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Column - Jonathan Rand

Relearning a rivalry

Jul 24, 2008, 6:05:45 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ

Will the rivalry between the Chiefs and Raiders ever be the same?

Reserve safety Greg Wesley, after his release by the Chiefs, has moved on to Oakland without raising a fuss in either city. In Kansas City, this should be tantamount to going over to the dark side. But the Chiefs and Raiders can’t afford to be fixated on each other these days.

Nearly half the Chiefs who’ll start practice at River Falls, Wisconsin on Friday will be trying to learn the ropes of their first NFL training camp. For them, the Raiders are just an opponent that appears twice on the schedule. And few of the rookies can afford to look that far ahead.

Wesley’s uniform change would create more waves if the Chiefs and Raiders were coming off playoff seasons, or if Wesley instead was quarterback Rich Gannon. But when two teams are trying to rebound from 4-12 seasons, all opponents look the same.

Times were different when Gannon could get two cities, and much of the nation, buzzing because he switched from red and gold to silver and black. Chiefs fans were deeply divided over whether Gannon or Elvis Grbac should lead the team, and Gannon backers were none too happy when he was let go and signed with the Raiders in 1999.

Gannon completed that season by knocking the Chiefs out of the playoffs and three years later led the Raiders to a Super Bowl. He wasn’t the only high-profile player to switch between those teams. Albert Lewis, a Chiefs Hall of Famer, became a Raider from 1994-1998.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer in 1995 hired two coaches just fired by the Raiders – Gunther Cunningham and Art Shell, the Raiders’ Hall of Fame tackle and former head coach. Moves like these gave the rivalry the trappings of a family feud.

But for a rivalry to keep its zest, the games must be meaningful and the players must be emotionally invested. Just when this rivalry, rooted deeply in the old American Football League, was losing its spark, Schottenheimer took over the Chiefs in 1989. He conveyed his dislike of Raiders owner Al Davis to his players and each game became a grudge match, with the Chiefs usually winning.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was only 14 years old in 1989, and no doubt is more concerned with grooming quarterback JaMarcus Russell than any division rivalry. Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, who played against the Raiders in a Super Bowl, has been around long enough to appreciate what this rivalry means. But given his ambitious youth movement, he’s got to be fixated on the future, not the past.

Both these teams need to get on track before they can get their great rivalry bubbling again. Not since 1994, when the Chiefs finished the season by beating the Raiders for the last wild-card spot, have both teams finished with winning records. Not since 1993 have both made the playoffs in the same season.

Their first meeting this season, on September 14 at Arrowhead, will offer the Chiefs a much better chance for success than their opening-day visit a week earlier to New England. The rematch will be November 30 at Oakland.

Traditional rivalries inevitably ebb and flow and one of these days, no doubt, Chiefs-Raiders games will again become prime-time attractions. For the sake of both teams, let’s hope Wesley is still around to see it.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

A former sportswriter and columnist in Kansas City and Miami, Rand has covered the NFL for three decades and seen 23 Super Bowl games. His column appears twice weekly in-season.