Black Hole growing rapidly

The Black Hole continues to grow larger. That’s what a fan section of the Oakland Coliseum (now RingCentral Coliseum) where the Raiders play is called. It’s also commonly used to describe the Raiders’ usually rabid fans.

Nowadays, it’s not just a way to describe Oakland fans, but the state of the franchise as well. The Silver and Black are more like the Black and Blue.

Long gone are the glory days of the Raiders. For my dad’s generation and other Baby Boomers, Oakland used to be one of the best NFL teams. It made three Super Bowls during in its first stint playing in northern California, winning two of them. The Raiders then won another while in Los Angeles, but haven’t won one since, even after retracing their steps back to Oakland.

People can recite the players from that era off the top of their heads — Ken Stabler, Daryl Lamonica, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, George Blanda and Gene Upshaw from the Oakland era, followed by Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, Howie Long and Ronnie Lott in the L.A. years.

There’s also coach John Madden, who is remembered mostly these days as a TV commentator and a guy who has a popular football video game named after him. The Raiders are a team with an impressive history like the Packers, Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys, but not anymore.

For my generation, the Millennials, Oakland has usually been a joke. After getting trashed by the Bills in the 1990 AFC Championship, the Raiders have made the playoffs six times. Six times in 28 years and until Oakland snuck its way into the postseason in 2016, it went through a 14-year drought.

That’s a far cry from their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s. The best Oakland team my generation remembers was in 2002 when it made the Super Bowl and got lit up by current head coach Jon Gruden’s new team at the time, Tampa Bay. The Raiders haven’t been the same since, but the Madden video game is still going strong, so there’s that.

Three years ago, when the Raiders last made the playoffs, it was thought they might be starting a new era, that this turnaround would last, but nope.

Now this era is laughable. As fans know, the Raiders threw a ton of money at Gruden to come back to coach last year after he spent the previous nine years as an analyst for ESPN. This would be insane to most franchises, but a 10-year contract worth an estimated $100 million was somehow no big deal to Oakland.

Shortly after Gruden arrived, the Raiders dealt their best defensive player and arguably the best in the league, Khalil Mack, to Chicago. They followed that by sending their best receiver, Amari Cooper, to the Cowboys.

Not satisfied with that craziness, Oakland fired its general manager, Reggie McKenzie, during the season and replaced him with Mike Mayock, a guy who analyzes the draft for NFL Network. The Raiders sure have a weird fetish for TV commentators.

Not surprisingly, Oakland finished 4-12 and last in the AFC West. Just when you think the drama might be over in northern California, the Raiders decided to amp it up this fall. They appeared on the popular HBO show Hard Knocks (again, the TV fetish) where they got to showcase their behind-the-scenes antics to viewers.

And now to cap it all off, wide receiver Antonio Brown and Mayock are butting heads. Last year when he was in Pittsburgh, Brown got into an argument with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and decided to skip some practices leading up to the final regular-season game. He was then benched for the game and requested a trade, landing in Oakland.

Brown got off to a fantastic start with the Raiders when he announced last month he got frostbite on his feet after not wearing the proper shoes during cryotherapy healing that uses freezing temperatures. He missed 10 practices thanks to that stupid injury.

Less than a week later, he threw a fit over wanting to wear his old helmet after the league banned it. For those who aren’t aware, the NFL tests helmets and if they don’t meet league safety standards, players aren’t allowed to wear them.

Brown’s helmet was banned last year, but he and other players were allowed to wear them for that season. Now, all those players have had to switch helmets and Brown filed a grievance, threatening to retire if he couldn’t wear his helmet, which is a weird threat to make.

“If you don’t let me wear this, I won’t play” seems like something an 8-year-old would say.

By this point, Mayock — who looks overwhelmed by this job — reached his breaking point and earlier this week, he fined Brown $54,000 for missing practices. Brown fired back on social media. The next day, Brown and Mayock got into it verbally and it got quite heated with Brown threatening to punch Mayock.

He then punted a ball and told Mayock to “fine him for that.” As this is being written, it looks like Brown won’t be suspended and will play this week.

Seriously, with the drama last year combined with frostbitten feet and a receiver almost punching his boss, it’s wild times in Oakland.

Next year, the Raiders will move to Las Vegas, a city far more appropriate for their high-wire emotional act. For now, however, Oakland is where the Black Hole is located and the Raiders are stuck inside it.

The hole’s location will change in 2020, but the Raiders may never find their way out of it.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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