You’re a Raiders fan, and you wonder what else can happen. The team finally gets out of its decade-deep hole, one that’s silver as much as black, and the owner wants to sneak it over the border.
It has a quarterback worthy of the chant, “MVP, MVP,” and not only does he get hurt, a broken leg no less, but so does his backup.
So you wait, tentatively, philosophically, perhaps angrily, cursing fate, hoping the unproven kid at QB, Connor Cook, can make history and more importantly the defense, which was awful against Denver in the final regular season game, can make a few tackles.
Finally, after years and years — and years — the playoffs. The colleges around here are done. The other pro team, the 49ers, has been done since it started. In effect, the Raiders — “tha Raidahs” — are the only football team going in the entire great state of California. Whether they’re eventually also going to Vegas is the subject for another day.
For now, it’s the Houston Texans on Saturday and their $72 million man, Brock Osweiler, whose QB rating was next-to-last among NFL starters. So it’s bad, Raider fans, but it could be far worse. As a quarterback Osweiler does a splendid job of handing off. Meaning? The Raiders need to stop the run, which they did not against the Broncos.
Cook, as you know, is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era, or since 1967, to make his first career start in a postseason game. He’s a rookie, selected in the fourth round of last spring’s draft with only a teaspoonful of experience.
“We want him to be himself,” Jack Del Rio, the Raiders coach said about Cook. “To go out and do what we can do.” Or more accurately not to do what he can’t.
He isn’t yet Ben Roethlisberger. Or Tom Brady. Or Derek Carr. Never may be. But a good quarterback is a leader as much as a passer, someone who inspires confidence and doesn’t panic.
As a sophomore, Cook helped win a Rose Bowl Game for Michigan State over Stanford on New Year’s Day 2014 and was named MVP, throwing for 332 yards. Two seasons later, the Spartans made it to the College Football Playoffs and lost in the semis to Alabama, 38-0. Cook was only 19 of 39, was sacked four times and threw two interceptions.
But only one pro game, last weekend, and that as an emergency backup. “I thought the poise was there,” Del Rio insisted. “The moment didn’t look too big for him.”
This moment, this first postseason game for the Raiders since January 2003, Super Bowl XXXVII, seems too big for the Raiders, what with a guy off the bench as the man in charge.
The usual company line is that it’s about teams, not necessarily individuals, even though we are aware a team is composed of individuals.
“Look,” said Del Rio, “it’s about our team going against their team. At the end of the day you can talk about one position over another and totally understand that quarterbacks get a lot of attention. But it will be the Oakland Raiders against the Houston Texans. We’ll be excited to see how the game goes.”
So will Raider fans. They’re properly distressed Carr or even Matt McGloin won’t be at center. They’re worried about what happened to the defense. And please don’t even bring up Las Vegas, even as an entertainment site.
“We just need to go out and play,” was Del Rio’s comment.
They’ll play, but how well?
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.