Saturday, February 1, 2020

Revisiting the 2002-2003 AFC Championship Game!

Reliving the splendor and glory of the Raiders’ last American Football Conference Title victory

By: Jimbo X

The road we’re on, the things we crave/and everything just feels like rain/if I should sleep, what’s left to dream?/When everything feels like rain”

Zwan,Mary Star of the Sea” (2002)

Raiders fans, your team just won the AFC Championship Game!

January 19, 2003 was — and in many ways, still is — the single greatest day of my life.

You know, a lot of people may think it’s absurd if not a little pathetic to crown the date that one’s pro football team won the conference championship (not even the League championship, for Christ’s sake) as the singular, outstanding moment of one’s life, but then again, people who say that AREN’T Raiders fans born after 1983.

Watching the Raiders flounder, falter and fundmentally fuck-up for the next 14 years makes this one beacon of shining hope all the more impactful in hindsight. At that time, I had waited 17 years of my life to see the Raiders make it to a Super Bowl, and after seeing the team come so close in the previous two seasons (let the record reflect: fuck the Tuck Rule and fuck Tony Siragusa’s fat ass, forever and ever) made this triumphant win all the more delightful.

For me, the Raiders’ 2002-2003 season will forever be known as the dream season. You have to remember, this was WAY before online streaming of games was a thing, and since we were too goddamn poor to afford the NFL Sunday Ticket package, I just had to hope that the local CBS affiliate was going to carry the Raiders’ game as that week’s double bill. Thankfully, the Raiders had no less than four nationally broadcast primetime games that year, and I’m guessing at least half of their regular season games got picked up in my market, although to be honest with you, fam, my memories are getting hazier and hazier. 

That said, I certainly DO remember watching the Raiders rout the Titans 52-25 in week three, stick it inside the Chargers 27-7 in week 14 and make the Broncos weep after a 28-16 loss in week 16. Luckily, I ended up seeing WAY more Silver and Black ass-kicking than any eastern seaboarder should’ve, and for that reason alone, I will ALWAYS look back on my junior high school year and beam a bright, toothy grin.

Getting to the AFC title game in 2002-2003 was especially vindicating after the Raiders got bounced out of the playoffs the year prior in the infamous “Tuck Rule game,” which — to this day — I am convinced robbed the Raiders of at least one Super Bowl Championship in the 2000s. With a who’s who of veteran standouts on both sides of the ball going all-in for one last shot at the ‘ship, the 2002-2003 Raiders more or less took the 2001-2002 Detroit Red Wings team building approach, and their 11-5 final regular season record was more than enough to secure them the first overall seed in the playoffs that season. After a bye, the Raiders crushed the Jets 30-10 in the divisional round, thus setting up a rematch against the Titans (whom the Raiders beat earlier in the season by 20-plus points, I will remind you yet again) at Networks Associates Coliseum with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

But hey, why try to paint the scene for you from memory when I just so happen to have a copy of the live CBS broadcast right here to relive and re-experience? Put on your Rich Gannon jersey and pour yourself a nice, cold glass of Pepsi Blue — it’s time to party like it’s 01-19-03 all over again, folks.

Prior to the kick, Armen Keteyian asks Bill Callahan what the x-factor to winning the game will be. He says the Raiders have to start fast “and establish a physical presence, that’s the main thing.” On the other side of the field, Bonnie Bernstein is interviewing Jeff Fisher, who at this time, was rocking his oft-forgotten Unabomber beard look. Bonnie asks him if the thinks his team even remotely has a shot here — remember, the Raiders already clobbered ‘em 52-25 in the regular season — and Fisher says “well, nobody expected Tampa Bay to be here, too,” which depending on your perspective, is either intense foreshadowing or one of the lamest deflections in the history of broadcast journalism.

The Raiders win the toss and Marcus Knight is in the backfield on the kick from Joe Nedney. He goes down around the OAK 30.

Time for Rich Gannon to take over. The first down shot is a HUGE gain to Jerry Rice for 29 yards. 

First and 10. Gannon tags Brown for another first down pickup. 

First and 10. We’re less than a minute into the game and the Raiders are already at the TEN 30. 

