By Ricky Dimon
A whole lot of football fans would argue that commissioner Roger Goodell has turned the NFL into the No Fun League. Outlandish celebrations are things of the past, kickoffs sail into and out of the endzones with the utmost ease, and defensive players get flagged if they even think about laying a finger on a quarterback.
But there is one place where fun reigns, and it’s a place that will not be home to any NFL franchise starting in 2020. The Oakland Raiders, who are playing their final season in California’s Bay Area before moving to Las Vegas, are making football fun again under second-year head coach Jon Gruden.
Well…he’s in the second year of his second stint with the Raiders, to be exact. His first one lasted four seasons from 1998 through 2001 and featured zero losing seasons. Oakland went 12-4 and advanced to the AFC Championship in 2000 before going 10-6 and getting undone by the infamous tuck rule in 2001.
As such, the NFL’s most rabid fanbase knew what Gruden was capable of in Oakland while also knowing there was some unfinished business for everyone involved. There still is, as the Raiders struggled to a 4-12 record last season and have plenty of work to do throughout the remainder of the 2019 campaign with a solid but unspectacular 5-4 mark.
On the heels of last year’s woes, 5-4 is without question cause for celebration. And there was plenty of it following Thursday night’s dramatic 26-24 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Gruden headed straight for the Black Hole after shaking hands with the Chargers and hugged every fan within sign (and there were many, of course).
“No, I’d never rethink [getting in there with fans],” Gruden assured. “Every win, I’m going down there. I got face paint all over me. I got to see some costumes I have not seen before in any football games. Awesome.”
Gruden and company were awesome on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” during the offseason, too. That was when the Antonio Brown saga was still ongoing in Oakland; something that is most definitely now a thing of the past. Gruden may not have the most talented roster at his disposal (he didn’t even with A.B.), but he seems to have his guys in place—guys who can win games.
The Raiders may be able to win a lot more games, in fact. Six of their final seven opponents have losing records, and their next two foes (Cincinnati and the Jets) are a combined 1-15. Check out our free NFL computer picks each week of the season. Opposition aside, this team is legit even without a star-studded roster. The players are playing for each other, playing for their coach, and playing for their fans.
“I just love this team,” quarterback Derek Carr said following Thursday’s win. “I love this organization so much. I get emotional talking about it because I’ve been through so many highs and lows in this place. These fans have stuck with me the whole way and it’s a lot of fun to win in front of them.”
By Ricky Dimon