Before the 2002 NFL season began, conventional wisdom suggested this was a ‘now or never' time for the Oakland Raiders and their 30-something stars.
Conventional wisdom also suggested that Oakland's best opportunity bypassed in 2000. The Raiders entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed with Tennessee having homefield advantage throughout the postseason. The Raiders destroyed Miami 27-0 and would either play Baltimore at home or get an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville. The Ravens defeated Tennessee 24-10 one day later and the Raiders would host the AFC Title Game.
That's where the good news ended.
Baltimore's suffocating defense stymied the Raiders and beat them 16-3. The Ravens knocked quarterback Rich Gannon out of the game. The contest was in essence over when Trent Dilfer hit tight end Shannon Sharpe over the middle and raced 96-yards for a touchdown. Sharpe left safeties Anthony Dorsett and Marquez Pope in his rearview mirror.
Last year, came the infamous ‘Tuck Rule,' in a 16-13 overtime loss to New England on a snowy night in Foxboro. No need to explain the Tuck Rule since it has been discussed ad nauseam.
Before Oakland played New England on Nov. 17, which the Raiders won 27-20, wide receiver Tim Brown said the loss to Baltimore hurt more because it was at home and Raiders were one win shy of the Super Bowl.
"They played hungrier throughout the playoffs, whether they were playing us or anyone else," Oakland right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said of Baltimore. "They showed it. And I don't know what it was. It was our first year in the playoffs, and I think we were all surprised to be in the position we were in. From that standpoint, I just know that we've got every opportunity. We've got the best possibility to make it to the championship game."
Homefield advantage, however, comes with no guarantees – 2000 should be first-hand proof for Oakland. Home teams have won just nine of the last 16 conference title games at home. The Raiders, however, might have the stars aligned even more in place than 2000. Will they seize that chance? Time will tell.