Gannon hits Garner for about a six-yard gain.

Second and four. Gannon hits Brown for ANOTHER big gain. He takes it all the way down to the TEN 8.

First and goal. Gannon has 61 yards on the first drive of the game already. Gannon with a pump fake and he scrambles his way down to the TEN 5.

Second and goal. Hey, there’s Marques Tuiasasopa on the sideline. Fuck him.

Garner runs it up the gut and gets maybe one or two yards.

Third and goal. Gannon with plenty of time, and he tags Jerry Porter for his first TD pass of the game. Man, I forgot how great the Raiders’ offensive line was back then — and how terrible the Titans’ pass-rush was. 

Seabass’ XP is automatic, of course. Justin McCareins will be handling kick return duties for the Titans. He goes down around the TEN 26.

Jerry Porter: just as good in real life as he was in NFL Fever 2004.

The late, great Steve McNair is under center for Tennessee. He hands it off to Eddie George, who gets about nine yards on the run. McNair then hits Derrick Mason to move the sticks.

The Titans are at their own 40. George gets maybe two or three on the run.

Second and eight. George runs it up the gut again, getting about two yards.

Third and six. The camera tries to pan on McNair’s thumb, but all we get is a nice close up of his ass. The Raiders blitz but McNair is able to hit Frank Wycheck before he goes down. Whycheck manages to evade a tackle and converts the first down for TEN.

And there are flags in the backfield. ROAT Ed Hoculi calls an unnecessary roughness penalty on THE TITANS. Apparently the right tackle came in after the hit and pushed Bill Romanowski like a bitch. Ha ha ha, fuck you Fred Miller.

So on first and 10, McNair hits Mason again for about six- or seven-yard gain.

Second and three. Eddie George runs it up the gut, all the way down to the OAK 47.

First and 10. McNair hits Kinney for another first down.

Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, by the way, looks a lot like pro wrestling commentator Jim Ross. Just an observation. 

McNair slips on a throw but STILL manages to tag Drew Bennet for a damn near 40-yard touchdown pass. I vividly recall this happening in real-time, and I’m pretty sure I was so angry, I may or may not have uttered the N-word. 

Nedney’s XP is good. It’s all knotted up 7-7 with about six minutes left in the first. 

The Raiders’ return man goes down around the OAK 25. Then the Raiders get hit with a false start call before the snap to make it a first and 15 situation from their own 10. 

Gannon scrambles and slides for a four-yard gain. He’s hit on the ground by a Titans’ defender, but there’s no call from the refs, because — well, you know.

Second and 11. Gannon hits Garner down the sideline, he has more than enough to move the sticks. Man, I used to exploit the sideline with those two ALL the time on ESPN NFL Football on the Xbox. I guess that game was way more realistic than I recalled.

First and 10, at the OAK 30. Gannon hits Jon Ritchie for ANOTHER first down pass. Man, Gannon was a fuckin’ BOSS at using running backs as receivers, that’s for damned sure. 

First and 10. Gannon with another quarterback keeper, this one is good for 11 and ANOTHER first down. Yeah, you motherfuckers forgot how fast that cracker was, didn’t you?

The Raiders are at the TEN 42 now. Then they get hit with a delay of game penalty. That pushes them back five yards.

First and 15. Gannon targets Jerry Porter, who makes a WORLD CLASS diving catch inside the TEN 20. Unfortunately, Porter shakes himself up pretty bad on the play, so he has to leave the field of play for a bit.

Now Fisher is challenging that the catch wasn’t a catch. The refs say “nah, it was a catch,” and the Titans are charged a timeout. Yeah, you take that, hard.

First and 10, near the TEN 15. Gannon under pressure and he hits Tim Brown for about a three-yard gain.

Oh, there are more yellow hankies. Ed says they thought it might have been an ineligible receiver call against the Raiders, but he changes his mind and picks up the flag.

Second and six. Gannon dinks it to Garner, who darts his way into the end zone. Alas, flags are EVERYWHERE.

It’s an illegal contact call against the Titans. Obviously, the Raiders decline the penalty and take the six points. Seabass, of course, is automatic with the XP.

