A look at the 1995 season opener when the Raiders returned to Oakland
What will greet the Raiders when they beginning playing in Las Vegas in 2020? Nobody knows, but the response they received from Oakland fans following their 13 year hiatus in 1995 was something special. It was Labor Day Weekend 1995 and what owner Al Davis regularly called “the roar of the crowd” was alive and well at the Coliseum. Just over 50,000 fans packed the stadium to see the city of Oakland host their first NFL opening day game since 1981 and for the first time since the spring of 1982 the Raiders were the Oakland Raiders again.
Irony sometimes rears its head in NFL games. The last game played in Oakland marked the end of the 1981 season and that game was against the San Diego Chargers who won 23-10.
The team gift shops at the Coliseum were once again loaded with Raider merchandise. A pin made to commemorate the event read:
“Welcome Home Oakland Raiders vs San Diego Chargers September 3, 1995”.
A new bumper sticker used more descriptive terminology.
“We’re Back! L.A. Sucked!
No fan who packed the parking lot that day could have asked for better football weather. The sun was shining and the sky was almost perfectly free of any cloud cover which made this 62 degree day feel a bit warmer than usual. To be fair, even rain wouldn’t have driven these fans away because the Raiders were back!
Fans were enthusiastic to have their Raiders return. A fan told NFL films “We’ve been waiting thirteen years for them (Raiders) to come back and now their back!”
The energy existed from the unwavering anticipation of the Oakland faithful to see these beloved men in black jerseys and silver helmets from the moment that the team’s bus pulled up. The Raiders players, long accustomed to the apathy of Southern California fans were in disbelief over the public response, from the way fans swarmed to their arriving busses in the parking lot at 11 a.m. to the way fans refused to leave until the game against San Diego concluded.
“I was kind of like in awe,” said starting cornerback Albert Lewis, “I had butterflies”.
Starting middle linebacker Greg Biekert was his stereotypical reflective self. “Seeing the fans going nuts when we were just getting off the buses was a tremendous feeling. And they never stopped going nuts. We never had this type of support.”
The crowd even roared during the pregame introductions which bewildered many players who were veterans of the laidback Los Angeles crowd. Wide receiver Tim Brown later compared the moment to his days as a collegiate at Notre Dame.. “I hadn’t seen anything like that since I left my alma mater eight years ago,” Brown said. “We had a couple games like that in L.A., but never for a home opener.”
The show of support reflected not only the eagerness but the confidence that the crowd had in their beloved team because many fans were still angry over the team’s departure. How could a franchise leave a stadium that they had dominated in? Between 1967 and 1981 the Oakland Raiders had an all-time record of 88-24-3 at the Coliseum. Still, deep down the silver and black faithful really didn’t care. All they wanted to do was to see Raider football where it belonged and parents who witnessed the great moments of the 60s and 70s were excited to bring their kids to a Raider game to build new memories. Most of all, Raider fans wanted to see the Chargers get their butt kicked.
The fans quieted down for a brief moment once Charger’s kicker John Carney booted the opening kickoff to the Raiders 1995 First Round Draft Pick Napoleon Kaufman. The former Washington Husky possessed blazing speed and the first time he ever touched an NFL football in regular season play he netted 24 yards. The cheers of the crowd rose to new heights as quarterback Jeff Hostetler and the Raiders offense huddled up for their first play. Hostetler completed a 10 yard toss to tight end Kerry Cash for a quick first down. The Raiders first running play since 1981 went to running back Harvey Williams but he was quickly bottled up by the Chargers and held to no gain. A pass to Williams granted the Raiders another first down but just four plays later the silver and black punted the ball back to San Diego. Jeff Gossett’s punt was near perfect and the ball went out on the San Diego 8-yard line.
Next, the San Diego Chargers trotted out to a crescendo of “boos” from the Oakland faithful.
One year earlier, the Chargers had made it to Super Bowl XXIX on the back of a tough defense led by future hall of fame linebacker Junior Seau, the legs of running back Natrone Means and the powerful arm of quarterback Stan Humphries. They entered the 1995 season with the same plan in mind. The stout Raiders defense, led by All-Pro cornerback Terry McDaniel had other plans and the Charger drive was soon stalled at the San Diego 31.
