — it’s time for the real thing Sunday.
The Raiders may not win the game, but their fans have consistently won the tailgate. They didn’t deserve this. Raise a toast in their honor.