Volume 2 , Number 10
October , 1997
The Curse of Bo
by Dave Lind
The year was 1990. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was flirting with the 3,000 mark, U.S. troops were gearing up to push Sadaam Hussein out of Kuwait, Evander Holyfield and his two still fully-intact ears made quick work of Buster Douglas to win the Heavyweight title, "Dances With Wolves" won Best Picture at the Oscars, and the Los Angeles Raiders rolled to a 12-4 record to win the AFC Western Division Championship. Yes, the Raiders had survived their brief foray into the realm of mediocrity and were now once again a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. They boasted a new, no-nonsense head coach (Art Shell), a rifle-armed quarter-back (Jay Schroeder), a fleet of receivers with world-class speed (Willie Gault, James Lofton), and a budding superstar running back (Bo Jackson). They easily took apart the Bengals but in doing so lost Bo Jackson to a career ending hip injury. Without Jackson's services the Raiders suffered a horrifying 51-3 thrashing at the hands of Buffalo in the AFC Championship game. The Raiders have not been seen or heard from since.
That is, until now. Now the Raiders have a new, no-nonsense head coach (Joe Bugel), a rifle-armed Quarterback (Jeff George), a fleet of receivers with with world-class speed (Tim Brown, James Jett), and a budding superstar running back (Napoleon Kaufman). There's just one thing missing. They don't know how to win.
Call it, "The Curse of Bo", if you will," but the Raiders have been just about the most snakebit franchise in the NFL over the past several years.
They have been on the losing end of close games and blowouts and everything in between. They've lost games because of penalties, turnovers, dropped balls, and blown coverages. They've lost games in the first quarter and on the final play of the game, in regulation and in overtime, in sickness and in health. Week by week they have found new and interesting ways to lose games, each one seemingly more heart-wrenching than the one before. Yet it all adds up to the same thing: Losing.
The Raiders have, over the years, tried a variety of things to remedy the problem, none of which seems to have worked. Listed below is a handy reference chart which details some (but by no means all) of the changes the Raiders have tried over the past several years.
See the pattern? The Raiders have grown accustomed to losing. They hire a new coach, and still they lose. They bring in a new quarterback, and still they lose. They cut down on penalties and turnovers, and still they lose. Rickey Dudley catches balls, and still they lose. They even ban swearing, and still they lose.
It has often been said that good teams find a way to win. This statement is accurate, but does not go far enough. To be precise, good teams EXPECT to find a way to win. And conversely, bad teams EXPECT to find a way to lose. It's simple enough to contrast the two, you need go no further than the 49ers-Rams game last Sunday for a prime example. If the Rams ever had a shot at knocking off their longtime nemesis, this was it. The Niners were hurt, they were vulnerable, and they were reeling. All the Rams had to do was apply the knockout punch. But they could not do it. For sixty minutes the good team expected something to happen which would allow them to win, while the bad team expected something to happen which would cause them to lose, and both teams' expectations were fulfilled.
If you watched the Raiders sideline during their Monday night game against Kansas City, you saw the same thing. The looks on their faces, their body language, their mannerisms, all reveal a team that expects bad things to happen to them. They have fallen into the most dangerous trap that can befall a professional team: They are trapped in the cycle of losing. You lose a game, which causes you to expect to lose games, which causes you to lose another game, which causes you to expect to lose another game, which causes you to lose yet another game ...
How do you break the cycle? Simple: Win games. Not just little games against teams like Atlanta and New Orleans, but the big ones against Denver and Dallas and, yes, even Kansas City. It really is that simple, but it is anything but easy.