Oakland regained possession of the ball at their own 16 but they fared no better against the indomitable Charger defense which held them to just four yards in three plays. Gossett’s second punt wasn’t as pretty and the Chargers took over at midfield. A run by Means and a Humphries pass netted fifteen yards to the Oakland 35 but mistiming between Humphries and his center led to a fumble that landed just out of the reach of Raider defenders. The crowd, expecting a classic Raider forced turnover rose to their feet in eager anticipation but Stan Humphries quickly fell on the ball to seemingly save the day. He wouldn’t be so lucky on the next play.
Facing third and thirteen the Chargers, despite the presence of lockdown corners Albert Lewis and Terry McDaniel, decided to test the Raiders deep for the first time and it ended up being a harbinger of bad times for the Chargers. Humphries deep pass, intended to wide receiver Tony Martin was picked off by safety Eddie Anderson at the Raider 1. Then Jeff Hostetler and his offense accomplished something that no team was able to do in 1994. They marched 99 yards against Junior Seau.
The drive didn’t start off in a good way when fullback Derrick Fenner was tackled by San Diego’s Shawn Lee for no gain. Hostetler dropped back to pass on second down but pressure by defensive end Leslie O’Neal forced him from his pass pocket and he scrambled for 9 yards. Fenner and Williams combined for the next thirteen yards and another run by Hostetler netted 10 more. San Diego then laid back on the next two plays anticipating another Hostetler scramble but the “Hoss” fired passes, the first went to Andrew Glover for 15 yards and the second found Daryl Hobbs for 11 more. Following the Hobbs completion the Raiders set up at the San Diego 41. Speedster Napoleon Kaufman then tried a rush but he was struck down hard for no gain by defensive lineman Ruben Davis. Hostetler dropped back again and finding nobody open he scrambled again for 18 big yards and another Raider first down at the Charger 23. Two more runs by Harvey Williams followed were followed by a short 5 yard pass to Fenner which set up the Raiders at the Charger 5. By this point the crowd was on its feet anticipating the first Raider score of the 1995 season.
The 8 minute, 14 play drive ended when Hostetler dropped back and once again was forced to scramble to his right. Hoss could have likely scored but instead his perfectly executed roll out allowed him time to find Tim Brown for the touchdown.
On the local radio station covering the game, play by play man Joel Myers said “And it is appropriate that the first score for the return of the Oakland Raiders goes to a ‘heart and soul’ player like Tim Brown.”
The eruption of cheers by the Raider faithful was soon quieted when the Chargers got the ball back and Natrone Means churned out a big 35-yard run and Humphries completed a few passes. The drive ended inside the Raider 30 when a Charger penalty and a key sack by defensive end Pat Swilling saved the day. The Chargers attempted to salvage the drive with John Carney field goal but the 42-yard kick missed. The score remained Raiders 7 Chargers 0.
Oakland responded with a three and out which forced their defense back onto the field. The Raiders special teams didn’t help matters when Gossett’s punt traveled only 29 yards to the Charger 38. Key runs by Means and a 14 yard pass from Humphries to wideout Tony Martin pushed the ball into Raider territory. Stan Humphries capped off the drive by testing the Raiders deep again and this time he found wide receiver Shawn Jefferson for a 39 yard score. Carney’s extra point tied the game at 7.
The Raiders 99 yard drive and the two long drives conducted by San Diego ate up most of the first half but that didn’t stop Hostetler from trying to get more points. Oakland mounted another drive 1:17 left from their own 20. A key play in the drive was an 18 yard completion to rookie Napoleon Kaufman but the drive stalled and halftime granted both sides and the Raiders fans some much needed rest.
The halftime did witness one Raider casualty. Left Tackle Gerald Perry, a starter for the Raiders since his acquisition from the Broncos in 1993 broke his right forearm and he would not return to the game.
Rookie Cole Ford, filling in for longtime starting place kicker Jeff Jaeger kicked off the second half and San Diego’s Andre Coleman returned it 25 yards to the Charger 30. Starting in nice field position the Chargers opted to give the ball the Means and the lumbering running back took the ball and saw an opening. The hole for Means closed significantly when Pat Swilling swarmed in to make a tackle and as Means was dragged to the ground he fumbled. Defensive tackle Jerry Ball fell on it to give Oakland the football at the Charger 33.
