The Raiders are going back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. It’s also the franchise’s first return to glory since iconic owner Al Davis died in 2011.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski was drafted by the Raiders in 2000. He kicked a field goal in the Raiders’ last Super Bowl appearance in 2002, a 48-21 stomping by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Janikowski is the only remaining member of the Raiders to have also played on the team's 2002 Super Bowl roster and he hasn’t tasted another playoff game since that day.
“I can’t even describe my words man. It feels so special. I waited a long time for that,” Janikowski said.
In the '70s, '80s and early '90s, the Raiders franchise probably had a more profound cultural effect on NFL fans than any other squad. Ruled with the iron fist of legendary owner Al Davis, when the NFL merged with the AFL, Oakland was one of the teams that emerged as a powerhouse franchise with a marketable, celebrity owner and a reputation that fit with the fierce, intense, intimidating product the league wanted to sell.
They were the villains, but they won with a flair and ferocity that endeared them to fans across the country. My fondest recollection of the Raiders is sitting on my father’s lap watching Marcus Allen run into the night against the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. I was a Giants fan, but Allen immediately became my favorite player. The Raiders entire persona was something that appealed to me as a young sports fanatic filled with a natural, growing curiosity for rebellion all things viewed as anti-establishment.
When the team’s colors, logo and attitude was adopted by emerging West Coast rappers, it exploded the Raiders brand and the team transcended pro athleticism, merging white-collar corporate enterprise with the deepest, darkest commercial corners of American urban life.
A lot has changed since then and winning hasn’t been a constant since the new millennium started moving along, but the Raiders still carry a certain mystique and unwavering fan interest from a legion of supporters across the globe.
People still secretly root for the Raiders who have risen to a 12-4 record this season and prepare to meet the Texans on Sunday in an AFC Wild Card game.
The Raiders had higher hopes for the season and were cruising to a division title before starting quarterback Derek Carr got hurt. Unheralded backup Matt McGloin suffered a shoulder injury in Oakland's 24-6 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, and he might not be able to go against the Texans.
That leaves 2016 fourth-round pick Connor Cook and most likely, an early exit from the playoffs. It was still exciting for a lot of old school Raiders heads to see them bracing for another Super Bowl run.
Maybe next season. As the franchise moves further away from the Davis Era and son Mark contemplates a relocation to Sin City, the Raiders franchise is still pushing the envelope and still very relevant to NFL culture.