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Friday 26th May 2017

I have done little to hide my love for the Oakland Raiders, especially the last couple of years as the team has risen from the ashes in a Phoenix-like fashion that probably makes the Cardinals blush.

The Raiders hit me in 1962, when Cotton Davidson was their quarterback and the team played at Frank Youell Field, which was the gridiron associated then with Laney Junior College. Since I was born in Oakland and was, as also acknowledged, contrary, despite living in 49er-land, the Raiders became my team. Over the years since, I moved from the Dodgers to the Royals to the Blue Jays to pretty much the Athletics and Giants in baseball, and I have had my attractions with the Seahawks and Ravens and other teams doing a great job of rebuilding.

But my love for the Raiders has been steadfast, and for many years--like 1965-1990--Oakland rewarded me with the winningest franchise in sports. However, since losing in the Super Bowl 14 years ago, the Raiders have been among the most pathetic and rudderless of sports organizations.

This was sad to me, for I saw Al Davis grow from brilliant head coach to part owner to managing partner of the Raiders, to head of the AFL, to becoming the driving force behind the league merger over 50 years ago. And, that was indeed one of the more significant mergers in sports history, paving the way for the NFL we all enjoy today.

Davis was a smart judge of talent to be sure, but he also knew how to get the most out of the Island of Misfit players, as guys like Lyle Alzado, Ted Hendricks and John Matuszak all flourished beneath the Silver and Black and their motto of "Just Win Baby."

However, as Davis aged, and the league changed and grew and adjusted to itself--something that beautifully continues with innovations like the Patriots defensive schemes--the Oakland owner was stuck, trying to assemble a team as he had in the past, and well, wrecking the whole mess. With disasters like Jeff Hostetler and JaMarcus Russell, Oakland floundered until a few years ago, when Davis passed.

The good side of that is new thinking came vaulting into Oakland, and suddenly we have a once again exciting team with Amari Cooper and Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, to name the marquee guys.

Truth is I did expect Oakland to make the playoffs this year. In fact, I made a few bets supporting just that, but certainly I did not expect a 10-3 mark at this point, hoping the guys would do 9-7 as they improved this year, becoming a serious Super Bowl threat next year.

I still think this is true, but believe it or not, the Oakland loss to the Chiefs last week has given me some optimism that maybe more is in store for Oakland than I imagined this time.

And, though my reasoning here is Oakland specific, the example holds true for most any competitive team in almost any competitive sport. For Oakland did win six straight games--many in the final quarter, let alone minutes--which is pretty tough to do. I mean successfully doing anything six straight times is tough, let alone winning an NFL game. 

So, for one, the loss pulled the streak equation out of the bag for Oakland, just as it did for the Cowboys, who also saw their 10-game winning streak halted last weekend.

Since both these teams--Oakland and Dallas--are young, I did expect that as the season wore on, the team play would tighten along with experience, making the youngsters seasoned vets by this time of year, well used to the weekly patterns of game preparation.

Furthermore, the Raiders may have been confident going into the Thursday night game last week, but the team similarly had chances they could not convert, and I am guessing this loss was both sobering, and more important, a learning experience for both the players as individuals and the team as a whole.

And that should make Oakland a better, stronger, and tougher club.

I think of my time in the IT world, especially when things were new, that we would try to solve problems in certain ways and hit a roadblock. Almost always, out of this frustration grew both a solution as well as potentially providing a solution for the future with the failed idea of today. But, mostly, I learned from this process that we learn a lot more from our failures, if we pay attention, than from our successes, and I would be sure that same opportunity affords itself to both Oakland and Dallas.

As it is, Kansas City does look tough for the Raiders to hurdle, although they now are the team trying to protect the streak. Similarly, I think the Patriots, as the best coached team, possibly ever, will be beyond tough for the Oaklanders to get by looking ahead to post-season play.

But, I also think Oakland could well surprise me beyond belief with their learnings, and come back the final weeks with confidence that makes them a hot team. For, it is the hot team that usually cashes in when the post-season arrives, irrespective of discipline.

If you remember "Bull Durham," you must remember Crash Davis' great speech about respecting the streak, and to a large degree, everything he says is correct. But, I think in this instance, the pressure is off, and maybe those Raiders can indeed come through as a Cinderella team this year, and maybe even face those equally surprising Cowboys. Wouldn't that be fun?

You can follow me @lawrmichaels.

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