Former Raiders guard Gene Upshaw once told NFL Films that the offensive line is the “basic heartbeat” of a football team. The Raiders offensive line that had already lost longtime starting center Don Mosebar to injury during the preseason coupled with the loss of Perry faced a series problem. Somehow they had to step it up against the Chargers defense minus two starters and later in the game things would only get worse when Dan Turk, who was filling in for Mosebar missed most of the second half with cramps. Rookie draft pick Barrett Robbins filled in for Turk.
The loss of these valuable linemen made running and passing against the Chargers extremely difficult. Oakland gained just four yards on three plays and on fourth down they sent in their rookie kicker to end the stalemate. Cole Ford’s line-drive kick from 47 yards out sailed just inside the uprights to give the Raiders a 10-7 lead with 13:43 remaining in the third period. The Raider continued to cheer happily but the silver and black were not out of the woods just yet.
The teams exchanged punts and then the Chargers second drive of the second half was halted when Stan Humphries was penalized for intentional grounding. The Chargers punted and Oakland took over at their own 17 with 8:42 left in the third.
Jeff Hostetler came out firing passes and most found their mark to receivers like Daryl Hobbs and Harvey Williams. However, the drive stalled and Gossett punted from his own 33. Oakland recovered yet another San Diego fumble, this one a muff by return man Andre Coleman, calling for a fair catch of a punt the ball popped off his pads and reserve linebacker Rob Holmberg recovered at the San Diego 27. The Coliseum crowd went wild but they saved a little bit of their enthusiasm for what happened next.
An 11-yard pass from Hostetler to Tim Brown quickly moved the ball forward. One play later, a perfectly designed draw play sprang No. 1 draft pick Napoleon Kaufman, who weaved 16 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 Raider lead. On his first ever career touchdown Kaufmann accelerated across the line of scrimmage with blinding quickness, burst into the open and broke two tackles. San Diego’s Dwayne Harper tried to wrap his legs up at the 3-yard line, but Kaufman kept chugging, lunging forward and his effort thankfully eclipsed the plane of the goal line.
“I saw a little crease up the middle,” Kaufman later told reporters. “And the rest was history.”
Following Kaufman’s score the Raiders and Chargers entered into a defensive struggle in which both offenses. Two Charger drives drove deep into Raider territory but the Oakland defense stopped both short of field goal range. Oakland fared no better and San Diego kept the silver and black on their side of the field for the rest of the game.
The game ended with in a 17-7 victory for the Raiders which gave their fans and their players much to cheer about. The Raiders were back.
After the game, “Al Davis himself, stood in the locker room like he always did, dressed in all white as he always did, and onlookers are left to wonder what was going through his mind, as they always did.. Was he thinking that maybe he never should have moved his Raiders to Southern California? Was he thinking that returning the Raiders to their beloved fans in Oakland was the best maneuver the team had made since telling Jack Squirek to watch for Joe Theismann‘s pass in Super Bowl XVIII? Or was he thinking that the San Diego Chargers produce more turnovers than a traditional Italian pizzeria? Or perhaps, just perhaps he was thinking “it doesn’t matter where you play, because you’re still going to win?” However, one cannot doubt that at least one through crossed his mind in that locker room. Al was likely thinking “Just won baby.”
The Chargers, despite a 300 yard performance by Humphries, five defensive sacks and holding Jeff Hostetler to just 136 yards on 14 pass completions were unable to win because their three turnovers had resulted in every single point that Oakland put on the scoreboard.
“It was a little ugly,” starting guard Steve Wisniewski said. “But we came out with a win, and we gave this crowd a good game to watch. . . . We still have to things to work on. We need to clean it up a little.”
“They didn’t play that great,” Chargers offensive tackle Harry Swayne later told reporters. “We just played worse.”
The 1995 Raiders would later storm the NFL with an 8-2 record to start the season but the inability to beat Kansas City, a incredibly difficult home loss to Dallas and long term injuries to key stars like Jeff Hostetler dimmed their playoff dreams. Oakland lost the final six games of the 1995 season to finish out of the postseason with an 8-8 record. Although the end result was not known when the Raiders took the field on the that warm September day, I doubt they would have cared anyway. The Raiders were back in the bay and they just won baby.
Raiders Starting Lineup
WR: Tim Brown, #81
LT: Gerald Perry, #71
LG: Steve Wisniewski, #76
C: Dan Turk, #67
RG: Kevin Gogan, #6
RT: Greg Skrepenak, #78
WR: Rocket Ismail, #86
FB: Derrick Fenner, #34
HB: Harvey Williams, #22
QB: Jeff Hostetler, #15