I was waiting and waiting to try and write something about Sunday’s loss. Something was telling me to wait. To digest what took place. ‘Cause let’s be honest, it was about as heartbreaking a loss as one will ever see. It wasn’t just a loss, but a complete opportunity to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, in Phoenix. The potential rebirth of an organization so desperate to return to its days of glory.
And just like Sebastian Janikowski’s potential game-winning kick, it was missed. Wide left. From 32 yards out, wide left. And as I sat there trying to figure out the many ways that this game was lost, in a game that the Raiders dominated, I just couldn’t put into words what the feeling was like.
It was like a death in the family, only it wasn’t.
No, Monday was like a death in the family. Sunday was like losing a football game.
The day after the Raiders kicker missed the most important kick of his career, the most important Raiders kicker ever passed away. And with that, everything was re-set. Priorities restored. Balance brought back to the East Bay.
George Blanda was 83 years old. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He played in the NFL for over a quarter of a century, retiring just before he turned 50. He was a Raiders’ Raider. When it mattered most, he played his best. He was clutch, both as a QB and as a kicker.
Blanda joined the Raiders when he was 40, and played with them for 9 years. His storied 5-week run in 1970, when he brought the team back to 4 wins and a tie–all in the closing moments of the game–elevated him to legendary status. He would finish his career as the leading scorer in NFL history, and, while he no longer holds that record, it shows that his combination of ability and durability were matched by few.
I wondered Sunday–after Janikowski missed the ill-advised 58-yard field goal attempt with under 5 minutes left to play–if he would get another chance, and if he did, would he be able to connect on it. I’d be lying if I didn’t think the 32-yarder was a gimme, but prior to it, I asked myself, how will he react to a pressure kick? I can’t recall him ever having to make a kick that had so much riding on it. Obviously he didn’t handle it very well.
I couldn’t believe it. But then again, I could. Because everything that could go wrong for this team the past 8 years, has. And I, like most others who follow the team, have gotten used to “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” I am slowly trying to let my guard down, allowing myself to peek through my fingers at this ongoing horror film. And just when I did… wide left.
24 hours later, the kicker we wanted to kill was replaced in our minds by the kicker who had just died. And in an instant, George Blanda reminded us that what happened on Sunday really doesn’t matter much at all.