Raiders' last home game: Ranking the 10 greatest moments from Oakland's 'Black Hole'
Oakland has hosted some of the greatest games and most memorable moments in professional football history
Jon Gruden knows what Sunday means, not only for Raider Nation, but for the NFL. The Raiders' next home game -- this Sunday against the Jaguars -- will be the final game the Raiders will ever play in Oakland, the city the Raiders have called home for most of their 60 seasons.
Gruden, who's in his second stint as the Raiders' head coach, recently shared what being part of the Oakland Raiders has meant to him. The franchise will move to Las Vegas in 2020, making the second time the Raiders have left Oakland after Al Davis moved the team to Los Angeles from 1982-94.
"I guess in a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean?" Gruden recently told ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. "It's the beginning of my NFL coaching career in a lot of ways, at least head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I kind of have a lot of history here, and some of my friends, a lot of my friends, are in the Black Hole ... I get emotional talking about it."
Sunday will be an emotional moment for millions of Raiders fans, including the 56,000 fans who will flock to RingCentral Coliseum Sunday to say goodbye to their team, a team that gave the NFL some of its greatest players, coaches and moments in the league's 100-year history. The Coliseum, better known as the "Black Hole," was the scene of some of the greatest games, and moments, in NFL history.
In recognition of the Raiders' final game in Oakland, here's a look at the 10 greatest moments inside the Black Hole.
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10. Raiders get revenge following 'Immaculate Reception'
One of the NFL's greatest rivalries during the 1970s was John Madden's Raiders against Chuck Noll's Steelers. From 1972-76, the two teams faced off each time in the postseason, with Pittsburgh winning three of those matchups, including Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" in 1972 that gave the Steelers their first-ever playoff win. Oakland got its revenge the following year, blowing out the Steelers in the Black Hole in the '73 playoffs.
The Raiders dominated this matchup with Pittsburgh, rushing for 232 yards while allowing the Steelers to gain just 223 total yards. Quarterback Kenny "The Snake" Stalber completed over 82 percent of his throws, while Oakland's defense intercepted Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw three times in a 33-14 victory.
9. Raiders capture AFL title, advance to Super Bowl II
After winning nine games during their first three seasons, the Raiders went 10-4 in 1963, Al Davis' first season as the team's head coach. After a sub .500 season in 1964, Oakland responded with back-to-back eight-win seasons before breaking through in 1967. With Davis in his new role as part-owner and general manager, the Raiders went 13-1 while capturing their first division title. Against Houston in the AFL title game, the Raiders scored the game's first 30 points en route to a 40-7 victory and a ticket to Super Bowl II.
While Oakland's defense -- led by cornerbacks Willie Davis and Kent McCloughan, defensive linemen Ben Davidson and Tom Keating and linebacker Dan Conners -- held Houston to just 11 first downs and 146 total yards, the Raiders' offense was powered by running backs Hewitt Dixon and Pete Banaszak, who combined to rush for 260 yards and a score on 36 carries. Quarterback Daryle Lamonica, the 1967 AFL MVP, threw two touchdown passes, as the Raiders advanced to their first world championship game.
8. The 'Criminal Element' Game
The Raiders' overtime victory over the Steelers in Week 1 of the 1976 season is memorable for three reasons. Despite trailing by two touchdowns on two different occasions, the Raiders received a memorable performance by Stabler, who threw three touchdown passes while running for another while spearheaded Oakland's come-from-behind victory. The win was also a huge momentum boost for the Raiders, who were coming off of consecutive AFC Championship Game losses to Pittsburgh.
The game is also remembered for safety George Atkinson's vicious blow to Pittsburgh receiver Lynn Swann's head that left Pittsburgh's receiver with a concussion. The hit -- along with previous altercations between Swann and the Raiders' defense -- prompted Noll to call the Raiders the "criminal element" of the NFL after the game. Atkinson, after getting fined for his hit on Swann days after Noll's comment, filed a $3 million slander and libel lawsuit against Noll, according to Steelers.com's Bob Labriola. While the jury ended up siding with Noll and the Steelers, the trial ended up being a major distraction for Pittsburgh, who slipped to a 9-5 mark in 1977 before getting ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Broncos. The trial also had a negative impact on Pittsburgh's front office, with Dan Rooney -- the Steelers' former president -- calling the situation "the most depressing experience of my life".
