Not cursed; just crummy

10/20/2003 - Oakland Raiders

Twenty-four hours ago, the Oakland Raiders had no chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. None. Metaphysical impossibility. Give the 3½ and run like a thief.

Then the 49ers beat Tampa Bay like a well-prepped abalone, and suddenly all bets were off.

Well, kind of. The Raiders' chances tonight are still essentially those of the Any-Given-Sunday crowd, which is quite the comedown from the day before the Super Bowl.

That was the last really good day the Raiders had. Then Barret Robbins happened. Then the Super Bowl. Then the preseason. Then Bill Romanowski clocked Marcus Williams. Then the Raiders won their lawsuit from the city of Oakland for about three percent of what they were asking. Then the games went to hell. Then one of Al Davis' partners decided to sue him.

In fact, since the day before the Super Bowl, being a Raider has been a pretty crummy deal. Not the same, say, as being a Cardinal, but damned close.

There are lots of theories about how it happened, even when it happened. The officially recognized Raider Nation version is that Jon Gruden sells AmWay products for Satan.

But the Gruden theory, like the "God, aren't they old?'' theory, the "Jerry Porter, MVP'' theory, the "Raider playbooks on the Internet'' theory, the "Romo undermedicates'' theory, the "Al Davis, white courtesy subpoena, please'' theory, even the "Bill Callahan's lost his fastball'' theory, they all lack that single sexy hook.

The Raiders lack a really good curse.

Oh, that's not to say they couldn't dredge one up quickly enough. They certainly know how to curse. They just operate better with conspiracies. Paul Tagliabue this, the officials that, the people who sell their tickets, meddlesome partners wanting to see the books, all of them evil wizards trying to pry back Al's eyelids, pull his brain out his nose and run back to their space station orbiting Io.

But like the goat and the Bambino, the conspiracies only matter to the true believers. Everyone else just, well, yawns.

The Raiders are not the kind of team you feel sorry for when things go bad, as they have this year. They don't give sympathy, and they don't get it. When they fly, they fly fast. When they land, they land hard.

They don't get cursed. They get whipped.

There is something noble in that. Now that curses are the new hot thing, fans are lining up for theirs.

The San Francisco Giants are about to celebrate their 50th year without a World Series championship. Their fans want to have a curse. The Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sacramento/Kansas City/Omaha/Cincinnati/Rochester Kings/Royals, the Cleveland Indians, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Philadelphia Eagles, even, Lord a'mighty, the Arizona Cardinals ... everybody's got a curse.

And everybody's morning breath smells like New Orleans the day after the Sugar Bowl. Brush, floss, and you get over it.

Curses, though, take on this oppressive/ethereal/self-involved/will-you-all-shut-the-hell-up front. That's why the Raiders, for whatever else you might think or say about them, have their dignity, and if they're going to lose, it's going to be because they got stomped.

That is, when they aren't going on and on about tuck rules and politicians and ticket sellers and dullard medioids who don't understand "the greatness of the Ray-duhs.''

But that's not a curse. That's the evil in the hearts of all lesser men. The supernatural has nothing to do with it. I mean, when Tony Siragusa jumped from the top rope onto Rich Gannon in the AFC title game a few years back, most Raider fans didn't blame farm animals or trades from the Pleistocene. They wished Siragusa played for them.

You didn't hear Red Sox fans wishing Aaron Boone played for them. You didn't hear Cub fans dream about the parallel universe in which Ugueth Urbina belonged to them. The curse did it. The curse always does it.

So the Raiders play tonight, against a team that used to beat them routinely, and now a team they beat routinely. Only these Raiders aren't very good, and those Chiefs are. Even allowing for the Any-Given-Sunday theory, this is Monday.

But it's not a Monday from the beyond. The distinction matters.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com