Living in Western North Carolina certainly has it’s perks. Supporting the football needs of a die hard Oakland Raiders fan is not one of them. Imagine my excitement back in April, when the 2016 Raiders schedule came out. It had games against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons, with both cities only two hours away. Sadly, that excitement was over almost before it began. Both of them were listed as home games, and not realistic travel options.
You see, this is the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Oakland Raiders season, and I wanted to be at as many games as my schedule would allow. Then my eyes focused in on the Week Three contest at Tennessee on the schedule.
Oakland Raiders Week Three Game Harkens Back to the 1976 Season
I was at Nissan Stadium, home of the Titans, last year when the Raiders came to town on Thanksgiving weekend. Derek Carr led the Raiders to victory with an exciting and controversial fourth quarter comeback win, in monsoon like conditions. It took a week for my wallet to dry out. I simply had to get tickets to the 2016 rematch so I went to NFL Ticket Exchange, which I highly recommend, and got them; four tickets on the goal line, thirteen rows up. Better than last year. Yes!
Fast forward to the present. I am now a fledgling writer here at Last Word On Pro Football, which means I am not going to the game just as a fan; I have a job to do as well. So I asked around some of my sources and one of them got me in contact with Cliff Branch. Unfortunately for me, he is attending a Raiders Booster Club event in Houston, Texas, hosted by the Space City Raider Nation Houston Texas group. By the way, if you are a Raiders fan in the vicinity of this event, you might want to check that out. Ironically, Cliff Branch was in Houston forty years ago, during Week Three. More on that down below.
The text conversation I had with Branch, who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the way, was a trip down memory lane. During the texting, the 1976 Oakland Raiders season was brought up; a campaign that featured what many consider the greatest single season team in professional football history. Before people start yelling about the 1985 Chicago Bears, ESPN did a show called Dream Season in 1989, and the 1976 Oakland Raiders Beat them.
In 2012, NFL.com Crowned the 1976 Oakland Raiders as the “Greatest Team Ever”
“16-1” Branch texted me.
He then texted me a team photo that was in the Raiders program from last Sunday’s game against the Falcons. Then it hit me. In Week Three of the 1976 Oakland Raiders schedule, the Raiders played the Houston Oilers. For those who do not know, the Houston Oilers are now called the Tennessee Titans.
On September 28th, 1976, the Raiders rolled into the Houston Astrodome on “the Autumn wind…swaggering boisterously”. The Raiders had beaten the 500 pound gorilla, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in an amazing come from behind victory in Week One. They had also held off their division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs, in Week Two. Even though Kenny Stabler would miss the game with a knee sprain, confidence was high.
After three grueling hours of punishing football, the 1976 Oakland Raiders escaped with a win. Ironically, it was Cliff Branch who scored the only points for the Raiders that day with two touchdown receptions. Unknown to them though, deep down inside that confidence suffered a hairline crack that would fracture the following week in Boston with a humiliating 48-17 loss to the New England Patriots.
That was the first and last time the 1976 Oakland Raiders would lose for the rest of the season.
The 1976 Oakland Raiders had the second-ranked offense in the league. What many do not know however, is the defense was a make-shift 3-4 due to a preseason, season ending, injury to defensive tackle Dave Rowe. Surprisingly, that defense was only ranked 18th overall, and headed into Week Three as one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Does this sound familiar?
This is the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Oakland Raiders, winners of Superbowl XI. Kenny Stabler was inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class, and just had a ceremony honoring him at halftime in Oakland Last week. Cliff Branch should have been wearing a gold jacket last week along with Tom Flores. At least this season there is hope for Flores, who is a nominee this year.
These things will keep the 1976 Oakland Raiders in my thoughts as I embark on the four hour drive to Nashville, Tennessee. There I will watch the 2016 Raiders, “and the trees will all shake, and quiver and quake, as they rob the Titans of their gold”.
By the way, Houston is hosting Superbowl LI. The first day of Autumn was yesterday, so I leave you with this.
The Autumn Wind is a Raider,
Pillaging just for fun.
He’ll knock you ’round and upside down,
And laugh when he’s conquered and won.