Raiders Have Had Some Memorable Opener Moments

The Las Vegas Raiders have a rich history of season openers ahead of Monday's tilt with the Baltimore Ravens, we look back.
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The Las Vegas Raiders will be trying to get off on the right foot in the 2021 season when they play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football at Allegiant Stadium.

The Raiders have had their share of big opening games in their 60-plus seasons, although they lost the first game in franchise history, 37-22, to the Houston Oilers in the initial season of the American Football League in 1960 when future Raiders great George Blanda threw four touchdown passes at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

In fact, the Raiders were 0-3 in openers until Al Davis came to Oakland as head coach in 1963 and changed the team’s colors from black and gold to the famous Silver in Black. After beating the Oilers, 24-13, in the season opener at Jeppesen Stadium in Houston, they returned home for the home opener against the Buffalo Bills.

The Raiders warmed up before the game in their old black and golds, but when the players returned to the locker room, they saw that equipment manager Dick Romanski had laid out the new Silver and Blacks.

When the Raiders re-emerged in their new colors, the fans at Frank Youell Field in Oakland went wild, and quarterback Cotton Davidson passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns in addition to running for another score in a 35-17 victory.

In 1967, the Raiders gave a preview of what was to come that season when they routed the Denver Broncos, 51-0, at the Oakland Coliseum as fullback Hewritt Dixon ran for one touchdown and caught a scoring pass from quarterback Daryle Lamonica, who also ran for a score.

All the Raiders did that season was go 13-1 and beat the Oilers, 40-7, in the AFL Championship Game, before losing to the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, in Super Bowl II.

However, perhaps the greatest Raiders opener came in 1976, and again it was a harbinger of things to come.

The Raiders had lost three consecutive American Football Conference Championship Games, one step short of the Super Bowl, including 16-10 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at frigid Three Rivers Stadium the year before.

As luck would have it, or maybe someone in the NFL scheduling department had a weird sense of humor, the Raiders opened the 1976 regular season against the Steelers at the Oakland Coliseum and it looked like more of the same when Pittsburgh took a 28-14 lead on Franco Harris’ three-yard touchdown run with 8:17 left in the game.

Then, on the first play after the kickoff, cornerback Mel Blount intercepted Kenny “Snake” Stabler’s pass and the Steelers were in business again inside the Oakland 20-yard-line.

But the Raiders were anything but finished.

On the next play, linebacker Monte Johnson stripped Harris of the ball and recovered before Stabler led the Raiders 75 yards for a touchdown, hitting tight end Dave Casper with passes of 21, 25, and then 10 yards for the score to make it 28-21 with 2:56 remaining.

After the Raiders defense forced a three-and-out, former Steeler Warren Bankston blocked the punt at the Pittsburgh 29. Stabler threw three incomplete passes but then hit Cliff Branch for 27 yards to the two and Stabler’s keeper behind pulling guard Gene Upshaw tied the score, 28-28, with 1:05 left and everyone was thinking overtime.

Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was thinking otherwise, but his pass was deflected by nose tackle Dave Rowe and intercepted by linebacker Willie Hall and returned to the Steelers 12-yard-line. Pete Banaszak ran the ball twice to the four before rookie Fred Steinfort kicked a 21-yard field goal with 18 seconds left to give the Raiders 17 points in 2:38 to claim an unlikely 31-28 victory.

Knowing they could beat the Steelers, the Raiders did it again later that season in the AFC Championship Game by a score of 24-7 and went on the trounce the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI.

Other memorable Raiders openers:

In 1973, the Oakland Athletics were on their way to the second of two World Series titles and were playing at the Oakland Coliseum, so the Raiders had to move their home opener to Memorial Stadium at the University of California in Berkeley. Blanda kicked four field goals and the Raiders ended the 19-game winning streak of the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, 12-7.

In the 1975 season opener, the Raiders went to Miami and Banaszak ran for two short touchdowns before Harold Hart returned a kickoff 102 yards for a score as the Silver and Black ended the Dolphins’ 31-game home field winning streak at the Orange Bowl. That came one season after the Raiders ended the Dolphins’ two-year run as Super Bowl champions when Clarence Davis made his “Sea of Hands” touchdown catch to beat Miami, 28-26, at the Coliseum in the 1974 playoffs.

The 1980 Raiders went on the road for their opener and quarterback Dan Pastorini threw two touchdown passes to Bob Chandler and Chris Bahr kicked two field goals in a 27-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Silver and Black had a six-game winning streak in the middle of the season, and after Pastorini was knocked out for the season because of an injury, Jim Plunkett took over and the Raiders beat the Oilers, the Cleveland Browns, and the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs before becoming the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl by downing the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.

In 1982, the Raiders moved to Los Angeles and in their first game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Joe Montana threw two touchdown passes to give the San Francisco 49ers a 14-6 lead, but Marcus Allen rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown, Plunkett threw a three-yard scoring pass to tight end, Todd Christensen, in the fourth quarter and Bahr kicked three field goals to pull out a 23-17 victory.

A year later, Allen scored the first two touchdowns of the game from a yard out and Bahr kicked field goals of 38 and 39 yards as the Raiders went on the road for a 30-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to kick-start a 12-4 regular season that led to a 38-9 rout of the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

In 1996, the Raiders moved back to Oakland and after losing their first two games of the season in Baltimore and Kansas City, they came back to the Coliseum and made a triumphant return with a 17-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars when quarterback. Quarterback Jeff Hostetler threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Tim Brown and defensive lineman Jerry Ball returned an interception 66 yards for a score.

In 2002, on their way to a 4-0 start, quarterback Rich Gannon passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns, while Charlie Garner rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching a 26-yard scoring pass in a 31-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the opener at the Coliseum. The Raiders went 11-5 and beat the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans in the playoffs before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXVII. But that’s another story.

Four years ago, quarterback Derek Carr threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts with 47 seconds left in the game to give the Raiders a 35-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints to open the season at the Superdome, even though Drew Brees passed for 423 yards and four scoring passes for the Saints. Carr led the Raiders to a 12-4 record before sustaining a broken leg that knocked him out for the Raiders’ playoff loss.

These Raiders hope to build the same type of momentum those other teams did in their Monday night opener against the Ravens.

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