OAKLAND -- After the game, after the former Oakland Raiders beat the former Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18 in the latest installment of their former torrid rivalry, world-famous defensive back Charles Woodson stood in front of his locker ready to talk ball.
His locker used to belong to Nnamdi Asomugha who was the team spokesman. Now Woodson is the team spokesman. So that corner of the locker room containing that particular locker will forever be known as Talker's Corner.
As he stood in Talker's Corner, Woodson wore a snazzy jacket and a vest and a tie with a jumbo knot and he looked like a British Lord. "We are becoming a football team," he proclaimed, the elder statesman making a serious judgment about where the Raiders have been, where they are and where they hope to go.
For a long time, the Raiders were not a football team. They were a comedy troupe including clowns and assorted goofs impersonating a football team. They were the anti-football team.
Many expected the comedy to continue this season. It has not. The Raiders are not a great team. They may not even be a good team. But they definitely are a team, a real team in the National Football League. And that is progress. Believe me, it is.
On Sunday, they defeated the Steelers who are hurt and limited and slipping. But the Steelers' quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger and he is a big-time quarterback and he wins games all on his own. He almost won Sunday's game all on his own — back to that in a moment. It's just that the Raiders' defense controlled him just enough, controlled him and his receivers and certainly controlled his running backs.
The Raiders' defense played a tough, stout, hard game. The Raiders start 10 new guys on defense — almost unheard of. It's a whole new crew with a whole new attitude and that defense is good. "I know we didn't have a lot of big names, but I knew they were football players," coach Dennis Allen said afterward.
Indeed they were and are.
Think about this. The defense played an entire football game, played the full 60 minutes or however many minutes it actually was on the field. Afterward, linebacker Nick Roach, admitting the Raiders are not there yet — you know where "there" is — said, "We always feel like we're just one game away from getting the thing rolling."
Unlike the plucky defense, the offense played only half a game. There was the First Half Offense and then there was the Second Half Offense. And you never would confuse the two.