The Evil Side

The Oakland Raiders travel to their home away from home, Qualcomm Stadium, to face the San Diego Chargers this week. Oh how the mighty have fallen are the words of the year in Oakland and the Chargers have matched their ineptitude this season. The winner on Sunday gets bragging rights for the offseason, no small thing when it is in regards to this heated rivalry.

And so the Oakland Raiders trudge their way down the coast to finish the year where it all started.

San Diego -- the city in which the air went out of their tires. On Jan. 19, the Raiders were a 13-5 team that had cut through the AFC like a hot knife through butter.

One week later they were a beaten team with a bruised ego looking for answers as to why it all went wrong in the Super Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.

Eleven months later they still haven't found that answer. They have played 19 games including preseason. They have won 5 and lost 14 and any memories of San Diego are totally unwelcome.

"I think that thought will cross our minds," coach Bill Callahan said of the trip that will determine nothing this time other than priority seeding for a high draft pick. "The first question I had was that I hope we're not staying in the same hotel. I don't believe we are. I wanted to make sure of that."

It had already been assured. The will be staying in LaJolla again and on the same street as their Super Bowl hotel. But it will be a different chain. And a different chain of events.

In January, America was celebrating oldies like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice and Rich Gannon and Bill Romanowski and Rod Woodson and what the Raiders had given to the middle aged of America. Now Brown and Rice are waiting to hear if the team wants them back for another year or whether they will be cast adrift in a rebuilding plan.

Gannon, Romanowski and Woodson are all on injured reserve along with another oldie, Trace Armstrong. Gannon has remained mum since he went down with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder in late October. He doesn't want to talk about it for fear feelings will be hurt if he says what he truly thinks happened to the Raiders. However, he vowed to meet with reporters two days after the season ends and discuss the remnants of this lost season.

It will be interesting to see if Gannon, who is not known for biting his tongue to spare feelings about matters Raider ... matters he describes in two words, both unprintable.

In the meantime, the Raiders can take small consolation with the knowledge that, as usual, they will get a big welcome Sunday at Qualcomm. Raider fans always seem to rival Charger fans in numbers when the teams meet down south.

"We enjoy it immensely," Callahan said of the friendly confines. "It's part of a tradition. We have a lot of fans in the Southern California area. It is a big game for them, as well for us. They do lend support and I know our players appreciate it." More so than that other hotel.

Notes:

When RT Lincoln Kennedy missed action due to an earlier calf injury, Langston Walker filled in without a dramatic drop-off in effectiveness. However, at LG Chad Slaughter will be making his first NFL start at an unfamiliar position. Although he has practiced at guard much of the season, he has not played guard since high school.

QB Rick Mirer is still coping with a stiff neck but should be more effective this week. Last week, he played without much practice during the week. This week he is practicing again.

Other than Kennedy and C Barret Robbins, the only player who more than likely will miss the San Diego game is WR Jerry Porter. Porter did not play last week against Green Bay after sustaining a calf strain during warmups. The Raiders made more use of Alvis Whitted in his place but also used Ronald Curry.

"I see where the big man has retired on me," Tim Brown said of Kennedy's announced retirement. "I think he'll be back. They'll sit down and have a talk with him. You don't retire from the Raiders. They kick you out."


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