It’s Raiders 14, Titans 7 with about three minutes left in the first quarter.

Picured: Tennessee Titans owner Rich Gannon.

Tennessee takes over around their own 30. McNair is ALMOST intercepted by Charles Woodson, and flags are down. Yep, it’s against the Raiders — illegal contact against Woodson.

First and 10. George gets the handoff, and he wobbles his way forth for a 10-yard gain.

McNair working from the shotgun, not unlike Sahel Kazemi on the night of July 4, 2009. That’s Steve’s first incompletion of the day, by the way

Second and 10. Holcombe runs it up the gut for about five.

Third and five. McNair is under pressure, and he ends up chewing up enough turf to move the sticks.

It’s first and 10 around the OAK 35 following the stutter-step. McNair’s pass is batted, and nearly intercepted, by Rod Woodson.

Second and 10. George gets maybe three or four on the run, and that brings the first quarter to a close. 

Well, we begin the second quarter off with a bang, with Tennessee committing a flagrant false start penalty, only for Eric Barton to get hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after smacking the living dogshit out of McNair after the play was ruled dead.

On the sideline, Callahan is livid, as you’d expect his Henry Winkler-looking ass to be, just in general. So the Titans have the ball at the OAK 20 following the penalties. George runs for about three on first down.

Second and seven. Rod Woodson appears to have a wrist injury and exits the game. 

George runs it up the gut and gets hits after a one-yard gain. It’s third and six.

McNair hits Mason, but he’s about one yard short of moving the sticks. Huh, imagine that, the Titans being one yard short of anything. Fisher wheels out Nedney instead of going for it on fourth and one. His 29-yard field goal attempt is good. It’s 14-10, Raiders, with about 12 and a half minutes left in the first half.

The Raiders’ return man goes down around the OAK 25. Gannon hits Garner for a quick dink. That’s good for about seven or eight.

Second and two. No wait, the Raiders get hit with an illegal shift penalty, so it’s a re-do of first down.

First and 15. Gannon hits Jolley, who gets about four on the grab.

Second and 11. Raiders working from the no-huddle. Gannon hits Brown, who appears to have FUMBLED the ball away. Oh shit, Tennessee has it. 

The Titans take over at the OAK 40 following the turnover. George runs for maybe two on the first down call.

Second and eight. George gets dropped in the backfield for a HUGE loss. Credit Rod Coleman for first contact for the Raiders.

Third and 14. McNair is under pressure and he runs out of bounds for a three-yard gain.

Fourth and 11, so the Titans have to punt. Tim Brown is handling the return duties. It’s a touchback.

Gannon is ALMOST intercepted by Andre Dyson on his first incompletion of the game. I know I say this a lot, but Dyson LITERALLY looks like an anthropomorphic corn dog with bushy humanoid eyebrows.

Second and 10. Gannon evades the rush and hits Brown for a five yard pick up.

Third and five. Gannon’s pass to Rice is incomplete, and the Raiders faithful in the stands look quite crestfallen.

Time for Lechler to punt it away. The Raiders get hit with a delay of game penalty. On a punt. You see, even when the Raiders were actually good, they STILL found ways to suck.

The Titans take over around their own 45. Wycheck hauls it in for a new set of downs.

First and 10, in Oakland territory. Holcombe gets the pitch and chalks up about eight yards on the run.

Second and two. McNair under pressure and his pass to Holcombe is incomplete.

Third and two. Holcombe has enough to move the sticks.

First and 10 at the OAK 35. McNair’s pass is incomplete, but flags are down. Yep, it’s against the Raiders. Pass interference, naturally.

That puts the Titans at the OAK 29. McNair hits Mason for a five yard gain on first down

Second and five. Callahan has tossed the RED CHALLENGE FLAG OF DOOM, contesting the pass was complete.

The refs overturn the call and the Oakland fans ARE THRILLED. That makes it second and 10. 

Holcombe gets a few yards before Romanowski gobbles him up. Third and 9.

McNair shakes off about three sacks and manages to CONVERT the first down. I’ll give him some credit, Steve was pretty much a better, blacker version of Big Ben, who also presumably did far less raping over his lifetime.

