Programming note: Tony Sparano is scheduled to address the media starting at 12:50 p.m. this afternoon. Watch the live stream right here.
The Raiders are haven’t won in nearly a year. They’re 0-9 this year and have lost 15 straight dating back to last season. The players have been finding new and inventive ways to stay focused and optimistic -- an important task for interim head coach Tony Sparano and his team leaders.
They have a tremendous resource in that regard. Never-dull defensive tackle Antonio Smith is an expert on the subject. He’s lost 23 straight games.
He dropped 14 straight last year with the Houston Texans and has played every game in the Raiders’ rough start.
Smith uses a unique brand of humor to keep things light, knowing full well that dark clouds produce poor results.
"You can go one of two ways. You can stay down into the pit, or you can try to climb your way out,” Smith said. “If you aren’t positive, you aren’t trying to find your way out. All you’re doing is digging yourself deeper down in the hole. I ain’t ready to die yet.”
Smith works to keep those around him upbeat, with a karaoke machine used by many to communicate soulful stylings, or his ninja costume on Halloween. He’s also dead serious when it comes to football, on the practice field and in meeting rooms. Joke around in those settings and receive a different reaction. He’s found a balance between staying focused and having fun.
“Antonio’s personality is one that is really dynamic that way,” Sparano said. “The guy can put things in perspective really easily. He understands his job and understands that he’s a veteran player on this team. He’s been really good. I said this about Charles [Woodson] last week, I’ll say it about Antonio, too. He’s been really good for the team and really good for me as well. It’s nice to come in there and see him smiling and dressed up as a (ninja). He brings a little levity to the table.”
While Smith certainly wants his pass-rush productivity to be higher and make a direct impact on the team, he hasn’t played poorly. He wasn’t an on-field detraction with Houston either, making this streak tough to fathom and hard to take.
He hasn’t won a football game since Sept. 15, 2013, since the Texans beat the Tennessee Titans. He’s developed a coping mechanism that works well, one he’s tired of using. There are moments where he gets down, but consistently picks himself back up.
“In my mind, I feel like I’ve won 23 straight games,” Smith said. “Sometimes, at night, I look in mirror and Jedi mind trick myself so that I may not crumble like the rest of the weak-minded.”