Kindred Souls

Over the years the Browns and Raiders have crossed paths numerous times, with the Raiders ripping the hearts out of Browns fans one frigid afternoon. Of late, both franchises rich in history have struggled to be anything other than mediocre.

In the end, there may be a football game played this Sunday in Oakland.

However – before, after and during – endless tributes will be paid to the Raiders' founder and longtime owner Al Davis.

And rightfully so.

Davis, who passed away last weekend, was the embodiment of the NFL's rise to prominence over the past few decades. His 1970's and 1980's Raiders were both an undeniable cult of personality and finely tuned championship football machine.

However, as his franchise lost its on-field luster in recent years, Davis still exhibited the rare independent spirit that often clanged against the corporate machinery of today's NFL.

Of course, the pockmark on Davis' legacy will remain his franchise's inability to transition into what has become an evolving postmodern NFL structure. Davis' insistence on operating from a 1970's standpoint has damaged his once proud team over the past decade. The Raiders' cavalier approach to the draft and virtual turnstile of head coaches has created an untenable situation incapable of fostering any sense of stability.

In this sense, the Raiders are still every bit of Davis' original creation.

But in times of mourning, such unfortunate pieces of reality are easily washed away by nostalgia.

As such, when it comes time for a post-kickoff return commercial break this Sunday, there is no doubt that strains of "Autumn Wind Is a Raider" will trump the final moments of Oakland's Charlie Frye era.

Seems kind of fitting – at least considering the Raiders' opponent this Sunday.

Beyond the flawed Frye corollary, the Raiders and Browns share a football heritage that is firmly rooted in memories of a glorious past. While the Raiders can claim AFL dominance and three Super Bowl championships, the Browns boast grainy images of AAFC and NFL superiority, culminating in a now inaccessible 1964 title.

However, recent history has been less than kind to both teams.

Both the Raiders and Browns have suffered from a particular extreme of poor NFL ownership. While Davis has often misguided his franchise with an unyielding hand, the Browns' Randy Lerner has proven to be one of the league's most tepid or possibly even invisible owners.

In a case of too much or not enough, Davis' actions have produced JaMarcus Russell and a fleet of track star wide receivers – while Lerner's efforts have resulted in constant management and coaching turmoil.

Naturally, the results of such ownership have produced two of the league's worst on-field teams of the past decade.

Discounting the tail-end of the Super Bowl teams led by Rich Gannon, the Raiders' last eight seasons have produced a 37-91 record – with last season's 8-8 mark standing as a highlight. Similarly, the Browns have posted a 43-85 record during this same time – beginning after the team's surprise 2002 playoff berth.

A litany of ineptitude comprised of a parade of head coaches, starting quarterbacks, first-round draft busts and management false starts have reduced each franchise to virtual rubble in terms of national recognition and overall fan pride.

And while moments of hope have circulated among both teams in recent years – the Raiders boast one of the league's more physical teams, while the Browns have fielded two consecutive strong drafts – the realization is that until real success is attained, both franchises are seemingly stuck in the past.

Outside of an occasional Josh Cribbs ESPN reference or Peyton Hillis manning the cover of Madden football, the Browns are forever trapped in an NFL Films loop of Jim Brown stiff-arming now 70-year old defenders or Brian Sipe eternally underthrowing Ozzie Newsome in the end zone of a Cleveland Stadium that no longer exists.

Come Sunday, these same memories will once again linger.

Because of each team's recent failures, the glories of the past will once again march on. In what will ultimately prove to be a completely fitting – if not overly patronizing – tribute, diehard fans of each team will be both taunted and touched by displays of a time when their teams were truly great.

And then the game will be played.


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