Judge Victor Valdivia claims to have a commitment to excellence, but it's really more of a dedication to mediocrity.
Commitment to excellence.
It's hard to imagine that this DVD set could be something of a disappointment. Yes, these are three of the greatest games the Raiders (both at Oakland and Los Angeles) played. There's Super Bowl XI in 1977, where the Raiders shellacked the Minnesota Vikings 32-14. There's Super Bowl XV from 1981, where they trounced the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. Finally, there's Super Bowl XVIII from 1984, where they annihilated the Washington Redskins 38-9. Each game gets its own disc, but the games only clock in at about two hours apiece. With no other content, the set seems a little thin. True, these games are musts for Raiders fans, but with a little effort it could have been much more than just a decent collection.
All three games are well-chosen in one regard: they demonstrate just why the infamous Raiders defense of this era was so lauded. The '77 game is a grueling match in which each team fights hard for what it earns. Both the Raiders and the Vikings have a hard time scoring, but the Raiders' offense gradually cracks through and Raiders QB Ken Stabler sends several crucial passes to MVP Fred Biletnikoff. On defense, Big John Matuszak and Willie Hall, who makes a key interception, demoralize Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton. It takes the Vikings all the way until the third quarter to finally score a touchdown, by which point the Raiders have already gotten nineteen points on the board. The Raiders play pure smashmouth football, even knocking off one of the Vikings' helmets several feet into the air during a tackle. This game is strictly old school; while it may be the hardest of the three games to watch (more on that later), it's a real historical artifact for fans.
The '81 game is also something of a challenge, although it gradually starts to turn into a massacre. Raiders QB Jim Plunkett earned the game's MVP award, and it was richly deserved. He misses almost nothing, hitting receivers Mark Van Eeghen and Cliff Branch almost perfectly and gifting Kenny King with a pass that results in an 80-yard touchdown in the first quarter. By comparison, Eagles QB Ron Jaworski is hamstrung by the Raiders defense, especially Rod Martin who makes a key interception. The Eagles are down 14-3 as the second half begins, and the damage on the Eagles piles up as they make several crucial fumbles and miscalculations. By the end, the frustration on Jaworski's face is clearly visible even through his helmet. By the fourth quarter, the only real drama is the speculation on how the presentation of the Vince Lombardi trophy to Raiders owner Al Davis will go, since at the time Davis was embroiled in a nasty legal battle with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle over Davis' plan to move the team to Los Angeles. The team left in 1982 and would not return to Oakland until 1995.
By contrast, the '84 game is simply a bloodbath. The Raiders defense is so brutal it takes Redskins QB Joe Theismann a full 20 minutes into the first quarter to even get a completion. What's more, Redskins star Art Monk doesn't even get to do anything until the third quarter. Much of the credit goes to Mike Haynes, who clings to every Redskin player like a remora, keeping them from even running any sort of pattern; by the beginning of the second half, most of them just sort of trot out and stop in disgust. You also get to see some classic Lyle Alzado and Howie Long hooliganism, although not as much one would like. Plunkett gives another great performance, but the real star is MVP Marcus Allen, who scores a Super Bowl record (up to that time) with 191 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that pretty much ends the game. There's a fourth quarter after that, but you won't remember anything about it. Raiders coach Tom Flores, the first Latino coach in NFL history, and who also was coach for the '81 game, is wonderfully laconic. He doesn't even raise an eyebrow for most of his games, although he does allow himself a smile at the end. This is by far the least suspenseful of all three games, which will probably make Raiders fans the happiest.
Technically, the quality varies. The '77 game looks and sounds the worst. It's hopelessly washed out, full of video glitches, and apparently missing some bits and pieces here and there. The '81 game looks better, although for some reason the second and fourth quarters look worse than the other two. The '84 game is in the best shape of all, and is the most complete. These are all original TV broadcasts with the original announcers, so you can see John Madden, who coached the '77 game, announcing the '84 game with Pat Summerall. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is rather quiet for the '77 game, but is more acceptable for the other two. There are no extras whatsoever, which is something of a letdown.
So yes, Raiders fans will at least be interested in this package. However, only three games? Why not maximize the use of each DVD and add more content, or even just add one more disc? Why not include the 1974 AFC Playoff Game between the Raiders and the Miami Dolphins, known by fans as the "Sea of Hands" game and considered by many as one of their greatest comebacks of all time? Similarly, there's the "Heidi" game, the 1968 matchup between the Raiders and the New York Jets in which the Raiders came back from a three-point deficit by scoring two touchdowns in nine seconds, a game that wasn't broadcast in its entirety because NBC decided to air the movie Heidi instead. That's just two games; there are surely even more classic games that could have been included as well. Raiders fans are famously devoted and would have easily shelled out a little extra for more content than what is provided here.
Oakland Raiders: 3 Greatest Games: Super Bowl Victories is not guilty through technical truth in advertising, but it's too bad that the NFL didn't take the time to make this a real blockbuster. Maybe next time.
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