Gruden gone, but Broncos vs. Raiders goes on.
The Raiders will become the Broncos’ dreaded antagonist for a record 124th time Sunday. The Broncos haven’t played any other team so often and acrimoniously. The Raiders once won 59-14 and the Broncos 47-14. The teams have tied twice, played in overtimes thrice, 22 primetime games and an AFC Championship.
But no game between the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver (always) Broncos has been quite as peculiar as this latest could be.
Jon Gruden resigned (or was fired) for repulsive personal conduct unbecoming Monday, and interim successor Rich Bisaccia, unknown to almost all Coloradans and most Nevadans, will be a head coach for the first time in his 39 years of football.
Curiously enough, Mike Shanahan, who has been a head coach with both franchises, and fired by each in his career, will be honored for his 2020 induction into the Broncos Ring of Fame at halftime. He even served as the head coach of the Raiders and an assistant with the Broncos in the same season (1989).
Al Davis hired Shanahan, who had been the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, in 1988. In a Monday night game at old Mile High Stadium, the Broncos led the Raiders 24-0 at halftime, but the Raiders would intercept four passes (with John Elway flashing Shanahan an obscene sign after one) and roar back to win in OT 30-27.
Shortly after the Raiders fell to the Broncos the next season in the same stadium, Davis fired Shanahan, who returned to Denver as quarterbacks coach (at the directive of Pat Bowlen, despite the objection of Dan Reeves). The Broncos reached the Super Bowl.
But, after the ’92 season, Reeves fired Shanahan. As a result, Reeves was fired a year later. Shanahan rejected Bowlen’s offer to come back as head coach in ’93, but two years after, he agreed to take over the Broncos.
In San Francisco once during warmups, Shanahan demanded that backup QB Elvis Grbac throw at Davis. Elvis missed.
Shanahan has been estranged from the Raiders for 32 years and away from the Broncos since the 2008 season.
Elway and Shanahan were best buddies, and plotted plays behind Reeves’ back, when John was quarterback and Shanahan the coordinator. However, their close friendship, forged during a span of five Super Bowls together, became strained for two decades after John retired. Neither ever wanted to share executive power in the Broncos’ organization. The two finally soothed their feud, and, as I revealed exclusively in 2018, Elway wanted to fire Vance Joseph at the end of his first season (’17) and bring back Shanahan as coach. CEO Joe Ellis overruled Elway.
The elder Shanahan now is a consultant to Kyle.
Mike isn’t the only Broncos-Raiders connection. Players including Hall of Famer Willie Brown, defensive end Lyle Alzado and quarterback Steve Beuerlein played for both, and several assistants have been with each. Al Davis once claimed Bowlen should be suspended because of salary cap violations (and the Broncos indeed were fined), and Davis offered jobs to Broncos ex-head coach Red Miller and former GM Ted Sundquist.
The most impacting link was in 1983, when Davis made a deal with the Baltimore Colts to acquire John Elway, but commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to approve the trade, and Elway ended up instead with the Broncos.
Eight years and three other coaches after Shanahan was fired as Raiders head coach, Jon Gruden would get the post. He departed for the Buccaneers in 2002, but went back to the Raiders under Mark Davis, the son of the late Al Davis, for a 10-year, $100 million contract.
In the fourth year, Gruden’s career and reputation abruptly were ruined by a torrential storm of his emails from 2010-2017, when he was ESPN’s Monday night analyst. The emails were discovered by NFL officials during an investigation of the Washington Football Team’s management and ownership. Gruden’s missives to franchise president Bruce Allen, who had worked alongside Gruden in Oakland and Tampa Bay, were filled with racial, misogynistic and homophobic insinuations aimed at the executive director of the players’ association, the commissioner, owners and cheerleaders.
Gruden absolutely had to leave the league.
How will the Raiders react to the drama and trauma Sunday?
Nobody knows. Especially the Broncos, who, as the Raiders, have collapsed on the field into their own abyss.