OAKLAND -- Antonio Smith headed for the locker room exit dressed in boots, a cowboy hat and a smile. There was a clear path to the outside, but the Raiders defensive tackle deviated from it after seeing Tony Sparano to his left.
The Oklahoman put his arm around the Raiders’ interim head coach, who embraced his player and said, “It’s great to see you smile. It’s been a long time for you.”
Twenty five games to be exact. Smith weathered Houston’s 14-game losing streak last season and the Raiders’ 0-10 start to this year. Most droughts aren’t that long.
Raiders tenured at least two years were 0-for-16 heading into Thursday night’s home game against Kansas City. Rookies and new signings had lost 10 straight, which was enough to test the patience.
All of those streaks were snapped with a 24-20 victory over the Chiefs at water-logged O.co Coliseum, a result that prompted massive celebration.
[RECAP: Carr leads Raiders to first win]
Sio Moore and Khalil Mack ran around the field, shaking hands with loyal fans. Marcel Reece jumped into the Black Hole and flexed on the NFL Network postgame set.
Quarterback Derek Carr stayed in uniform well after final whistle, hugging and shaking hands with every member of the organization in sight.
Smith just stood by his locker, taking in the jubilant chaos all around him.
“It feels like I just took a bath in the fountain of youth,” Smith said. “I found the key to life now, man. It’s just flowing through my veins right now.”
The locker room energy was strong. Add tarp and champagne and it would’ve felt like the Raiders clinched a playoff spot. At 1-10 they certainly haven’t, but please forgive them for going overboard. This team has been working extremely hard for one win, only to be rebuffed time and again.
These resilient Raiders kept coming back for more, fighting through one devastating week after another. It would’ve been easy to fold, just call it a year. These Raiders never broke, and never turned on each other. Had they done so, this win wouldn’t have happened. They would’ve gone 0-16, forever scarred by the experience.
The Raiders finally won, and it was cause to celebrate.
“I’ve played in a lot of big games and a lot of emotional games, but that was something special,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “That was something I’ll never forget. That’s because this team has stuck together.
“We’re a band of brothers. No matter what our record says, this is one of the closest teams I’ve played with. It’s a family. I know how big that monkey was on a lot of guys’ backs. This team hadn’t won in 16 games, and it gets old. It’s hard to come in here every Wednesday and put that behind you and get back to work, but we did that and we beat a good football team tonight. We’ve been close all year in a lot of situations, but today we finished it. It was a special moment.”
The journey was as important as the final result. The Raiders started fast, finished strong and overcame a lull in between. They roared to a 14-0 lead behind Latavius Murray’s big runs, only to let Kansas City back in it after he was concussed. The Chiefs took a 20-17 lead, and it was fair, given this team’s track record, to assume the worst.
[RELATED: Murray provides spark in Raiders' fast start]
The Raiders rallied instead, putting together a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to establish the final margin of victory. It was an awesome combination of power rushing from Marcel Reece behind a will-imposing line, Carr’s timely completions and a perfect route by James Jones on the game-deciding 9-yard touchdown strike.
“The way this game was won was perfect, because it taught us lessons within the game and it taught us how to fight back out of adversity,” Smith said. “That’s been a thorn in our side. Whenever anything bad happens or the tide gets turned, we haven’t been able to turn it back around. We caught adversity here in the third and early in the fourth quarter, but this time the offense turned it right back on and got a score. Then we were able to finish the game as a defense, and that’s something we haven’t done as of yet. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to put a full, complete football game together.”
The 24-hour rule is not in effect here. The Raiders have three days off before starting preparation for the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 30, and they certainly plan to enjoy a moment hard earned.
The Raiders certainly don’t want to remember this as an isolated moment.
“We still have hard work ahead of us,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “You can’t be happy with doing it once. I want more. I told everybody that after the game. This night isn’t enough. We need more.”
The Raiders believe getting that first win could lead to others in five games remaining. That’s the goal, to finish the season strong.
Smith certainly wants that. After having a moment with his beloved coach, he left the locker room with a parting message.
“The hex is gone, and now it’s on.”