Our newest contributor Matt Gutierrez joins the Las Vegas Raiders Report to talk about why the hiring of Jon Gruden helps Raider Nation close the chapter on an ugly time in the team’s history.
Jon Gruden’s time as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders was the high point for the franchise over the last two decades.
Gruden has unfinished business and after 16 years, he’s back to complete what he started. He’s back to return the team to its once-held glory. He’s back to bring the Raiders a Super Bowl championship.
But how did we get here and how did Gruden start his storied career as both an NFL head coach and as a highly-paid television personality? It all started because of the vision and keen ability of Al Davis to recognize potential and talent when he saw it.
The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995. After three seasons without a winning record (8-8, 7-9, 4-12), Davis turned to a young offensive coordinator from the Philadelphia Eagles to be his next head coach. Nicknamed “Chucky,” for his resemblence to the character of the same name in the classic 1980s horror film Child’s Play, Gruden would begin a four-year run that catapulted the Raiders back to the top of the AFC West and a part of the elite group of NFL teams at the top of their game.
After two consecutive 8-8 seasons in 1998 and 1999, Gruden’s Raiders finished 2000 at 12-4 and won the AFC West division crown. An upset loss by the Tennessee Titans gave the Raiders home field advantage in the AFC Championship game vs the Ray Lewis-led Baltimore Ravens. A late first half “swan dive” by Ravens defensive tackle, Tony Siragusa separated Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon’s left shoulder forcing him out of the game and ultimately costing them a shot at the Super Bowl. The injury would have been too much for any team to overcome versus a historically great defense like the 2000 Ravens were.
The Raiders would have to wait till until the following season to make yet another run at the big game.
In Gruden’s fourth (and final) season, the Raiders were cruising towards a second consecutive AFC West title, and a first-round bye. With a 10-3 record, and two of their last three games in Oakland, the Raiders stumbled and went on a three-game losing streak finishing the season at 10-6. A 24-22, week 17 loss to the Jets dropped the Raiders from the second seed and a first-round bye, to the number three seed and a rematch with the Jets on Wild Card weekend.
That week 17 stumble gets lost in the shuffle because of the infamy that took place just two weeks later in Foxboro. Had the Raiders won that game, they never would have traveled to the snowy hell that would tarnish Gruden’s final game as Raiders coach.
The “loss” to the Patriots was more than just an abrupt end to a promising season. Al Davis had grown tired of Gruden and of a man who had become the young and modern face of the Raiders. He traded Gruden in the off-season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first round picks, two second round picks, and some cash. The Raiders promoted offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to Head Coach, and went on to finish the 2002 season with an 11-5 record. They would host the AFC Championship game for the second time in three seasons, this time beating the Titans and earning a trip to Super Bowl XXXVII against the Gruden-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Raiders offense, which was built by the man on the opposing sideline, had no answers for the Tampa defense and the Raiders were blown out by the score of 48-21.
That’s where the Raiders and Jon Gruden left off. The Tuck Rule game, and the Super Bowl. Without one, we never would have had the other.
After 16 long years of “what if’s” and “yeah but’s,” the man the Raider Nation has always seemingly longed for is finally back. Many of us believe he’s back to right all the wrongs of the past mostly disappointing season. Back to exact revenge on the NFL for making the most absurd call in history. Back to bring a Super Bowl Championship to the Silver & Black.
And most importantly, back to start the next great chapter in Raiders history. The chapter that starts in Las Vegas.
Welcome home Coach. Welcome, to Fabulous Las Vegas!