McNair tosses it to Holcombe, and he takes the pigskin down to the OAK 11. 

Second and 1. Holcombe runs inside the OAK 5. There’s a flag, and what do you know, it’s AGAINST the Raiders. Holy shit, Anthony Dorsett got a 15-yard penalty for HEADBUTTING a motherfucker. If he did that in TODAY’s NFL, he’d probably receive a lifetime suspension.

So the Titans have the ball at the OAK 3 now. Holcombe is stuffed at the line.

Second and goal. Flags are down before the play. Delay of game against Tennessee.

And I’ll be damned if McNair’s big, beefy ass just blew through the Raiders’ linebacking corps for a rushing score. Man, watching him run is like watching a potato sack filled with doorknobs flying through a wind tunnel. 

The XP, of course, is good. The Titans take the lead, 17-14, with about three minutes left in the half.

You can tell this is an old game: not only are the Raiders good, the fans actually love America, too.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, you know who Tennessee’s back-up QB is? Oh, that’s right, THE NEIL O’DONNELL. Which means there’s an alternate reality out there somewhere where his goofy ass actually had the opportunity to be a starter in TWO Super Bowls, somehow.

After that defensive botch, the Raiders needed a spark bad, and they got it from return man Marcus Knight, who exploded all the way down to midfield on the kick. 

While Joe Nedney convulses on the Raiders logo, they replay Steve McNair’s touchdown run from earlier. Yeah, he ate a NASTY helmet to helmet hit on that one, but this was back before we knew people getting hit in the head, really, really hard was bad, so it drew no penalties or protests.

LOL, Nedney’s pussy ass tried to rip Knight on the return and one of his own teammates turned his leg into Silly Putty. Karma — it’s what’s for dinner.

Time for our “Harsher In Hindsight” Announcer Call Of The Day, sponsored by AYDS Diet Supplements — “These Titans know a lot about being wounded.” Yeah, I’m guessing McNair could confirm them, pending he wasn’t mortally wounded by his psycho ex-girlfriend and all.

First and 10 and Gannon runs for about six yards.

Second and four. Gannon hits Doug Jolley for WHAT should’ve been a huge gain, but the first year tight end dropped it. 

Third and four. Gannon lobs it to Porter, but it falls incomplete. The Raiders want a flag, but they ain’t getting ‘em.

Lechler punts after the three-and-out and Mason fair catches it around the TEN 10. Holcombe runs for about five on first down.

The Raiders call a timeout. Second and five. Holcombe gets hit at the line and uh-oh, there appears to be a LOOSE BALL. AND THE RAIDERS RECOVER! Rod Coleman gets initial contact and Eric Barton karate chops the pigskin loose. Anthony Dorsett appears to be the defender who hopped on the live pork. Man, talk about a humongous momentum shift when it was most direly needed, eh?

The Raiders take over at the TEN 16 with about 90 seconds left in the half. Gannon with a pump fake and he hits Rice, who appears to have fumbled the ball at the one-yard line. Thankfully, he recovers it, and Callahan makes the “T” sign with his hands. And not, it’s not because he’s affiliated with a gang that starts with the letter “T,” for sure.

First and goal for the Raiders with about a minute left on the clock. Zack Crockett is in the backfield for Oakland. Gannon fakes a handoff and he hits Jolley in the back of the end zone for an easy TD. Seabass’ XP is good, and the Raiders, just like that, retake the lead 21-17 with 60 seconds left in the second quarter.

Janikwoski kicks it away. The return man goes down around the TEN 35 and holy shit, HE FUMBLES THE BALL AWAY and THE RAIDERS RECOVER IT! Credit special teamster Alvis Whitted for scooping up the pigskin there. On the sideline, Fisher looks like he swallowed a turd and it is GLORIOUS. 

Yes, the Titans just turned the ball over TWICE in the span of 39 seconds. That puts the Raiders at the Titans’ 39 with 49 seconds left in the half. Gannon runs for about 12 and heads out of bounds on first down. Can someone PLEASE send this gametape to Derek Carr at their earliest convenience?