Oakland's Week 1 also had a lasting impact on both teams. While the Raiders used the win as a springboard towards a remarkable regular season, the Steelers staggered out to a 1-4 start.
7. Raiders capture first AFC title in 20 seasons
The Raiders had fallen on hard times shortly after winning Super Bowl XVIII, their third Super Bowl win over an eight-year span. The Raiders would have just two winning seasons from 1986-1999. Things started to change in 1998, the Raiders' fourth season back in Oakland after spending 13 seasons in Los Angeles. That year, Al Davis hired Gruden, who at the time was just 34-years-old after serving as the Eagles' offensive coordinator the previous three seasons.
After consecutive 8-8 campaigns, Gruden's Raiders broke through in 2000, going 12-4 and winning the first of three consecutive AFC West division titles. While Oakland boasted a top-10 scoring defense (led by cornerback Charles Woodson and Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson), Gruden's offense finished third in the league in scoring behind the play of quarterback Rich Gannon, running back Tyrone Wheatley and future Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown. Oakland shut out Miami in the first round before the bowing out to the eventual champion Ravens in the AFC title game.
Despite acquiring Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice in the offseason, the '01 Raiders were still unable to reach the Super Bowl, losing the infamous "Tuck Rule" game to Tom Brady and the Patriots. In 2002, however, the Raiders would not be denied, as Oakland steamrolled the Jets and Titans in the playoffs to capture their first AFC title since 1983. In the AFC Championship Game, in front of a raucous home crowd, the Raiders received a stellar performance by Gannon, who engineered two late scoring drives after the Titans had cut their deficit to three points entering the fourth quarter.
While they weren't perfect, Oakland's defense did enough to preserve the win, holding Steve McNair, Eddie George and the rest of the Titans' formidable offensive attack to just 312 total yards and under 200 yards through the air.
"We got a lot of wins during my first four years there, but I just think that was the culmination of a lot of hard work," Gannon recently told ESPN when looking back on Oakland's 41-27 victory. "I'm not sure it was our best team that I was a part of when I was there, but certainly, winning that game was kind of a special night."
6. Luck finally finds Raiders in '76 playoff win over Pats
While Al Davis' famous motto, "Just win, baby," is synonymous with the Raiders, the phrase, "can't win the big one" was another tag line associated with Oakland entering the 1976 playoffs. For all of their success, the Raiders always fell short when it mattered most, losing in one Super Bowl and in six conference title games from 1967-1975. Despite their past postseason woes, the '76 Raiders appeared to be a team on a mission after losing just one game during the regular season.
The Patriots, the only team to defeat the Raiders in the regular season, would be Oakland's first opponent in the playoffs. Despite taking an early lead, Oakland found themselves trailing 21-10 entering the fourth quarter.
After cutting their deficit to four points, the Raiders faced a third and 18 from New England's 27 in the game's final minute. While Stabler's pass fell incomplete, the officials called roughing the passer on Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton, giving Oakland a fresh set of downs on the Patriots' 13 yard-line with 52 seconds left. Given new life, Stabler took full advantage, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left.
While the Raiders celebrated their long-awaited playoff break, the Patriots railed against the officials as well as the Raiders' style of play.
"If they're going to go all the way, they'd better clean up their act and start playing some football," Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley told The New York Times. "That's why they can't win the big game. Their method catches up with them. If they continue taking cheap shots and stuff, they're going to have a lot more penalties called on them than they did today."
5. 1980 Raiders begin title run with win over an old friend
The Raiders were a team in transition entering the 1980 season. While several members of the team's first Super Bowl group were still on the roster, gone was head coach John Madden, quarterback Kenny Stalber, receiver Fred Biletnikoff, and defensive backs Willie Brown, Jack Tatum and George Atkinson. After missing the playoffs each of the previous two years, many prognosticators had the Raiders finishing third in the AFC West and missing the playoffs for a third straight year heading into the regular season.
Oakland's prospects looked even more bleak after quarterback Dan Pastorini suffered a season-ending injury five games into the regular season. Pastorini's injury, however, set the stage for one of the most improbable comeback stories in NFL history.
