PREVIEW: Raiders still beloved in LA, but Chargers have playoff hopes
CARSON, Calif. (AP) The Raiders spent only 13 seasons in Los Angeles after moving down in 1982.
Al Davis took them back to Oakland after 1994, and Mark Davis is almost certainly moving them yet again to Las Vegas in the near future.
But during that largely successful era, the Raiders formed a passionate bond with a generation of LA football fans – and they won the city’s only Super Bowl title.
”Going off of what I know and seeing what I’ve seen growing up, the Raider fans stayed the Raider fans,” said Hayes Pullard, the Chargers’ Inglewood-born linebacker who went to Crenshaw High School and USC. ”That was pretty much the loyalty with them. They never stopped.”
It’s not hard to see why. The Raiders’ swaggering outlaw image meshed splendidly with LA’s emerging West Coast hip-hop ethos. Their home games in the cavernous Coliseum were exciting, occasionally dangerous parties, and they raised that Super Bowl trophy in early 1984 with a profusion of dynamic stars ranging from Marcus Allen to Howie Long.
Many Angelenos believe the Raiders are still this sprawling city’s most popular NFL team, nearly a quarter-century after they left LA and two seasons after the return of the Rams, who largely ceded Los Angeles’ Generation X fans to the Raiders by spending the 1980s in Orange County.
And for the first time in 23 years, the Raiders are back in Hollywood on Sunday. Or at least Carson.
The Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) are only the nominal home team at StubHub Center for the long-awaited return of the Raiders (6-9), who have the generational support in LA that the newcomer Bolts are still a generation away from earning.
”All my brothers, uncles, other relatives were all LA Raiders fans even after they went to Oakland,” Pullard said with a laugh. ”They’re still Raiders fans. Now I’ve got some of the family that wants tickets to this game, so I have to say, `Do you want to see me, or do you want to see the Raiders? Let me know now!”’
The Chargers are in LA because they gained the NFL’s permission for relocation over the Raiders, who also wanted to come home – but the Bolts have got work to do to win LA’s hearts, and a big win over the Raiders to earn a playoff berth would help greatly.
This New Year’s Eve game has been spotlighted by Raiders booster clubs since the Chargers’ first LA schedule came out, and tickets are being offered for hundreds of dollars over face value on resale sites. Most Chargers realize the crowd will be filled with Raiders faithful.
”If they’re not getting in the game, they’re going to definitely be in the parking lot, for sure,” said Chargers defensive lineman Brandon Mebane, who also grew up in LA surrounded by Raiders supporters.
What the Chargers have – and these Raiders don’t – are playoff hopes, albeit complicated ones.
With a victory over Oakland, a loss by Tennessee and a win by either Baltimore or Buffalo, the Chargers will become the first team since 1992 to make the NFL postseason after an 0-4 start.
Even if those dominoes don’t fall, the Chargers would have the satisfaction of securing a winning record with a season sweep of their biggest rivals. That’s no small feat considering the rough beginning to their relocation season.
”We’re not going to scoreboard-watch, because if we don’t win, none of that matters,” Chargers pass-rusher Melvin Ingram said. ”Rivalry game. End of the year. No matter if we were both 0-15, the atmosphere is going to be amazing.”
Here are more things to watch when the Raiders come home:
HISTORIC FALL: Oakland began this season with high expectations following a 12-win season, but if the Raiders lose Sunday, their drop of six wins from last season will be the second worst in franchise history, with only the faceplant from 11-5 in 2002 to 4-12 in 2003 ranking worse. But quarterback Derek Carr doesn’t believe the high expectations were out of whack.
”Because when we show flashes of what we can be, then everyone is like, `Oh, there it is,”’ Carr said. ”But then we weren’t consistent enough. We’re not consistent enough all year, especially in the details of our assignments.”
OLD FRIEND: Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is looking forward to his showdown with Raiders defensive coordinator John Pagano, who spent the previous 15 seasons on San Diego’s coaching staff, including the past five years as defensive coordinator.
”We’ve certainly had our fair shares of competition and times on the practice field, our offense against his defense,” said Whisenhunt, in his second stint running the Chargers’ offense.
DEFENSIVE TURNAROUND: The Raiders have undergone a dramatic switch defensively since Pagano was promoted due to the midseason firing of coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
After ranking last in the league in takeaways (four) and passer rating against (113.3) through 10 games, the Raiders have been near the top of several defensive categories in five games after the switch, including third in third down defense and fourth in passer rating (72.1).
BOLTS BESTS: Tight end Antonio Gates could be playing his last regular-season game, although the Chargers’ career receptions leader hasn’t said for sure. Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen needs eight catches to finish with 101, breaking the Chargers’ single-season record held by LaDainian Tomlinson. And Rivers needs just 39 yards passing to top 50,000.
MARSHAWN’S MILESTONES: Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has money on the line in the season finale. If Lynch rushes for at least 10 yards reach 800 on the season he would get a $600,000 bonus on top of the $800,000 in bonuses he has already earned. Lynch also needs 98 yards to reach 10,000 for his career – a mark reached by 30 players.