Once upon a time, the Oakland Raiders were one of the most iconic teams in the NFL. The Silver and Black, they were the NFL’s rebels, the answer for fans who couldn’t stomach rooting for “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, with their stars on their helmets. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Raiders were the football team of choice for the Hell’s Angels. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, they were the colors of choice of the gangster rap movement.
Similarly, in the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the NFL’s dynasty. Four-time Super Bowl champs, with a defense that put just about every single player on it in the Hall of Fame.
The Steelers, of course, have remained relevant, but the Raiders have, for the last decade or more, been a bit of a joke, and that’s bad for business in the NFL.
The Raiders are an iconic team, like the Cowboys, the Yankees in baseball or the Lakers and Celtics in basketball. It’s an inherently good thing when the Raiders don’t suck. It’s an inherently good thing when Steelers vs. Raiders, a rivalry that includes one of the most famous plays in NFL history (the Immaculate Reception), has relevance in an NFL season.
And finally, this week, it did.
The Raiders came into Pittsburgh 4-3, looking very much on the rise, and very much in the middle of the AFC Wild Card race. The Steelers were 4-4, and still reeling from the loss of LeVeon Bell, but were also entrenched in the playoff picture, determined to keep themselves alive.
What ensued was the kind of game with superstar performance that you’d expect from teams that matter.
The Raiders young QB, Derek Carr, threw three TD passes for the third game in a row. One of his two very talented targets, Michael Crabtree, kept a TD-reception streak going. The other target in that tandem, Amari Cooper, had 88 yards and a TD as well.
But the truly remarkable performances were on the winning Steelers’ side. Backup DeAngelo Williams, hoping to make Bell’s absence an afterthought, carried 27 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Star wide receiver Antonio Brown set a Steelers record, catching an insane 17 passes for 284 yards.
The ending was worthy of the game itself, coming right down to the wire, when the Steelers kicked the game winning field goal with 2 seconds left on the clock, to complete a memorable 38-35 finish.
Best of all, both of these teams are still very much in the playoff hunt. Perhaps they could even meet. Perhaps they could generate a new “Immaculate Reception” that will still be talked about 40 years later. That, after all, is what truly iconic teams do.