Let’s start with the obvious: the Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated. It’s historic. Really—they’re the first team in the history of the National Football League to start five-and-oh after winning no more than two games the year before. And they’ve mostly looked good doing it—especially on defense, leading the league in sacks, turnover differential, and points allowed.
But right now, none of that matters. Because this is Raiders Week.
Of course, for any contending NFL team, every game matters to the bigger picture, and any loss is a bummer. But losing to the Raiders is a sin, regardless of the implications.
Rivalries are the purest form of sport: competition that transcends context. And of all the rivalries in the NFL, the fifty-three-year-old, regularly renewed feud between the Chiefs and Raiders is one of the bitterest and best.
Its history is the history of the league. The teams have shared a division since they were both founded in 1960, several years before the first AFL-NFL championship game. In other words, the Chiefs were not necessarily created with the Super Bowl in mind, but they have always existed to beat the Raiders. Sunday’s will be the one hundred and ninth contest between them, with the Chiefs tallying only four more wins. That balance, along with the number of close games, and the heightened emotion—the we’re-so-sick-of-you familiarity resulting from such a long, unbroken history of competition—is ostensibly why the rivalry has stayed so intense.
But the truly intriguing reasons to hate the Raiders transcend the standings and statistics. There’s that swagger, of course, set against their ridiculously self-righteous and trademarked slogans, like “Pride and Poise”—a good one for the second-most penalized team in NFL history—or “Commitment to Excellence.” What is this, a savings bank?
And above it all, floats the ghost of owner Al Davis, which, admittedly, isn’t as sinister or as much fun to hate as Davis was in his living, silk-and-jewelry-draped, crypt-keeper form.
Although there have been some ugly incidents on the field and even a couple in the stands, I am not talking about “hate” as it exists in the real world, but the healthy release of negative passion that sports makes possible. But don’t take my word for it: “In sport, mankind has found a way of celebrating its dark tribal impulses without the nasty consequences,” writes Noam Shpancer, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “We are free to ridicule and hate ‘the others' without killing or subjugating them… competition necessitates cooperation. If we don't agree on the rules, we can't play the game. Sports rivalries thus bind the rivals together and affirm their underlying unity.”
Well, isn’t that nice.
On Sunday, the Chiefs could get to six-and-oh for the first time in a decade. But what really matters is the six-in-a-row the Raiders have won at Arrowhead Stadium. That’s historic, too. It’s never happened before.
And it should provide the players[—and fans—]more motivation than keeping a perfect record unblemished or living up to their status as 10-point favorites. Balance must be restored. Home turf must be reclaimed. And good must triumph over evil.
This is what it’s all about. And with so many fine reasons to hate, what's not to love?