Monday, December 16, 2013

Kansas City Chiefs 56 at Oakland Raiders 31 - December 15, 2013


The Oakland Raiders have a storied history with 3 Super Bowl wins (one during their time in Los Angeles) and a number of Hall of Fame players and coaches, but over the past decade they have lost their way. Since their defeat at the hands of Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Raiders have gone 53-121 with 7 head coaches and not even a sniff of the playoffs. Al Davis, their infamous, bombastic owner, passed away two years ago and there is hope that his son can rediscover the magic that Davis brought to the team in the early days, but so far it has been only hope.



I have seen Oakland twice on the road on this trip, and although they lost both games, they were competitive in both, so I had high expectations for this AFC West battle against the Chiefs. I wasn't disappointed in some respects turned out to be a record-setting day, but unfortunately for the Raiders, all the records were set by Kansas City. Still, it was a great day at the stadium, in large part due to the kindness shown by the Raiders themselves.



Pregame

As I have been doing for every game on the trip, I contacted the team to see if they would be able to help me, and the Raiders were kind enough to give me a club ticket as well as grant me entrance into the Bad Boyz of Barbeque tailgate. There was some concern on the part of Mike Taylor, the director of public affairs for the team, that I might have some preconceived notions about the Raiders' experience. No doubt the Raiders have one of the most visible fan bases in league, with dozens of fans dressing in elaborate silver and black costumes and populating the Black Hole in one of the end zones at the O.Co Coliseum. Known as Raider Nation, they have a fearsome reputation, but as ESPN The Magazine showed, these are diehard fans who love their team and show it every Sunday, but are just like you and me the other six days of the week.

As well, I had seen the team twice on the road and their fans proved to be well-behaved in both cases. So any preconceived notions I had were positive ones. In general, having been to 29 games this season, I have learned that the media reports about the problems with NFL fans are quite overblown. Of course, every stadium has its troublemakers, but it is these few bad apples that make the news. As it turned out, the vast majority of Raider fans were just like those I've met elsewhere: invested in their team and wanting to see them win.



I arrived early and wandered around the large parking lot, which was already filled with tailgaters at 9 a.m., four hours before kickoff. There was a aromatic haze hanging in the morning sky, collected from the smoke rising up from thousands of BBQs. You can kind of see it above. The Black Hole had their own tailgate party on the north side of the stadium. I couldn't find out if this was open to the public, but I would guess so. The Raiders tailgate experience is one of the best in the league and should not be missed.



On the south side of the stadium there is an area known as Raiderville which is where you go if you don't have your own tailgate party. Like many of the pregame party zones, there are some food options, a Bud Light tent or two, and some sponsor stands where you can win prizes by playing a game. There is also a kids area here where the little ones can be distracted by a few attractions, while dad can watch the early games on Direct TV.



One of the interesting things I saw was the "shot ski", below. Each ski had 3 (or more) shot glasses and you have to line up three people who try to drink the shot simultaneously. Much of the booze ends up dribbling onto the clothes of the participants, but it looks like good fun if tried just once.



As I mentioned, I was given access to the Bad Boyz BBQ. I had yet to participate in a tailgate on this trip, and was looking forward to it. You can see some eats cooking on the huge grills below. The picture does not do it justice, you have to experience this for yourself. A wristband is $25 and allows you all the food and drink you want. In other words, skip breakfast. Along with your usual beef tips, ribs, and sausages comes salmon, oysters, mac'n'cheese, and salads for your health. While you chow down, there are TVs tuned to all the early games.



As kickoff approached and people begin to head to their seats, a group prayer was held, and a hat was passed around for donations to Toys For Tots. A few fans featured in the ESPN The Magazine article are in attendance as well; below is Jerry Warren, you can see him without makeup here. It really is worth trying these Bad Boyz if you are planning on seeing a Raiders' game. Based on this experience alone, I am thinking of doing a tailgate tour next year and not bothering to go into the games. If every stadium has a tailgate like this, that would be a lot of fun.



Thanks to Mike Taylor and Kirk Bronsord for their hospitality, it is much appreciated.

O.Co Coliseum



Suitably sated, I made my way into the stadium. As you know, it is also used by the Oakland Athletics, the only venue still shared by teams in these two leagues. I had a club seat (view above) and you can see how the baseball configuration affects this side of the stadium, as the seating bowl curves around. This section would be just behind home plate in the baseball setup. The east side is straighter, but those seats are in the sun for most of the game as you can see above, so it is a trade off depending on what you prefer.



I spent a bit of time wandering around the club area, which includes a full service bar with TVs showing all the early games and the NFL Red Zone, along with tables at which you can relax. It is not as swanky as some of the other club areas I have seen, but the Coliseum is an old building and there are limits as to what can be done. As I was walking through, Raider great Jim Otto came by in a wheelchair (he had a leg amputated in 2007). Few noticed him but one young fan jumped in surprise when he saw him and Otto was gracious enough to stop for a minute to have his picture taken with the star struck kid. Great to see, that kid will never forget it.



