For Miguel Hernandez, merely wearing silver and black isn’t enough.
The 24-year-old Oakland native, who hasn’t missed a Raiders home game along with his twin brother, Luis, in three years, customized his very own Al Davis No. 1 jersey at the start of the 2011 NFL season. And since Week 1, he hasn’t worn anything else.
“He was the godfather,” Miguel said of Davis, the Raiders owner who died last month on the eve of Oakland’s 25-20 road win over the Houston Texans. “We want to commit ourselves to excellence … in honor of him.”
“Excellent” is something the Raiders have been the opposite of since winning the AFC Championship Game in 2002. After losing Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raider Nation has been subjected to seven losing seasons of misery and last year’s pedestrian 8-8 finish.
But after ranking last in home-game attendance during the past two seasons, Oakland has sold out each of its first five home games. And under the guidance of first-year coach Hue Jackson, the Raiders appear poised, for the moment, for playoff contention and may emerge as the top team in the AFC West.
“Our coach is making some moves that are benefiting our team,” Luis said, a former offensive lineman at Oakland High School and current student at UC Berkeley. “We look good on paper … right now. We just have to finish the games and just play football.”
Finishing games has at times proved difficult for Oakland as they’ve been plagued by penalties and injuries.
Oakland hasn’t been playoff relevant since President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech. And despite star running back Darren McFadden missing some time with an injury, the Raiders can invest hope in another Bush, Michael, to help seal a playoff spot.
Also, quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone during Week 6’s win over Cleveland. That injury prompted the Raiders to trade for nearly retired Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer, a decision that polarized some Raiders faithful.
“He’s going to bring that presence to the locker room and he’s going help our future quarterback, Terrelle Pryor,” Miguel said. “He’s the piece to the puzzle that we need to make the playoffs. He’s the perfect guy.”
But Luis isn’t sold yet on the Palmer trade.
“He played terrible [against Kansas City],” Luis said. “He hadn’t played in like a year. But we’ll see how good of a quarterback he really is.”
Just seven miles south of the Coliseum, raucous fans at Ricky’s Sports Theatre & Grill in San Leandro find out just how improved the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner really is. Ricky’s has become synonymous with Raiders pride to the extent where one Raiders fan wished to have his ashes scattered outside the establishment. Its owner, Ricky Ricardo, welcomed the ashes and the success thus far.
“There has a been a new look of hope … I see a lot of life in the Raiders franchise,” said Ricardo, 66, whose restaurant has eight rooms with nearly 100 TVs. “These last few years have been dismal.”
Raiders’ home attendance:
|2011*||59,380 (28th in NFL)||296,904 (22nd in NFL)|
|2010||46,431 (both last in NFL)||371,448 (both last in NFL)|
|2009||44,284 (both last in NFL)||354,276 (both last in NFL)|
* Through five games
“We still have a lot of hope for good things to come. We’re in position to make good things happen. There are three teams vying for first place. But we like our chances. The only thing we can control is taking it one week at a time.” — Boris Morales, 40, 12-year season ticket holder, fan since 1977
“We’ve had a lot of gray days. The sun is starting to shine in Oakland.” — Ricky Ricardo, 66, restaurant owner
“Eight years of losing teams. God, it’s been horrible.” — Maury, employee at Ricky’s
“I was a little reluctant … but Carson Palmer’s touchdowns get me all warmed up. Are we a playoff team? This year … yes!” — Tudy Thompson, 62, Manteca resident, regular at Ricky’s and fan since 1973