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Snake by Mike Freeman


Snake by Mike Freeman

Author:Mike Freeman
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2016-09-27T04:00:00+00:00


Four weeks before the postseason began, on November 21, 1976, the Raiders trampled the Philadelphia Eagles, 26–7, to win the AFC West. In the locker room afterward, there was happiness, but not the giddiness of other division wins. That’s because the Raiders had been there many times before. In the previous decade, they’d won nine AFC West titles, including five straight. Winning the division was nothing new. The team wanted bigger and better things. “We’ve been here so many times,” Snake told the media after the Philadelphia game, “I’m happy for the guys who have never been on a winner before, but we all realize that our season is in front of us.”

The only notable moment of the game came from Philadelphia linebacker Bill Bergey. The Raiders’ offensive line was so dominant, Bergey got frustrated and began hollering at his own defensive front. “Why don’t you just lay down!” he screamed. Later, still frustrated, Bergey threw a punch at Raiders running back Mark van Eeghen. Upshaw approached Bergey. “I’m just tired of being blocked,” he told Upshaw, before laughing. Bergey wasn’t the only player frustrated by the best guard-tackle tandem in history. Upshaw at guard and Shell at tackle drove many of the best defenders to mumble to themselves.

In the Philadelphia locker room, defensive end Blenda Gay said something many around the NFL were thinking. The Raiders were good but there was still a good chance the team would again choke in the postseason. “It remains to be seen how far they’ll go in the playoffs,” he told reporters. “Who knows? They might fold again.”

There was indeed a strange mind-set when it came to people outside the Raiders. Following that Eagles game, while waiting at the Philadelphia airport to catch their plane, a journalist asked Madden what was wrong with Snake. “Are you kidding?” Madden shot back. “Stabler completed 14 of 18 passes. What do you want from the guy?”

Columnist Levitt summed up the attitude of many Raiders fans and even some in the media. “Perfection,” he wrote. “People think Ken Stabler shouldn’t miss a pass, the Raiders shouldn’t lose a game, the coach shouldn’t make a mistake. Oakland fans are so used to the Raiders winning that when the club arrived at the Oakland Airport last night—after clinching their fifth straight division title—I counted fewer than 25 people there to greet them. Rooters and rivals have a tough time knowing how to handle this Oakland team.”

Eagles runner Dave Hampton would say “the Raiders are arrogant. But they have a right to be arrogant. They’re that good.”

Inside Oakland’s locker room, players were ignoring the outside noise, instead choosing to focus on their mentality approaching the playoffs. None of the Raiders’ key starters, including Stabler, wanted to rest and sit out some of the final games. “Until we end up with the best record,” Snake told the media, “to give us home field advantage in the playoffs, we’ll still go all out in every game.”

The next week, on the same day



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