One cool bit in the club is the Oakland Museum of California's collections of photos of Bay Area sports heroes with a highlight being a young Joe Morgan receiving an award in 1965. Also don't miss the plaques honouring famous Raiders, including John Madden (below), this is on the club level but just outside the doors, so should be accessible to all.



After touring the club, I made my way into the seating bowl and took shots from a variety of areas, as usual.









I like this view as it shows the separation between the east and south seating areas.



The top of the east side is covered in tarp to reduce capacity, much like what the Athletics do.



Above is one of the concession stands outside the club, which has typical offerings. Frankly, the tailgate is so good that you should just fill up there and you won't need to eat during the game.

Overall, the Coliseum is an aging venue with a team in the midst of a long slump. The atmosphere is not what it used to be, and there has been talk of renovating it for football only while the A's move elsewhere. Rumours of a Raiders' return to Los Angeles cannot be ignored either. I personally don't mind the Coliseum as it is one of the few remaining stadiums that was built before I was born (OK, this place opened 3 weeks after I entered the world, but you get the point). Still, there is no doubt both teams could use a new venue and I expect a decision in the near future. If you haven't been yet, I would recommend you get there soon as there is no telling how long Oakland will remain a three-team town.

The Game



The Chiefs were in town and at 10-3, were heavy favourites over the 4-9 Raiders. The visitors won the toss, elected to receive, and returned the kickoff to the Raider 49. On the first play from scrimmage, Alex Smith hit Jamaal Charles on a short screen and Charles got outside and raced untouched down the sideline for the touchdown, stunning those fans who had managed to make it to their seats.





That was a sign of things to come. The Raiders managed a field goal on their first possession after a 45-yard pass from Matt McGloin (#14 above) to Marcel Reece, so it wasn't all bad.



The Chiefs took the ball and promptly marched to the Raiders 30, but Smith was sacked for a 9-yard loss (above) and it looked like the Raiders would be competitive. After an incompletion though, Smith found Charles with another short screen and Charles again ran untouched to the end zone. The following three pictures are all from that 39-yard score: first you see Jeff Allen (#71) blocking his man at the 20, then Charles running in open space at the 10, and finally the celebration.







On the next possession McGloin was intercepted by Eric Berry, who had an easy touchdown to make it 21-3 and send some fans heading back to the club to watch the other games. But the Raiders fought back, and Rashad Jennings (#27 below) leapt over the line for a 1-yard score to make it 21-10.



The Chiefs responded with another Charles touchdown, and when McGloin was intercepted again, Charles scored on the first play on another screen, this one just 16 yards. If you are not keeping count, that is four touchdowns for Charles in the first half. The Raiders weren't done yet though, and Jennings added another 1-yard score to make it 35-17 at the half.



Oakland took the ball to begin the second half and a 52-yard completion to Taiwan Jones (great name but he better not visit China!) led to a short 6-yard touchdown pass to Andre Holmes. After forcing the Chiefs to punt, the Raiders brought in Terrelle Pryor (above) for a few plays and he moved the chains once before McGloin returned. The KC defense was confused enough to allow the Raiders to complete a 10-play drive for 86 yards, culminating with a 14-yard TD pass to Mychal Rivera. Suddenly it was 35-31 with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter! I actually thought Oakland had a chance but KC scored immediately when Smith hit Charles on a bomb that went for 71 yards, with Charles running the last 40 of those again without a Raider defender getting a hand on him.



On the ensuing kickoff, Jones fumbled on the return. It looked like he was down by contact, but a review told otherwise, and the Chiefs had a short field to work with. Naturally a touchdown was the result, and that pretty much sealed the game. A final KC TD in the final frame made the final 56-31, the highest scoring game in the league this season on the highest scoring day in NFL history.



A very entertaining game despite the poor result for the home team. Charles was incredible, finishing with 5 TDs (4 receiving) and 215 yards from scrimmage. The Raiders committed 7 turnovers and still scored 31 points, either feast or famine for their offense on the day. Below you can see the on-field handshakes as the setting sun reflects off the suites on the east side of the field.



Notes



There is a flame that honours Al Davis and is lit before the game by an ex-Raider. Hard to see in the picture above, but that is Rod Martin, whose 3 interceptions in Super Bowl XV should be a record for a long time.

As I entered the stadium, I was surprised to see a tiny mascot with a huge head. Turns out it was Raider Rusher, who caters to kids. I didn't have time to snap a photo, but this article explains the reasoning behind the new mascot.

Next Up

I'm in Santa Cruz where I will attend an NBDL game this evening before heading south to San Diego for next Sunday's game, with the Raiders the visitors. Check back for updates as usual.

Best,

Sean

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