Fourteen Years: An Oakland Raiders Memoir

Fourteen years later, the Oakland Raiders are finally back in the playoffs. What was popular in January of 2003?

The Oakland Raiders last postseason run began in the second week of January 2003. It was a simpler time in my life, and though I didn’t yet know the majesty of fine bourbon, and still had to wax poetic to the ladies on a landline, I recall those days with great fondness.

The guy that’s starting at quarterback for the Raiders this weekend turned ten years old a few days after Super Bowl 38. The guy that would be starting at quarterback for the Raiders this weekend (were football not a cruel, unforgiving harbinger of devastation) had just spent his first year in a suburb right outside of Houston, Texas, only a few miles from where I live now, watching his big brother play quarterback for the city’s shiny new football team.

Of course, the world is a much different place now than it was fourteen years ago. The Raiders’ website looked like this:

Likewise, some of you were much uglier in 2003. Some of you had kids who were just learning how to ride their bikes without training wheels. And some of you were those kids.

Let’s take a look back at how some other things were in 2003:

Music: Technically, Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” was Billboard’s No.1 record of 2002, but because those titles aren’t determined until the year’s end, 2003 had already arrived by the time anybody realized that the country had spent almost two years (yes, this song was released in 2001) being slowly poisoned with tiny doses of audial cyanide. Some lyrics:

It’s not like you to say sorry
I was waiting on a different story
This time I’m mistaken
For handing you a heart worth breaking
And I’ve been wrong, I’ve been down
Been to the bottom of every bottle
These five words in my head
Scream “are we having fun yet?”

All in all, it’s a rather fitting embodiment of the Raiders fourteen-year playoff drought, no?

In a continuing theme of Canadians polluting the world with very bad music, 2003’s  No. 1 Album was Shania Twain’s Up! and I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I wouldn’t know Shania Twain if she were the fourth-string quarterback behind Connor Cook this weekend, and even more proud of the fact that I couldn’t even begin to hum a single chord of her music. Up! apparently has a song called “Nah!”, which seems appropriate, considering that’d almost assuredly be my response were anybody ever to ask me to press play on it.

Film/TV: On January 12th, 2003, just as the Raiders were preparing to take the field against the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Round, at least one of your girlfriends or wives dragged you to the movie theater to see “Just Married”, an Ashton Kutcher rom-com about nothing in particular. Remember when Ashton Kutcher was a thing? Remember Punk’d and That 70s Show and designer trucker hats? No on all fronts?? Cool. Me either. RIP Brittany Murphy, though.

Having debuted in 2000, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had long been a bonafide hit by 2003. The original CSI — not one of the ten-thousand spin-offs and letter rearrangements that have aired since then. I’m talking Gil Grissom and that Eric Benet-looking guy who was perpetually squinting and always had some clever jab to dole out. That was good television — and there’s a small bit of irony concerning the setting of that series, that’s not lost on me, especially considering a very important meeting that could determine the future of the franchise that’s taking place in a couple of weeks.

This was also right around the time when reality TV was really beginning to hit a stride. Joe Millionaire, a show premised around lying to the women you’re dating about how much money you have, debuted in January 2003. Naturally, it was a hit.

On the flipside, we got the first episodes of Chappelle’s Show a little less than a week before Super Bowl 38. Per usual, Dave’s timing couldn’t be better — the laughter was exactly what I needed to ease the deep, deep, gut-wrenching pain after the 26th had come and gone.

Some other random notes from 2003:

  • The 2002 season marked the birth of the “South” divisions for either conference, accompanying the introduction of the expansion Houston Texans into the league. Conference realignment included flipping the Seattle Seahawks from the AFC West to the NFC West, (thereby making them the only franchise in the league to change conferences twice).
  • The newly-formed Department of Homeland Security began operation.
  • Gas was $1.83 a gallon.
  • Your girl probably owned a velour sweatsuit with and adjective scrawled in fancy letters across the butt.

Amazingly enough, things have only managed to get stranger in the decade and a half since the Raiders were last in the playoffs, and it doesn’t look like the universe is letting up anytime soon in heaping on the weirdness.

I can only pray, regardless to how this season ends for the Raiders, that there’s not another fourteen years in between playoff appearances. At this rate, I may not be on the planet for the next one.

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