Raider Nation Revival: Oakland Discovers New Life in the Black Hole

Sean O'LearyContributor ISeptember 22, 2011

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 12:  An Oakland Raiders fan holds up a flag before the Raiders take on the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 12, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Let's take a minute to clear the air.

Al Davis did not commission the drafting or publication of this piece. In fact, the last thing Davis commissioned was an oil painting of himself before the Battle of Hastings.

With that said, the Oakland Raiders finds itself three weeks into the 2011-12 NFL regular season, and the sports-loving world has not yet turned away in horror. 

Even as the wheels fell off in the second half of a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, fans around the league seemed more entertained by the idea of Oakland scoring 35 points in a game, than by what a Week 2 loss means long-term for the psyche of a fragile Raiders team.

Far from disenchanted, NFL junkies and journalists seem mildly interested in observing the Raiders for signs of sustainable growth. 

Oakland's 23-20 opening game victory over the Denver Broncos at Mile High was the Raiders' ninth straight regular season win over AFC West opponents. 

Quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Darren McFadden led the revamped Silver and Black Attack, combining for 263 yards of total offense. Campbell threw a touchdown to emerging fullback Marcel Reece, and rushed for another score.

In Week 2, The Campbell and McFadden Show descended on Buffalo. The unusually poised quarterback hit on 23 of 33 pass attempts for 323 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular 50-yard heave to rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore. McFadden was effective on the ground and in the pass game, racking up 143 yards of offense and scoring twice.

An exhausted Raiders' defense collapsed in the second half, exposing holes in the Oakland secondary that need patching before the New York Jets call the coin toss at Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, or Raider Nation starts using the words winning and season in the same sentence.

Mark Sanchez and the two-time AFC runner-ups are 2-0, coming off home wins over Dallas and Jacksonville. This is Gang Green's first hurdle in a three-game road test, followed by trips to Baltimore and New England in consecutive weeks.

The Jets are 11-5 in regular season road games under Rex Ryan, including a crushing 38-0 win over Oakland in 2009.

Raider Nation knows the score. This is why, when fans show up, they arrive dressed for a funeral. Expectations are drawn up in the first few weeks of action, as hope clears cement the lot of old rubble to make room for newer, stronger materials. With anticipation breaking ground, and mediocre performances constructing a season that never satisfies the architects' original blueprints.

This was the cyclical nature of Oakland Raiders football, circa 2003-2010.

As with all the cycles of life, decay is inevitable. Bad coaching, uninspired effort, and disorganization all indicate a slow, steady rotting—one that only becomes apparent to the unwavering fan after he or she has paid a money for four quarters of having his or her face rubbed in its foulness.

The 2011-12 Oakland Raiders are not in a state of decay, despite the loss of beastly All Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, and a string of offensive starters to injury.

The team is developing a new identity that gravitates around the swagger and athleticism of its young core—namely Campbell and McFadden—and the tweaking of its previously boring playbook thanks to new head coach Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator Al Sanders.

There is nothing easy about making a bad football team good again. It takes patience, practice, and persistence (and even then a few losses are all but guaranteed). The Raiders have been floating in dead space for years, and just now seem to be coming alive.

With a win over the Jets, and continued success in the lackluster AFC West, Oakland may just discover that it was never darkness waiting all these years on the event horizon, but rebirth, and a true shot at making the playoffs.