Regular readers of this blog probably know that my expat adventures have taken me to the exotic locale of Oakland, California (until recently...I now live in the much wimpier city of Berkeley). So, I had the opportunity to witness the NFL debuts of both Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis last Monday night (thanks to the extremely generous gift of a ticket courtesy of my folks, who coincidentally were in town for a visit...huge props to John and Cathy Slater for making that possible!).
Although the Raiders are an absolutely wretched football team, it was a very fun evening. Here are some notes and observations about D-Mac's performance and the craziness that surrounds him:
* The pre-game atmosphere on Monday was absolutely electric...starting with a raucous BART ride to the stadium and continuing until the game began, there was a completely amazing energy surrounding the entire experience. Raiders fans are notoriously crazy, of course, and there was an exciting edge of thuggish danger to the whole thing that made college games seem quite genteel. Very fun...I hated the Broncos by the time we got to our seats.
* D-Mac only touched the ball 11 times by my count, but generally looked good. He got the ball on Oakland's first offensive play of the season (a nice 8-yd run off left tackle) and also caught their first pass (11 yds for a first down). We also saw flashes of the more interesting ways the Raiders might use him as the season progresses...he lined up at WR at one point, and was even QB for a play (a 6-yd handoff to Justin Fargas...we called that one the Wild Raider formation). He played three quarters (left after the 3rd with a neck stinger) and finished with 9 carries for 46 yds.
* Peyton Hillis saw a lot of action. He caught a pass and was the lead blocker for the Broncos' ground attack that pretty much rolled over the Raiders for the entire game (here's a nice shot of him carrying the ball). He's going to do really well with Denver.
* We had amazing seats that afforded us a great view of the Raiders sideline for the whole game. When the Broncos had the ball, D-Mac spent most of his time sitting on the bench next to the other running backs. When Oakland had the ball he stood on the sideline (or was on the field, of course). He seemed very calm...not a lot of jumping around or other displays of nervous energy.
* The SEC was certainly well-represented in the offensive backfields, with McFadden and JaMarcus Russell on one side and Hillis and Jay Cutler on the other.
* It really cannot be overstated how terrible the Raiders are. Against the Broncos, their lone bright spot was the punting game. They have a potentially great running attack, but the offensive line is porous and the passing game provides no help whatsoever. This worries me.
* The fans were not happy with the Raiders' performance. They booed the team coming off the field at halftime (it was 17-0 at that point), and in the 3rd quarter I heard the guys in front of me talking about who Oakland might choose with the first pick in the draft next year.
* The on-field problems can be fixed...what concerns me (for McFadden's sake) is how incredibly dysfunctional the organization is. I ranted about this before the draft, but it seems to have gotten even worse...the latest drama is that head coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan completely hate each other...they literally don't speak and have been publicly blaming each other for the D's total meltdown against Denver (read this article for more details). At any rate, it's not the type of environment that gives a young rookie much of a foundation for success.
As part of my diligent reporting, I took some photos (and a bit of video) of the general craziness as well as of D-Mac on the sidelines. Keep reading...if you dare:
The fans are clearly excited about D-Mac...there were tons of people wearing his jersey:
Arriving at the stadium, we were greeted by a kickass Raiders-themed funk band and a large "Commitment to Excellence" banner:
My brother Gary made a new friend:
D-Mac takes the field for his professional debut...I couldn't help but wonder what thoughts were going through his head at this point:
As noted above, our amazing seats (Dad and Cathy - thanks again) gave us a great view of the Raiders sideline. Here's McFadden watching the Broncos' first offensive series:
One of my favorite fans was the tough-looking guy in the ski mask in the photo below. He sat down at the end of our row and proceeded to fall asleep throughout the entire pre-game craziness (including an F-16 flyover). He literally didn't move...then a few minutes later I looked over and he disappeared, never to be seen again. Perhaps he had to go commit a robbery, I'm not sure. This picture was taken as the Raiders were coming onto the field and the whole stadium (except him) was going nuts:(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)