In this age of fly-on-the-wall sports documentaries, few would be as gripping and scarcely believable as this Las Vegas Raiders season. And it isn’t over yet.
With an operatic flair on the field, the Raiders defied the odds to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season. Off it, it was bedlam.
‘I don’t think any team has been through what we’ve been through in 10 years, let alone one year,’ said quarterback Derek Carr, the glue which has held his team together. ‘So much emotion. Pick a story, you know?’
Derek Carr threw for 4,804 yards and 23 touchdowns as he led the Raiders to the postseason
A chaotic four-week spell began on October 11 with the resignation of head coach Jon Gruden. Racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails written by Gruden between 2010-18 emerged as part of the misconduct investigation into former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen.
While working as an ESPN analyst, Gruden wrote to his friend using a racist trope to describe DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players’ Association executive director. He reportedly shared pictures of topless women and called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ‘a f*****’ and ‘a clueless anti-football pussy’.
Ahead of the season, defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out.
‘I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone,’ said Gruden, while special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was named interim head coach.
Rich Bisaccia is only the fourth interim coach in NFL history to guide his team to the playoffs
On November 2, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a woman and her dog in a 156mph car crash at 3am. He was charged with drink driving and carrying a firearm and released by the Raiders.
Three days later cornerback Damon Arnette – like Ruggs a first round draft pick in 2020 – was also cut after online videos emerged of him posting death threats with a gun.
To bookend the season, cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested for drink driving on January 3, the latest incident of this renegade franchise.
First of Oakland, then of Los Angeles and Oakland once more, the Raiders are synonymous with rebellion – their iconic silver and black logo adopted the world over.
They won three Super Bowls from 1976-83, the first under John Madden, the iconic head coach and broadcaster and video game pioneer who died on December 28.
John Madden led the Raiders to victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI
After moving to Las Vegas in 2020, the first game in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium set the tone for the season, a dramatic overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens.
It was the first of a record six wins courtesy of the final play of the game – and four in overtime.
A strong 5-2 start was derailed by a shaky 1-5 streak. On the outside looking in at 6-7, they had an eight per cent chance of reaching the playoffs, needing to win their last four.
They did, all nailbiters. None more so than the pulsating 35-32 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, sealed in the last second of the final game of the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.
Kicker Daniel Carlson prepares for a 47-yard field goal which would see off the Chargers in OT
‘I think we’ve tried to develop a group of men that care about each other, know what to do and compete with relentless effort,’ said Bisaccia, only the fourth interim coach in NFL history to reach the postseason. ‘And that’s a hard team to beat.’
On the difference between Bisaccia and the exuberant Gruden, running back Josh Jacobs said: ‘It was like (there was no) anxiety. It was weird. It was like everybody was calm. You didn’t have somebody cussing at you, or going crazy at the refs – none of that’
The Raiders’ winning streak sets up a trip to the Cincinnati Bengals, likely in the snow. The teams met in the desert in November with Cincinnati winning 32-12 and the Bengals are chasing a first playoff win since 1992.
Nothing about this Raiders team suggests that will be a straightforward task.
Ahead of his first playoff game Carr added on the season: ‘Hopefully it’d be a Disney movie someday, and I get to play coach Bisaccia.’