Jim Plunkett, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was considered a bust and a career backup by the time he joined the Raiders in 1979. But after spending his first season in Oakland on the bench, Plunkett resurrected his career while injecting life back into the Raiders. After a 2-3 start, the Raiders finished the regular season with an 11-5 record. While they didn't win the division, Oakland captured a wild card spot and would host the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Oilers, with Kenny Stalber under center, were expected to get to the Super Bowl after falling to Pittsburgh in the previous two AFC title games. But the Snake and his new team were no match for Oakland, who would score the game's final 24 points en route to a 27-7 victory. While Stabler endured seven sacks and two interceptions (the second a pick-six late in the game), Plunkett threw two touchdown passes to help give Oakland its first playoff win in three years.
Oakland, led by Plunkett, offensive lineman Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, receiver Cliff Branch, running backs Mark van Eeghen and Kenny King, punter Ray Guy, defensive linemen John Matuszak, Reggie Kinlaw and Ted Hendricks, linebackers Matt Millen and Rod Martin, and defensive backs Lester Hayes and Mike Davis, would then upset Cleveland and San Diego on the road en route to a blowout victor over the Eagles in Super Bowl XV. In the process, the Raiders became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a wild card.
While he was part of two Super Bowl winning teams during his time with the Raiders, Hayes said that Oakland's wild card win over Houston is his favorite memory of playing in the Black Hole.
"It was the Super Bowl XV season, and it was vs. Kenny Stabler," said Hayes, a Houston native. "During that week, I got like 75 phone calls from my Houston friends, my Texas A&M friends, my family. Because they loved the Oilers. Wow. To be successful in beating your hometown team. ... Texas is a very fascinating state. The populace of Texas is very loyal to Texas. It's a Texas thing. To break my family's heart? To break my friends' hearts? That is on a pedestal in my hippocampus. That's deep. I broke some hearts. I broke some hearts. People were pissed off at me, because I told people that Kenny Stabler and Earl Campbell, they cannot beat us. They cannot beat us. And I was right. The final score was 27-7. It was a glorious day in Silver and Black."
4. Brett Favre plays through heartbreak while earning the Black Hole's respect
The Black Hole's finest hour may have been on the night of Dec. 22, 2003, when they paid homage to Brett Favre on a night NFL fans won't soon forget.
Favre, the Packers Hall of Fame quarterback, was in Oakland to face the Raiders on "Monday Night Football" a day after his father and childhood coach, Irv Favre, passed away after suffering a heart attack. Despite his heartache, Favre decided to honor his father by playing against the Raiders, with the Packers needing a win to stay alive in the NFC playoff race.
"I was so worried that I would lay an egg in that game," Favre said in an NFL Films documentary. "And I think people watching would say, 'Hey, it's understandable; his father just passed away.' I didn't want that. I wanted to leave that game and be proud of the way I played and would want him to say, 'Hey, you played well.'"
Favre didn't just play well, he played great. In arguable his greatest game as an NFL quarterback, Favre threw four first half touchdown passes while helping the Packers build a 31-7 halftime lead. He finished with 399 yards on 22-of-30 passing while compiling a passer rating of 154.9
While Favre's performance in the wake of his father's passing is the stuff of legends, Favre and his wife Deanna spoke glowingly about the reverence the Black Hole showed their family throughout the night.
"I got a standing ovation from the (visiting) fans, that doesn't happen," Favre said. "Words couldn't even explain how I felt."
"What impressed me were the Oakland fans," added Deanna Favre. "They were so respectful, and that was awesome."
3. The Heidi Game
Oakland's 1968 regular-season victory over the New York Jets continues to live in infamy as "The Heidi Game." With Joe Namath and the visiting Jets enjoying a slim fourth-quarter lead, NBC decided to cease showing the game in favor of a made-for-TV film titled "Heidi." As enraged NFL fans called the network to voice their displeasure, the Raiders -- without a TV audience watching -- scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
NBC would not make the same mistake the following month when the two teams met again in the AFL Championship Game. And unlike their previous matchup, it was the Jets who came from behind to beat the Raiders, with Namath completing a six-yard touchdown pass to future Hall of Fame receiver Don Maynard to give New York a 27-23 victory over the defending AFL champions. Namath and the Jets would then pull off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, defeating Don Shula's Baltimore Colts to become the first AFL team to defeat an NFL franchise.
