Interim head coach Tony Sparano waited a long time to give his Raiders a victorious postgame speech. After trying in vain six straight tries, Sparano capped a week’s hard work with a win.
He thanked his players for their effort during a short week, which allowed the Raiders to beat Kansas City 24-20 last Thursday night in the team’s only primetime game. He told them to remember that winning feeling, and let it fuel them toward another one.
He brought his players in for a final huddle that veteran left tackle Donald Penn wouldn’t let them break.
“Hold up, hold up,” Penn said. “Tony has been through a lot, man. He kept us together. He kept fighting and worked his butt off for us. That’s why he deserves a game ball. This one goes to the head coach of the Oakland Raiders.”
It’s not the first game ball Sparano has received in a long coaching career. It might have been the best.
“I have gotten some game balls before but, quite honestly, probably none more meaningful than that one,” Sparano said. “I say that because of what this team has been through and how far we’ve had to come, how much the guys have stayed together in that locker room.
“I really appreciated it last night. It was nice. But, (there are others) that deserve the game balls -- our owner (Mark Davis), our GM (Reggie McKenzie) and all of our fans that were out there (Thursday) night. It was fun last night to go out to dinner and see Oakland Raider fans out there last night with a smile on their face. It was good.”
If Sparano doesn’t keep this group together, focused and working hard, Thursday’s victory doesn’t happen. A disjointed team doesn’t beat the Chiefs. There was little argument about that fact among the Raiders.
Sparano deserves credit for that. He kept the team committed to the cause when it would be easy to check out, using a combination of sometimes-brutal honesty, an intense, yet player-friendly practice schedule and personal commitment to keep players invested.
That means Sparano was typically the first person inside his local Starbucks, typically entering and exiting the Raiders facility in darkness. All that without assurance he’ll be around beyond the season.
It sent a simple message: I won’t quit. Neither can you.
"Tony has been great," receiver James Jones said. "He’s going through a lot himself on and off the field. I’m proud of my coach. He believed in us and we believed in him. ... He’s been in that facility from sun up to sun down."
The Raiders did the hard work required to win games in this league despite being outgunned, and finally got a payoff. It came from one rare trait.
“Patient endurance,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s hard. It’s hard to continue to go to work and work your tail off when you’re 0-and-whatever, but we kept fighting. We believed in what Coach Sparano was preaching to us. Our teammates believed in each other and … man, we finally got a win.”
The Raiders want another one. They formally left the Kansas City game in the rearview on Monday’s return to practice. They made changes from Thursday’s game tape and applied it to the game plan for Sunday’s match at St. Louis, where they hope to notch a second win.
“We needed it, man,” safety Charles Woodson said after Thursday’s win. “I don’t think there’s any other way to put it. We needed this win. It just lets you know that you can do it, even though we haven’t done it to this point. We got it done tonight. Now there’s no excuse not to get the next one.”