BRONCOS-RAIDERS: TALL ON TRADITION, NOT TENDERNESS

One state was born from mining and agriculture. A settler avalanche thirsting for gold filled the other. <BR><BR> While different roads to sustenance nurtured Colorado and California as young states, Denver and Oakland share an illuminated eight-lane superhighway of gridiron rivalry riches. Including two playoff meetings, the 88th game between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders takes place this week on ABC's Monday Night Football.

The Broncos are one victory away from their fifth 3-0 start in eight years. If Oakland wins, the Raiders will keep pace with Denver and would force a three-way tie atop the AFC West should Kansas City fall at Houston.

"It goes back a long time – back to the old AFL days," says Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Raiders tackle/assistant and head coach ART SHELL (1968-94) about the Broncos-Raiders' rivalry. "For so many years, we had the Broncos inside our fist. The town supported them and they always had rabid fans. We would beat them, but it was always a hard-fought game.

"There was a line to the whirlpool the day after that game."

Former Broncos linebacker RANDY GRADISHAR (1974-83), who was one of 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists in 2003, agrees with Shell's assessment of the series. "With the Raiders, it was always about psychological warfare," he says. "I never called them by their team name. I called them the ‘Outcast Guys' or ‘Street Boys.' The Raiders learned to respect the Broncos in the late 1970s when we started winning those games."

Denver posted a favorable 6-5 (.545) record against the Raiders from 1977-81, breaking a chain of Oakland dominance from 1963-76 when the Silver & Black was 24-2-2 (.893) versus their Rocky Mountain rivals.

In the past 25 years, the series is nearly deadlocked as the Raiders hold a 25-24 edge in head-to-head victories. Year-to-year, it is usually a one-sided script. Since 1978, each team has swept the other 10 times while splitting the series in only four seasons:

Broncos Sweeps vs. Raiders 10

Raiders Sweeps vs. Broncos 10

Broncos-Raiders Split Series4

Denver and Oakland have captured 21 of the AFC West's 32 division titles (65.6 percent). The Raiders have finished atop the division 12 times, followed by Denver (9), San Diego (5), Kansas City (4), and Seattle (2).

Shell was a sterling 21-8-1 (.717) against Denver as a player. However, one of those eight defeats denied the Raiders a trip to Super Bowl XII as the Broncos posted a 20-17 win in Mile High Stadium for the 1977 AFC Championship, earning Denver its first Super Bowl berth.

"I remember playing in the (1977) AFC Championship Game and I think it was (Denver running back) ROB LYTLE who fumbled, but it wasn't ruled a fumble," says Shell. "That was a big play in that game. They ended up winning and went on to the Super Bowl to play Dallas. Instant replay would have overturned that doggone play."

"Everyone uses excuses," retorts a half-joking Gradishar. "We just beat their butts and that's the reality of it. That's part of the fun and tradition of this rivalry. They were bigger than most teams. They were intimidating and they had more talent than a lot of teams with (KEN) STABLER, Shell, (DAVE) CASPER, (FRED) BILETNIKOFF, (TED) HENDRICKS, and LESTER (HAYES) and his ‘stick-um' stuff.

"This kind of rivalry breeds competition and develops into a great tradition that grows over the years. In Colorado and Denver, there's no need for coaches to motivate players or fans for this game. It's self-propelling."

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