2. Raiders end Dolphins' historic run on 'Sea of Hands' touchdown
Miami was the antithesis of the Raiders during the early 1970s. While the Raiders were always cast as the bridesmaid, the Dolphins were the kings of professional football, winning consecutive Super Bowls while becoming the first team to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls. Their victory in Super Bowl VIII came after mauling the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game.
The two teams would met again in the first round of the 1974 playoffs. In a game that saw seven lead changes, it was the Raiders that would pull off one of the greatest victories in NFL history while ending the Dolphins' reign atop the NFL's food chain in the process.
With Oakland trailing by five points with under a minute remaining, Kenny Stalber -- as he was falling to the ground -- found running back Clarence Davis in the end zone. Davis, despite battling three Dolphins for the ball, came up with the ball on a play that will forever be known as the "Sea of Hands".
While Oakland escaped with a victory, it would be two more years before their Super Bowl dreams came to fruition.
1. '76 Raiders blast Steelers en route to first Super Bowl win
Oakland's three previous playoff losses to the Steelers didn't matter. Neither did their season-opening win over Pittsburgh that led to Chuck Noll's war of words with the Raiders. On Dec. 26, 1976, in front of their loyal fans at The Coliseum, all that mattered was beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game to advance to their first Super Bowl.
"Swann, Atkinson, what Pittsburgh said, rivalry, didn't mean anything at this point," then Raiders head coach John Madden said in an NFL Films documentary. "We're this close to the Super Bowl, and we can't let this one get away from us."
While the Raiders were near full strength, the Steelers were without injured running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, who had both rushed for over 1,000 yards during the regular season. Pittsburgh's injury woes meant nothing to Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano, who was hellbent on beating the Raiders' biggest rival.
"They had their people, and we stuck it to them," said Villapiano, one of the Raiders' best defensive players during that era. "I wish that game could have gone on or 17 quarters. The Steelers got what they deserved, they got a nice but kicking that afternoon."
Pittsburgh was no match for the Raiders, scoring just seven points while being held to 237 total yards of offense. While the Steelers actually out-gained the Raiders, it was Oakland's ability to run the ball -- the Raiders out-gained the Steelers on the ground, 157-72 -- that proved to be one of the biggest differences in the game.
After the Steelers cut their deficit to 10-7 at intermission, Oakland shut Pittsburgh's offense out in the second half. With the Steelers' defense expecting runs, Stabler threw two second half touchdown passes to cap off a 24-7 victory and Oakland's first trip to the Super Bowl.
"It was a time that we took over," said Madden, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. "There was a time that Miami had taken over. There was a time that Pittsburgh had taken over. And now it was our turn to take over and dominate them."
"We had been criticized for not being able to win the big one," added Stabler, who was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. "John as a head coach not being able to win the big one. Me as a quarterback not being able to win the big one. When the game was in hand, it was like a piano falling off your back."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Steelers, who saw their dreams of becoming the first and only team to win three straight Super Bowls come crashing down. After losing to Oakland in Week 1 and starting the season with a 1-4 record, the Steelers won ten straight games that included one of the greatest defensive runs in NFL history, as Pittsburgh allowed 28 points in a nine-game span that included five shutouts.
"I made the comment, 'Give us a six-pack, and we'll go back out and play 'em again,'" Pittsburgh Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert"Really the most frustrating game I've ever played in my life."
While the Raiders reveled in their historic victory, Madden quickly reminded his players of their ultimate goal.
"Beating Pittsburgh was one thing," Madden said, "but the biggest thing was, 'We're going to the Super Bowl … and we're gonna win it.'"
Oakland did just that, dismantling the Vikings in Super Bowl XI while becoming one of the greatest teams in NFL history. Months later, the Raiders received -- at that time -- the biggest rings ever presented to a Super Bowl champion. The rings also included the score of the AFC Championship Game, a reminder of the greatest game ever played inside the Black Hole.
"No one can ever take it away from you," Madden said of Oakland's Super Bowl ring. "In 1976, we won this ring, and it's always ours. But bigger than the ring is the memories. You look at it and you remember all those players, and not only the big stars, but you remember them all. How they sacrificed, what they did.
"You earned it, and you it by playing hard, and you earned it by winning, and you earned it by being a champion."
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