Gannon drops back in the pocket, but Garner drops the pass. Second and 10. And shit, Porter drops the touchdown haul in the end zone. Dagnabbit.

Third and 10. Apparently, the Raiders led the team in dropped passes that season. And remember, this was even BEFORE they had the likes of Seth Roberts and Amari Cooper on the roster. There’s a bobbled snap and Gannon just hops on the ball to prevent the turnover. That’s our cue for Seabass to come out, who boots an easy 43-yarder with as time expires to extend the Raiders lead to 24-17 heading into halftime.

Kudos my hero, leaving all the best...

We return from LL Cool J’s reinvigorating halftime performance and Greg Gumble and Phil Simms, without technically saying it, say “boy, those Titans sure did hunch the pooch in the last two minutes of the second half, didn’t they?” 

The Titans receive the ball to begin the third. The return man goes down around the TEN 35. McNair hits Dyson for a big gain, but there’s a pass interference call against Charles Woodson. Man, he got flagged a TON in this game. The Titans turn down the penalty and just take the yardage and new set of downs. Eddie George runs for about five and yep, there are more yellow hankies. This one is against Tennessee and it puts them back 10 yards. By the way, Woodson is playing with a steel plate in his leg, which is one of those things I had TOTALLY forgotten about for 17 years until I was just reminded of it right then. Simms reminds the TV-viewing audience at home that LL Cool J stands for “Ladies Love Cool James,” and on the sideline, Jeff Fisher looks glum

First and 20. George breaks off a HUGE 18-yard run, setting up the second and two situation. Titans at midfield now. George has enough to move the chains. Hey, remember when he trucked the shit out of Ray Lewis in that one playoff game? ‘Cause I totally do.

Alright, first and 10, at the OAK 45. McNair hits George, who gets a roughly nine-yard reception. Second and one. George runs down the left side and gets damn near 20 yards on the gain. First and 10 at the OAK 25. McNair’s pass to Wycheck falls incomplete. Dorsett ALMOST picked that one off.

Second and 10. Holcombe gets about two on the run. That makes it third and eight. Just so you know, Craig Hentrich will be stepping in for the injured Joe Nedney on field goal duties. And JOHN PARRELLA SACKS MCNAIR FOR A HUGE LOSS! That definitely puts them out of field goal range, so now, Hentrich’s gotta’ punt. 

Tim Brown is the return man. It takes a bounce inside the OAK 10. Gannon hits Brown on first down, who stutter steps his way forward for a new set of downs. And the defender for Tennessee just got away with a BLATANT horse collar tackle, too. Gannon hits Garner for a six or seven yard gain, and flags are down. Yep, it’s holding against the Raiders. 

First and 20. Gannon dinks it to Garner, who gets at least nine yards on the pickup. Second and 11. The Titans blitz and Gannon has to dump the ball over before Tank Williams tries to steamroll him. 

Third and 11. And Gannon hits Rice to move the sticks. Goddamn, that was just beautiful

First and 10. The Raiders get hit with a false start call. That’s the 12th penalty of the evening for Oakland, in case you were wondering. So now it’s first and 15. Gannon hits Garner, who gets at least four or five on the pass. The Titans blitz again and Gannon’s pass is WAY incomplete.

Third and 11. And that’s another incompletion to Garner. Time for the Raiders to punt, and the Titans take over at their own 25.

McNair’s first pass is SUPER incomplete. McNair hits Wycheck for a five-yard gain on second down. Flags are down before the play. It’s a false start call against the Titans. On the sidelines, Raiders’ trainers tend to Dorsett’s apparently injured hand. 

Third and 10. And Eddie Berlin DROPS the deep shot around the OAK 35. Tennessee must punt — and what do you know, the Raiders’ special team BLITZ drops Hentrich down at the TEN 19! Eric Johnson LITERALLY tried to hit his ass with a flying cross body like Shawn Michaels used to do and it is FANTASTIC. 

