In the spirit of Rocky Balboa, everyone loves an underdog who rises to the top. In spite of having been only four years removed from a Super Bowl win, the 1980 Raiders were a team that no one could have foreseen becoming a champion.
Due to this fact, they are often looked upon when talking heads are looking back at past Super Bowl winners. However, by staring into the face of adversity and laughing all the way to the Lombard Tropy, the 1980 Oakland Raiders showed thoughness and embodied a true commitment to excellence.
The close of the decade of the 1970s has not been kind to the Oakland Raiders. Following the controversial playoff loss to the rival Denver Broncos to end the 1977 season, the Raiders missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. They would again miss the playoffs in 1979 to create the first two year postseason drought since Al Davis had been named coach in 1963.
This was a time of transformation along the Raiders roster as well. Many of the players who had powered the Raiders dominance in the earlier part of the decade had retired or had been sent packing. George Atkinson, Fred Belitnikoff and Willie Brown had retired. Jack Tatum, Ken Stabler, and Phil Villapiano had all been traded. Hall of Fame coach John Madden had retired from the sidelines, and was working on his fledgling broadcasting career, and he was replaced by former Raider quarterback and offensive backs coach Tom Flores.
Off the field, there were distractions galore as Al Davis had announced his plan to move the team to Los Angeles following the coming season. This was the opening shot in a new battle in Davis’s ongoing war with former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
The Raiders opened the season with their new quarterback Dan Pastorini, who had been acquired from the Houston Oilers for the aging Kenny Stabler. This new look Raiders didn’t start out as world beaters. In fact, they started out 2-3, and Pastorini was getting sacked repeatedly. Seemingly, as if to ensure that the Raiders would fulfill the preseason predictions of last place in the AFC West, Pastorini goes down to injury, and former first round bust Jim Plunkett trotted on the field to take his place.
Soon after Plunkett took over, the Raiders went on a six game winning streak, and found their stride. Rather than end up in last place, as predicted the Raiders would enter the playoffs as the wild card. In the wild-card game, which in those days was basically a play-in game, they faced the Houston Oilers that was quarterbacked by Stabler. The Raiders decimated the Oilers 27-7.
In the divisional round, the Raiders travelled to frigid Cleveland to face the Browns. This game was a close and low scoring affair. The Raiders were tenuously holding on to a two point lead as Brian Sipe led the Browns down the field. With the wind swirrling, there was no such thing as a sure field goal, so Sipe lofted a pass for the endzone. However, safety Mike Davis intercepted it despite having what Gene Upshaw called “the worst hands in the secondary” to secure the Raider win.
For the AFC championship game, the Raiders traveled to San Diego to face off against Dan Fouts and the rival San Diego Chargers. In a game that was fitting for two of the original AFL teams, the Raiders and Chargers had a shootout, with the Raiders taking the game 34-27 to earn their second Super Bowl trip in four years.
The Raiders capped this Cinderella season by thumping the Eagles 27-10. Plunkett, the guy who had two years before been out of football, and widely considered a first round bust was named the game’s MVP. Linebacker Rod Martin had three interceptions. It was a game that was not even as close as the score would indicate.
This season, more than any of the other championships is a testament to the mystique of the Raiders. They faced the longest of odds, but they never waivered from their commitment to excellence. When it was all on the line, they did one thing, and that was just win baby.”