I’m gonna tell you a story about the Broncos, the Raiders and a blender full of green chile on the poor side of town.
About 29 years ago this month, my family, clad in orange and blue, was huddled around the TV for the highly-anticipated Broncos season opener against the hated Raiders — just like the game that will happen Monday.
Then came a moment that lives in infamy in Vela family history.
My mom was in the kitchen making homemade pork and green chile while the rest of us were hooting and hollering like monkeys in the living room.
John Elway drops back to pass. He’s about to throw!
The loud noise from a blender chopping up green chile came from the kitchen. It distracted us all. Our necks turned toward the awful noise in unison, before snapping back toward the TV just in time to witness Elway’s pass being intercepted by a Raiders defender, and returned for a touchdown.
The Broncos lost in a close game. For years, we blamed that loss on the blender.
It was green chile in the blender that day, but it may as well have been my heart.
Broncos legendary safety Steve Atwater was playing that day. I apologized to him for my mom’s blender when we spoke on the phone recently. Then we got to talking about the ferocious rivalry that exists between the Broncos and Raiders.
“The dislike level was very high for both sides and I think we both gave it all we had,” Atwater said of his memories of playing against the Raiders for nine seasons as a Bronco. “It was a great rivalry. I wouldn’t say we hated them. We just loved the rivalry.”
Broncos-Raiders. It’s one of the greatest rivalries in NFL history.
“I talked to a Broncos fan once and I asked, ‘Why do you hate the Raiders so much?’” said my CPR News colleague Ben Markus, a die-hard Raiders fan. “And he said, ‘I was trained from birth to hate the Raiders.’”
Yep, that goes for me too. I was practically baptised at the old Mile High Stadium. For many in Colorado, Sundays were for Jesus. For my family, Sundays were for John Elway.
And our Public Enemy Number One: The Raiders.
I saw a lot of Broncos-Raiders slugfests at Mile High in the 1980’s and ‘90s. But generations before mine witnessed a lot of Denver losses at the hands of the Silver and Black.
“The Broncos got beat up for so many years by the Raiders, and that helped to make the Raiders Public Enemy Number One,” Markus said. “And I think that somehow got seeped into the DNA of Denver.”
Markus makes a good point — for a Raiders fan. The Broncos and Raiders first met in 1960. At the time they were part of American Football League before that league merged with the NFL and began play in 1970. At one point, the Raiders beat the Broncos 14 straight times from 1965 to 1971.
Broncos legend Billy Thompson played for Denver beginning in 1969.
“For a long time, the Raiders were dominating the AFC West, led by Kenny Stabler and Al Davis,” Thompson, a Broncos Ring of Fame defensive back, remembered. “And the Broncos at that time weren’t one of the top teams in the AFC West.”
Things changed in 1977, when Denver, led by their vaunted Orange Crush defense, went 12-2 in the regular season and went on to beat Oakland in the 1978 AFC Championship Game, which was played at the original Mile High Stadium.
"I’ll never forget it, the night we beat the Raiders for that championship game," Thompson said. “The fans tore the goalposts down. I hadn’t seen it happen before and I haven’t seen it happen since, where the fans actually stormed the field and hung on the goalposts.”
The Raiders have won more games in this 59-year rivalry (64-53-2). But since 2000, the Broncos have dominated Raiders teams, at one point winning eight straight games from 2011 to 2015.
Monday night’s season opener will be played in Oakland, home of the Black Hole — a place Atwater knows well.
“I remember those fans booing and saying, ‘You suck, Atwater,’” Atwater said with a laugh. “This was back when I was playing pretty good. I was a pretty good player back then, but they were talking a lot of noise and we talked back to them. It was all in fun though. I don’t think there was any ill will toward it.”
This rivalry turns friendships on their heads. Thompson is good friends with Raiders Hall of Fame offensive tackle and former coach Art Shell. The two went to college together. But when the Broncos and Raiders met, Thompson said, “We didn’t talk very much.”
Atwater says former Raiders offensive lineman Steve Wisniewski would always push Broncos players and try to “hit them in the legs” after the whistle blew.
“And then we played in the Pro Bowl a couple times and he was the nicest guy in the world,” Atwater says. “And I’m like, ‘Are you the same guy who pushes me after the play, and talking noise?’”
But something feels different heading into Monday night’s game. It just doesn’t feel as intense as it used to. Both teams are coming off of back-to-back losing seasons. The Broncos haven’t won or been to a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in 2016. And the Raiders haven’t won in the postseason since the 2002 season.
“When both teams suck, the rivalry is not as good,” Markus says. “Raiders fans are a surly bunch, especially after losing for so many years. There’s a big chip on Raider Nation’s shoulder right now.”
Meanwhile, Broncos fans have had little to cheer about lately as well. The team heads into the new season full of uncertainty: A new coach, an aging quarterback, and a restless fan base. And who knows what form the rivalry will take when the Raiders move their home from Oakland to Las Vegas — likely next year.
“The rivalry may have lost its luster a bit, but I think it’s going to pick back up,” Atwater says. “The Raiders have a lot of good, new players. [Raiders coach Jon] Gruden is a guy players I think enjoy playing for, and the same with [Broncos coach] Vic Fangio. I think players play hard for him. I think we’re going to see a great football game on Monday.”
Well, let’s hope so.
And you better believe that all blenders in my kitchen will be unplugged by kickoff.
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