First and 10 for Oakland. Gannon calls a timeout. He hits Garner for a quick five yard gain when the action resumes. Gannon scrambles and tosses the ball away under pressed on second down, rattling off like three pump-fakes over the course of five seconds. Gannon’s end zone shot to Tim Brown falls short, so here come Seabass for the 32-yard field goal attempt. Yep, it’s good. Raiders extend their lead to 27-17 with about four and a half minutes left in the third.

The Titans take over around their own 33-yard-line. George is hit behind the line for a three-yard loss.

Second and 13. George can’t hold onto the pass. Third and 13 coming up. 

McNair drops back in the pocket and hits Mason for the 14-yard pick up. First and 10, Titans around their own 45. Mason is hit by McNair for about 10 yards. That puts them well into Raiders’ territory now. 

Man is there something GLORIOUS about seeing those silver and black uniforms on the green turf under a night sky. It really is something ethereal, man. First and 10, at the OAK 45. McNair hits Drew Bennett to move the sticks again.

The Titans are at the OAK 30. George runs for about three on first down. McNair is hit as he’s thrown, but he actually connects with Kinney for a short gain. Man, that was one stout sonofabitch right there — I’m unironically surprised it only took one bullet to put the kibosh on him, honestly. Third and six. The Raiders blitz, McNair gets hit as he’s thrown again and this time, the pigskin falls incomplete. There’s a flag down in the backfield and yeah, it’s against the Raiders, a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. Wow, that was a REALLY shitty call right there on the instant replay.

Alright, so the Titans are at the OAK 14 now. And McNair scrambles into the end zone for a rushing touchdown. Shit, nobody even touched him on that one. The XP is good, and it’s 27-24, Raiders, with just seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The Raiders take over around their own 35 after Knight’s return, and Gannon hits Brown down the sideline for a five-yard gain. The second down pass falls incomplete. It’s third and five with two seconds left on the clock. Gannon’s pass to Rice is incomplete, and flags are EVERYWHERE. There are TWO penalties against the Titans, pass interference and a personal foul call against Samari Rolle. That put the Raiders at the TEN 46 to begin the fourth quarter.

Garner gets the hand off on first down and he breaks off damn near a 20-yard run. At the TEN 20. Garner gets the call again, and eh gets about three on the run. 

Second and seven. The pass to Rice is good, and that’ll move the sticks down to the TEN 10. 

Garner goes backwards for a two-yard loss, but then the Titans get hit with a personal foul penalty. That makes it an automatic first and goal for Oakland. Garner gets, two, maybe three on the run up the gut. 

Second and goal. Gannon hits Brown for a gain of, say, four, maybe five. Third and goal. Gannon cuts back, does a sweep around and SCRAMBLES IN FOR THE RUSHING SCORE! Every time I watch that, I LITERALLY hear “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters playing — and I ALWAYS goddamn will. The XP is good, and Oakland leads it 34-24 with 11:27 left in regulation. 

Somebody PLEASE show this to Derek Carr so he knows how to quarterback sneak into the end zone.

The Titans take over at their own 29. McNair’s pass is incomplete on first down. Wow, that probably should’ve been a fumble call, in hindsight. Callahan is changing, and Ed says “no, we can’t review that, because we don’t want to make this any easier for the Raiders to win.” So that makes it second and 10. McNair hits Wycheck near midfield to move the sticks. 

Tennessee is at their own 45 now. The first down pass falls incomplete. Second and 10. The Raiders blitz and McNair GETS SACKED for a GIGANTIC loss. Third and 19. The Titans call a timeout. The action resumes and McNair’s deep shot is ALMOST intercepted by Tory James.

Tennessee has to punt, and the Raiders take over around their own 30. Gannon hits Porter for a four yard gain. Second and six. Garner zigs and zags his way for a new set of downs. That kid could shake and bake, that’s for damned sure. Gannon hits Jolley for a seven-yard gain. Second and three. Garner gets the pitch, and he easily converts.

Gannon drops back in the pocket and he hits Porter for another 10-yard plus pass. Shit, watching that makes me wanna’ play NFL Fever 2004 on the Xbox now. Tyrone Wheatley gets the handoff and he runs up the gut for five yards. Gannon hits Garner and he carries the pigskin for about eight yards. 

