One of the beautiful things about the Raiders playing in the AFC West is, all three are viewed as hated rivals and the fan base can’t agree on whether the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs or Los Angeles Chargers are more despised.
“I love the AFC West,” new Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “I love the natural rivalries that have been around since I was a kid.”
So do Raiders fans. Yet, somewhere along the way, the New England Patriots emerged as the team Raiders fans love to hate most. Yes, even more so than Oakland’s longtime division rivals.
OK, so it’s not unknown where this bitter hatred started. Everyone knows it began a little more than 16 years ago, in Foxboro, Mass., on a snowy night, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, when a Raiders game-clinching fumble recovery was overturned. That allowed the Patriots to tie the game, and they eventually won in overtime en route to their first Super Bowl victory.
Coincidentally, Gruden was here for only the very first game of the rivalry. My, how things have changed.
Well, the Patriots still are winning games by the bushel, being sized for Super Bowl rings every other year or so and piling up haters every step of the way. The most ardent of those haters just might reside in Raider Nation.
This was going to be the year the Raiders knocked the Patriots off their perch, and fans could go back to directing their hate toward AFC West foes. Or, so they thought. Heck, some even expected it to happen, almost as some sort of logical progression as the Raiders built themselves into an NFL power.
The Raiders were 12-3 late in 2016, when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a broken leg at the Coliseum against the Indianapolis Colts. They lost their regular-season finale, which enabled the Chiefs to leapfrog them in the final week of the season and into first place. A week later, the Raiders season was over after a wildcard-game loss to the Houston Texans.
Fans, players and even some media spoke openly about how the Raiders were primed to unseat the Patriots and that the Carr injury prevented that from happening. This season was going to be the time, then. All the Raiders needed was for Carr to remain healthy, or so went the thinking.
How silly was that, in retrospect?
As we know, the Patriots whacked the Raiders in a game in Mexico City and never stopped winning through last Sunday. We’ll refrain from using Carr’s back injury earlier in the season as a reason for why the game was so lopsided, as it was clear just how much better the Patriots were that day, if not all season.
Ultimately, the Patriots advanced to their eighth Super Bowl under quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, while the Raiders made sweeping changes once again. Fans loved the hiring of head coach Jon Gruden almost as much as they loved spewing vitriol toward the Patriots.
None of that changes the fact that the Patriots are still the king of the AFC and NFL until further notice. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl a week from Sunday, they will retain that title for another year.
And the Raiders’ hatred of their newest and most-loathed rivals will grow even more, to heights that not even the Chiefs, Broncos or Chargers can fathom.