Some games mean more than others. So this isn't just any Red Friday. This is Raiders Week.
The Las Vegas Raiders currently hold a half-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. If the Chiefs are to turn this season around, they must walk out of Allegiant Stadium with a victory.
But that's not why Sunday night is the most important game of the year.
It's the most important game of the year because the Chiefs are playing the artists formally known as the Chokeland Raiders.
As a Chiefs fan, you do not need any further motivation than that.
As Hall of Fame Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson once noted, "The games with the Raiders were not games. No... games are fun. These were wars... this is not only a game. This is Raiders Week."
Longtime Chiefs defensive coordinator (and head coach) Gunther Cunningham was once asked about games between the two teams.
"It's a dark game," he said. "I characterize it as a lot of darkness."
It all started because of the Davidsons
First, there was Cotton Davidson.
Before the start of the 1963 season, Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt traded Davidson — his starting quarterback — to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the first overall pick in the 1963 AFL Draft. Kansas City used that pick to select Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, who became the first black player to be taken with the first overall pick in a pro draft.
Davidson would spend the next six years in Oakland, throwing for 41 touchdowns and 63 interceptions on the way to a hapless 8-19-1 record. Hunt fleeced Raiders owner Al Davis — and it sowed seeds of animosity that exist to this day.
Then there was Ben Davidson.
Everything boiled over on November 1, 1970, as the Chiefs were clinging to a 17-14 lead over the Raiders. All the Chiefs needed was a first down to run out the clock. Dawson faked the handoff and rolled right on a bootleg, picking up enough yardage for a first down.
November 1, 1970— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) July 24, 2018
Len Dawson secured the first down that would ice a 17-14 KC victory. A late hit by Ben Davidson and the fight after resulted in offsetting penalties and a replay of the down. KC failed to pick up the 1st and the Raiders tied the game 17-17 on a Blanda 58 yard FG pic.twitter.com/EFBILtO7jG
But while Dawson was still on the ground, Raiders defensive end Ben Davidson came in head first, hitting the Kansas City quarterback in the lower back — what might be one of the dirtiest plays in NFL history. Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor immediately came to his quarterback's defense — and a melee ensued.
Penalties were called on both teams. The down was replayed. The second time around, the Chiefs couldn't convert and had to punt the ball away. As time expired, 43-year-old George Blanda Oakland kicked a game-tying 48-yard field goal.
And so... the first generation of Raider Haters was born.
The psyche of a rivalry
Somebody once asked me: Which do I like better? Watching the Chiefs win, or watching the Raiders lose?
It was a fair question. I had to think about it for a moment.
Intellectually, I know that I should enjoy watching a team I love succeed more than I like seeing a team that I hate fail. It just seems like the healthier way to go about your fandom.
And I wish I could say it was true — but I'm not that good of a person.
I love to watch the Raiders lose. It invokes something primal in my DNA that justifies my dislike of everything silver and black.
And lately... the Raiders have seemed more than willing to help me find joy.
Over the last ten years, the Raiders' record is 68-100 — which means that regardless of everything else that has been going on in my life in the last decade, the Raiders have been kind enough to gift me 100 Sundays of happiness.
Chiefs fans speak up
It's not just me. I took to Twitter and asked Chiefs fans how they felt about sports rivalries — particularly the Chiefs' relationship with the Raiders.
I like sports rivalries when they aren’t manufactured. You know like when the league or media just *decide* that two teams are rivals. It’s cool when it’s a history of back and forth battles over the years. So same division rivalries makes a lot of sense.— Thomas Rye (@thomasrye) November 11, 2021
1) Growing up in the Marty era I was conditioned to despise them. Harvey Williams doing Neil Smith’s sack celebration after a TD cemented it for me young.— Trill Self (@Jaminrawk) November 11, 2021
2) A lot. It’s always been very chippy, going back to a cheap shot on Len Dawson.
3) Rivalries are the best part of sports
Chefs fan for life, I get a kick out of the Raiders though. Nomadic left coast franchise who’s bad boy colors/logo attracts all these delusional fans. Football is better when they are good. Always a blast when my Chefs beat them— chapin (@chapdizzle2) November 11, 2021
I dislike them more than any other team in the NFL. Brandon flowers with the pick six where the entire fan base is flipping him off was amazing.— Kyle Hollingsworth (@Kyle_Sterling10) November 11, 2021
I think the rivalry kind of allows us to get some pettiness out of our system.— CryHavoc (@DeterVonFubar) November 11, 2021
These responses give you a sense of what a sports rivalry really is at its core.
- Authenticity. You can't make up bad blood. There's no room for phonies. You choose your side — and you ride with your team until the bitter end.
- History. Even if you dislike somebody or another team, you can't just wake up one day and decide that team is your rival. There has to be a track record of perceived slights to fuel your passion.
- Conditioning. There is a proverb that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." I am a Raider Hater because at a very young age, my parents — and every other authority figure in my life — told me that I was. 50% of sports rivalries are based on the biases of the people who raised us. And yes... I just made up 50% of that statistic.
- Memorable moments. For a rivalry to flourish, you have to have immortal moments. I may not know you, but if you watched Larry Johnson dive over the pile to score the winning touchdown in 2006, then we instantly have a connection — and know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
- An outlet for negativity. We all get frustrated. Rivalries give us a release valve to let out our anger appropriately. Still, there are clear limits to the boundaries of a healthy rivalry. Regardless of what happens on the field, it's never okay to physically attack an opposing fan — or say things about their personal lives and family.
The Raiders: their own worst enemy
Marty Schottenheimer famously once said—
“...If you just hang in there with the Raiders, they will find a way in the end to lose themselves.”
In my lifetime, the Raiders have been paper tigers who have struggled to put together an entire season of quality football. There is, however, one area where the Raiders reign supreme. Since 1993, the Raiders have fielded seven out of the top 10 most-penalized teams in NFL history.
So when a Chiefs fan tells you that the Raiders play dirty, you know they are telling the truth. The data is there to back it up. It's part of the persona in which Raiders players have taken pride — ever since Al Davis first said, "Just win, baby."
But that doesn't mean that Raiders fans deserve the worst. This season, the Raiders have dealt with a slew of off-field issues. They have been the kinds of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
Let's face it: for all of the back and forth and trash-talking, we are in this thing together. This rivalry does not work without them. So let me take a moment to say that my heart goes out to "The Black Hole." You are a passionate fan base that deserves better than what your team has given you this year.
So let's keep our ire focused on the game. There is no need to go out of bounds. As Chiefs fans, we know that on the field, the Raiders will give us plenty of things we can laugh about.