Spotlight Game Week 8 - Elway piece

Spotlight Game Week 8 - Elway piece

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The Broncos-Raiders rivalry lives on

By John Elway
Special to

John Elway

Since Mike Shanahan became the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 1995, there have always been two games on the schedule each year that make the hair on the back of his neck stand up: the Raiders games.

Of course, that's nothing new. The Broncos-Raiders matchup has always been a great rivalry in the AFC West. Dating all the way back to 1960, the AFL's first season, the Raiders have always been the Broncos' archenemy.

It's safe to say this rivalry has been a streaky one. There was a stretch from 1965 to 1971 when the Raiders won 14 straight in the series. But heading into this Monday Night Football game in Oakland, the Broncos have won 11 of the past 12.

Sometimes, when you have a series in which one team is dominant over the other, that might take away from the enthusiasm of the rivalry. But the history of the Broncos-Raiders series is something that has never died. It's still a huge, huge game.

Those Raiders teams I faced early in my career had some great defensive players. Ted Hendricks was still playing. Howie Long, Greg Townsend and Matt Millen. Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes formed as good a cornerback combo as there was in the league at the time -- always tough to throw against. Free safety Vann McElroy was really one of my nemeses. He did a good job of reading young quarterbacks, so I always had a tough time against him.

Ted Hendricks
Ted Hendricks

Hendricks was a holdover from the "bad-boy" Raiders of the '70s, and he certainly was intimidating. "The Stork" was 6-foot-7, one of the tallest guys to ever play linebacker. But when you factor in his reputation on and off the field, I remember looking over the line of scrimmage at him in my rookie year and thinking he was 7-foot-5!

It was always tough playing the Raiders because of their bad-boy image and their "mystique." You knew going into a football game against the Raiders that you had to be ready to take a few shots that you don't normally get against other teams. That was their image and they did everything they could to live up to that. And they also liked to talk a lot.

The rivalry was fairly even in the mid-'80s. Then it really got heated up with Mike Shanahan.

The only time I've ever talked to Raiders owner Al Davis was when I recommended Shanahan to be the head coach of the Raiders in 1988. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, because Mike was not only my offensive coordinator at the time but also a good friend. But Mike was ready to be a head coach. It was what he wanted and I really thought he would be a great head coach. That was the only time I talked to Al Davis, telling him the kind of job I thought Mike would do for the Raiders.

So Mike became head coach of the Raiders in 1988 -- and that heated up the rivalry not only because of my relationship with him, but also because several of our coaches went with him.

We were 1-2 against Shanahan's Raiders. Our first game against him was one of the poorest games I've ever played. We were down 24-0 and we ended up losing 30-27 in overtime. That was a tough pill to swallow.

But it didn't work out for Mike with the Raiders, and they fired him after four games of the 1989 season. I really don't know enough to comment about what happened between Mike and Al Davis, but I know he never felt like he had a chance there.

Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan

So Mike returned to the Broncos as an assistant -- and that upset Davis to the point that it set off a lawsuit between the two teams. Needless to say, that added more fuel to the fire.

After a three-year stint as offensive coordinator with San Francisco, Mike came back here as the head coach in 1995. And Mike's experience with the Raiders transcended down through our team -- if for no other reason, that's why playing the Raiders was always a big, big game for us. And that's why the Broncos have won 11 of the last 12 against the Raiders.

Just look at last season: Oakland won the AFC West with a 12-4 record, yet they lost two games to the Broncos.

Mike's intensity changes when he talks to his team about playing the Raiders. That fire in Mike's eyes has never dimmed, and there are still enough veterans on the team that have been here since Mike took over. And they understand how much this game means to Mike.

Of course, then you have the fans -- the fans will always hate the Raiders. You put it all together, and that's what makes it such a great, great rivalry.

I'm not sure that old Raiders "mystique" of the '70s and early '80s is still there, but you always take a lot of pride in beating them -- whether they are 7-9 or 12-4. You always felt good after a game when you beat them.

The Raiders are playing great football -- they are probably the team to beat in the AFC right now. So if the Broncos can win Monday night, it would really put them back in the hunt and give them the confidence they need for a second-half run. They can't afford to lose to the Raiders, because that would put them three games behind Oakland with eight games to go.

Just another big game in this classic rivalry.

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