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2021 Raiders Can Look to Their Past for Inspiration

Tonight the 2021 season officially kicks off, and the Las Vegas Raiders can look to their past for inspiration.

The Raiders have been in this position before in their 60-plus seasons in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, trying to regain their place among the power teams in professional football.

The first time was in the days of the American Football League during the 1960s.

Al Davis was hired as coach and general manager in 1963 after Oakland had seasons of 2-12 and 1-13. He changed the team colors to Silver and Black and led the Raiders to a 10-4 record, including two victories over the AFL champion San Diego Chargers, who many people believe could have beaten the NFL champion Chicago Bears that year.

However, the Raiders couldn’t get back to that level for the next few seasons, as they went 5-7-2, 8-5-1, and 8-5-1 from 1964 through 1966, in part because Davis was involved in the Pro Football War that eventually led the AFL-NFL merger.

Davis became AFL Commissioner in 1966, but after merger terms were reached, he was back in Oakland as Managing General Partner in 1967, when John Rauch coached the Raiders to a 13-1 record and a 40-7 victory over the Houston Oilers in the AFL Championship Game before they lost to the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, in Super Bowl II.

Those bounce-back Raiders were led on offense by strong-armed quarterback Daryle Lamonica, star running back Clem Daniels, tight end Billy Cannon and a line led by future Hall of Famers Jim Otto and Gene Upshaw.

On the other side of the ball, the Silver and Black had the famed Eleven Angry Men of Defense, who had a total of 67 sacks led by linemen Tom Keating and Ben Davidson, plus a secondary that featured future Hall of Famer Willie Brown at cornerback.

The 2021 Raiders don’t claim to have that kind of talent, but Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock have almost completely rebuilt the roster over the last three years and Mayock said last week that making the playoffs is the primary goal for this season.

Once you get there, anything can happen, as 1980 proved when they became the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl, shocking the favored Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.

The last time the Raiders made the playoffs, second-year quarterback Derek Carr led the Raiders to a 12-3 record in 2016 before sustaining a broken leg in the next-to-last game of the regular season, and missed a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos in the regular-season finale and a 27-14 defeat to the Houston Texans in a wild card playoff game.

The Raiders slipped to 6-10 the following season, which caused Coach Jack Del Rio to be fired, and owner Mark Davis, Al’s son, brought Gruden back for his second stint with the Raiders and Mayock joined him in 2018.

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Despite a few flashes, they haven’t yet restored the greatness of the Raiders.

Gruden went only 4-12 in his first year back before the Raiders started 6-4 after three straight wins in 2019 before finishing at 7-9, and last season they again won three in a row and were 6-3 before losing five of their last seven games to wind up at 8-8.

Not only that, the Raiders were only 2-6 in their new home at Allegiant Stadium without fans in attendance because of the Coronavirus pandemic but were an impressive 6-2 on the road.

The Raiders are optimistic.

“I think we’re better, I think we’ve got a chance to be much better and a lot deeper and be more competitive,” said Gruden, whose Raiders were 4-2 in the AFC West last season, including a 40-32 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

“We proved we can compete in the AFC West. We proved we can win on the road. Now we’ve got to prove we can win at a much higher level. The expectations are rising.”

Even though Carr has taken more criticism than he deserves, he has broken most of Kenny “Snake” Stabler’s career franchise passing records and has at his disposal running back Josh Jacobs, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and Darren Waller has become one of the top three NFL tight ends in the last two years.

Carr and the Raiders are excited about the possibilities of young wide receivers Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, and Hunter Renfrow, plus an offensive line led by Pro Bowler Richie Incognito at guard, tackle Kolton Miller, and rookie tackle Alex Leatherwood.

The Raiders have rebuilt their defense with draft picks such as defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, and defensive backs Johnathan Abram, Tre’von Moehrig, and Trayvon Mullen, plus several free-agent signees including defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, linebackers Cory Littleton and Denzel Perryman, and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.

The Baltimore Ravens have already been made the favorites for the season opener on Monday Night Football next week at Allegiant Stadium, so the Raiders can make a statement right out of the gate.

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