Third and two. Gannon hits a wide open Brown to move the chains. And McNair looks really, really demoralized on the sideline. Gannon with a pump fake and the end zone shot to Rice falls short. And there’s a flag against Tennessee — defensive holding. That puts the Raiders at the TEN 11. 

Gannon hits Rice for a gain of about four. And Zack Crockett runs it right up the gut for an EASY rushing score. Seabass’ XP is good, and the Raiders lead it 41-24 with about three and a half minutes left in the fourth.

“Back in Black” starts playing over the PA system and Tim Brown is emotional AF on the sideline, as the realization that he’s FINALLY about to play in a Super Bowl sinks in. Meanwhile, everybody on the Titans’ sideline looks pissed, and they’re all really light skinned brown people — just an observation, no judgment intended on my part.

The Titans take over at their own 25. McNair’s first pass is an air ball. Just so you know, Gannon has 286 passing yards at this point, with three aerial TDs, plus another 42 yards on the ground with an additional rushing score. Second and 10 and Napoleon Harris MURDERIZES the receiver with a grisly hit. Third and five. McNair under pressure, but he does appear to tag Berlin to move the sticks. 

McNair gets a two yard gain, and there’s the two-minute warning. On second and eight, McNair goes for a deep pass, and yep, there’s a pass interference call against Woodson. That puts the Titans at the OAK 25. McNair hits Bennett for a nine-yard gain. 

Second and one. McNair hits Holcombe to move the chains. One minute, seventeen seconds left in the quarter. You can almost TASTE the victory in the air. 

McNair lobs it into the stands on the first down pass. McNair’s second down pass likewise rolls off the receiver’s fingers. Third and 10, 68 seconds remaining. McNair hits Holcombe, but he’s about six yards shy of the Raiders’ end zone. Fourth and four. The end zone shot is broken up, and the Raiders’ take over on downs with 29 seconds left. 

Gannon assumes victory formation, takes a knee and the Oakland Coliseum goes BANANAS. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2002-2003 AFC Champions, THE OAKLAND MOTHERFUCKIN’ RAIDERS!

...sigh. These are the days we'll always dream about.

I’m not gonna’ lie, kids, watching the Raiders’ faithful go nuts at the end of the game made a tear or two roll down my cheek. When the scoreboard hit all zeroes, I vividly recall jumping on the living room table, throwing my Raiders cap in the air and bellowing out a shout of sheer, undiluted exuberance that — 17 years later — has yet to be replicated in my lifetime. After years and years of abject futility and postseason heartbreak, my brethren had FINALLY made it to the promised land — for one night, all was absolutely perfect in the world, and for as long as I live, I will NEVER forget the unalloyed joy of seeing Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy in the post-game festivities.

Of course, that unbridled glee was supplanted by crushing sorrow one week later. I’ll be honest with you, fam, at halftime, I turned off Super Bowl XXXVII and 17 years later, I still haven’t bothered watching the last two quarters of the game, even though it’s free on YouTube to screen anytime I so choose. To me, that would kind of be like attending your ex-girlfriend’s wedding, or watching your mother’s autopsy footage or something — just because something empirically exists and is readily available doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to the heartache all over again.

But in a weird way, that horrific Super Bowl loss makes this victory all the more enjoyable. It’s a sliver of pure happiness, a time capsule of 100 percent uncut mirth and delight. So far, it’s been the apex of my Raiders’ fandom, and until that glorious, glorious day when the team wins Lombardi Trophy No. 4, this will be the proverbial mountaintop for the foreseeable future. 

Even now, it hurts me a lot more than it probably should having to come to terms that THIS Raiders team never won a Super Bowl. As exciting and energizing as this AFC title win is, compared to a Super Bowl win seven days later it would’ve been an emotional two-twig campfire.

But as Taylor Swift instructed us, as long as you hold onto the memories, the memories will hold onto you. And no matter what happens in the great gridiron of life, at the end of the day, I’ve still got this one shining January night to cling to, that nobody can ever take away from me.

That is, until the Raiders win that fourth Super Bowl Championship — which get it in writing, fellas, I ain’t dying ‘til I goddamn witness. 


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