Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Hard Knock Life For Raiders Fans

By Robert Campbell

On Tuesday, the still-named Oakland Raiders were selected to appear on HBO's "Hard Knocks" and I, for one, could not be more excited. While HBO is predominantly known for its cutting-edge television shows, boxing specials, and soft-core pornography that your dad pretends he's not watching when you enter the room, the annual "Hard Knocks" mini-series have captured the interest of NFL fans since 2001.

The Raiders are a perfect team for HBO. Jon Gruden was great in the Monday Night Football booth, and unleashing him to the world without ESPN's standards and practices and with an eight-ball stored in his nostrils will truly be a sight to see. He is entering the second-year of his complete rebuild, and with some big free agent pickups, he is looking to get the Raiders back to relevance sooner than later. It may be tough with the Chiefs and Chargers still looming large in the division, though hearing him reassure the Raiders that this is their season while simultaneously grinding his teeth and making perfect eye contact with the entire auditorium will make for quality television.

But, that's the great thing about football, right? Come Week 1, everybody is 0-0. Every team has 16 chances to win, and theoretically, every team has the same odds to win the Super Bowl. Now, while we know this isn't actually true, it's a slogan that Raiders fans have lived by every summer to September since 2001.

Believe me, I've witnessed it up close. I have a friend who is a die-hard Raiders fan. You know, the type with Raiders tattoos, Jim Plunkett bobble-heads and a Charlie Garner jersey. I'll wait while everybody under 25 Googles Charlie Garner. My buddy is so optimistic every year, and every year by Week 4 he is demoralized. Sure, Derek Carr showed glimpses a few years back when he led Oakland to the playoffs before he went down with a season-ending injury, but Carr just hasn't looked the same since. And now with every practice throw being nationally documented, what is my buddy Logan supposed to think?

"Guys, Carr just threw a perfect out route to J.J. Nelson against the second-team corner in the afternoon practice." Can you say Super Bowl?

Though, I digress. While Carr has been a bit Jekyll and Hyde since being drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, we are going to find out how good he actually is this year. Say what you will about Antonio Brown, and I agree that his falling out with Pittsburgh was less than professional, but this guy is still one of the best wide receivers in the league. And, according to Snapchat, who forces me to watch his stories every day, he is one of the league's hardest workers, as well. Whatever happened to autonomy? Nonetheless, I'm excited to see the relationship these two develop, especially how Carr will mesh with Brown's often in-your-face attitude amidst some chatter that the Raiders quarterback is a bit mentally soft.

It's not just the Carr/Brown dynamic I'm looking forward to. Look at some of these characters on the Raiders roster. Josh Jacobs is already being talked about as a rookie to watch. Vontaze Burfict is sure to drop an "accidental" cheap shot on one of his teammates approximately 14 minutes into practice. Hell, Richie Ingognito is back in the NFL for some reason to rewrite the book on bullying. With Gruden roaming the sidelines, Mike Mayock speaking his mind and Mark Davis in his office hiding from any licensed barber, this is must-watch television. Only "The Departed" had a better cast than this.

The hard knocks may continue for the Raiders this season, who still lack top-notch talent and are stuck in perhaps the strongest division in the NFL. Either way, watching the journey from start to finish is the football fan's dream. I'm sure Charlie Garner will be tuning in.

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