RENTON, Wash. – If you’re at CenturyLink Field on Sunday for the Seahawks-Raiders game, look around for fans wearing shirts with the words “Raider Busters” across the front.
Go up and ask them their favorite recollections of Raiders games in the past. If they’re wearing those shirts, they’re guaranteed to have long memories, and a remarkable ability to sustain a grudge.
Fans who think the Seattle-San Francisco rivalry is the ultimate have to realize that the Raiders and Seahawks shared the AFC West Division for 25 seasons – twice as long as the Hawks’ current stretch in the NFC West with the Niners.
On Sunday, the 4-3 Seahawks play host to the 0-7 Raiders, in a matchup that will feel nothing like the blood feud these two waged with particular ferocity in the 1980s.
Oakland hasn’t won in Seattle since they were playing in the Kingdome, in 1998, so it’s been a while since the game held more relevance than an excuse for nostalgia.
But, oh, it was fun. The Raiders would show up trying to act like the swaggering embodiment of their logo, all eye-patches and flashing cutlasses, ready to plunder Pioneer Square.
When owner Al Davis walked into the Kingdome, Brylcreem glistening off his lacquered hair, he always squinted disdainfully at anybody not dressed in black and white.
Between ’83 and ’89, though, the Seahawks beat the Raiders 10 of 14 games – going 6-1 at home. Part of the reason was the crowd, as the Raider Busters in the Kingdome used to sound as if today’s 12th Man was being held hostage inside a concrete bomb shelter.
“My first sack in the NFL was on Monday Night against the Raiders (1988),” said former linebacker Dave Wyman, now a commentator on 710 ESPN. “I remember walking off the field and it was so loud in the Kingdome that it felt like I was floating.”
Paul Johns, receiver for the Hawks and now the team’s assistant director for fan development, said that from very early on, teams were paranoid about Davis and the Raiders.
“When we were practicing at Carillon Point, (coach) Jack Patera was convinced that Al was renting some apartments in Kirkland where he could film our practices. So when we went out to practice, we’d switch jerseys so they wouldn’t know who was playing which position.”
The rivalry got real in 1983, when the Seahawks won both regular-season games, but the Raiders scored a 30-14 win in the AFC title game on the way to their third Super Bowl.
In that game, Raiders defensive lineman Lyle Alzado ripped the helmet off Seahawks tackle Ron Essink and tried to beat him with it.
“They acted like true pirates, coming into town to pillage and take the spoils,” Johns said. “And the town went nuts. We considered the Raiders a rivalry, but they didn’t consider us much of a rival, although they sure didn’t like coming to Seattle and playing us in the Kingdome because of the intensity of the fans.”
“The town would always get fired up about it,” Wyman said. “The Raiders, back then, were riding that whole ‘Decades of Excellence’ image.”
The team coming into CenturyLink on Sunday, though, is riding a Decade of Futility.
“You look at them now, and they’ve got double-digit losses in nine of the last 11 seasons, and in the two that weren’t, they went 8-8,” Wyman said.
Al Davis has passed, and so has the heat from the rivalry.
But the memories are still good enough that somebody is going to be out there on Sunday wearing a shirt in honor of the once-fierce duels these franchises waged.
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