Lost in the exciting new world of Antonio Brown the Patriot (can’t you just see the glint in Bill Belichick’s eye?) is what Brown left behind:
Brown managed to achieve that rarest of feats: be on a team that doesn’t register on his Pro-Football-Reference page. Within months, memory being the faulty tool it is, he will never have been in Oakland at all, and within a few months after that, neither will the Oakland Raiders. It’s the half-life of facts gone mad.
In a world in which football players are wearing designer wristwatches on game day for no reason other than to get people to ask them why they’re wearing a wristwatch, and in which whole teams want to be traded to other places after one game, Brown has willingly reduced his carbon footprint to nearly zero, and in doing so is leaving another team that is about to have the same.
Oh, there will be a few lingering aftereffects of his time in Narnia (like allegedly asking social media experts how best to effect his departure from the Raiders), but for the most part what we saw was an attention magnet achieve maximum attention so that he could become a relatively silent cog in a greater machine that doesn’t even throw out smoke. A stark individualist left a team that fetishizes rogue behavior (does anyone remember Richie Incognito’s résumé?) for a team that eagerly stamps it flat. HE MADE A MOVIE TO HELP FACILITATE HIS OWN DISAPPEARANCE. This is a babyface turn of extraordinary proportions.
But what of the team Brown left? What happens to the Oakland Raiders now that they have been spurned so abrasively by exactly their kind of guy? How does a perpetually crushed fan base deal with one last achingly public kick in the delicates before the big boot?
Raiders fans will fight this, of course. They have only the fight, because everything else has been stolen from them. They have only the illusion of what was long ago, and the hope of what could someday be but never is, with the exciting addition of eight round trips to Vegas every year until they get bored.
Raiders fans get the most defensive because they have no defenses left. The object of their love has given them no support whatsoever save the opportunity to tailgate with their friends—and in honesty, that’s not something at which to scoff. Rituals are important. Friends are important. Grilled meats are important. And frankly, the fans deserve more respect than our dismissal. Not enough to change the hellish reality in which they reside, but enough to make them seem like victims rather than targets.
But the rest of it? Metric tons of not even meh. Dolphins fans can hate their organization for so brazenly vomiting on their schedule. Lions fans and Jets fans and Browns fans chant “Same Old Same Old” to the sky. Jaguars fans can curse the luck that broke Nick Foles. Raiders fans have none of this. Even their reflexive hatred of the media for pointing out their team’s militant shortcomings has been largely stilled. Their best argument for the Brown saga is, “At least we didn’t pay for the nothing we got.” That they try to pass it off as proof of organizational brilliance is looking at an empty pot and saying, “At least we didn’t burn the food.”
And the media is in the very same place—tired of yelling at a stuffed dog for shedding on a carpet that long ago got taken to the garage for storage. Brown’s departure allowed the nation to refocus on the inevitability of yet another Patriots’ Super Bowl, maybe this time beating Minnesota, 2-0. The Raiders, to their minds, will not be heard from again until the vans pull up in January.
I’m not sure that anyone deserves better, either. Not any more. The end has been in sight since the day Mark Davis was told Sheldon Adelson was really a mark ready to be bamboozled, and that was four years ago. The slow goodbye has inured all but the last few true believers to disinterest. Remarkably, Antonio Brown and his psychedelic arrival/departure was actually still too late to leave a mark on this franchise’s reputation. He came to Oakland as the Montgolfier Brothers, who invented ballooning, and left as Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who invented Instagram.
If that isn’t a metaphor for the Raiders, nothing is. In that way, he really captured the spirit of the thing, to quote M. Emmet Walsh as Dickie Dunn.
In a truly vengeful world, the Raiders would have one great year left in them, bursting forth from the manure of the last quarter-century and scaring hell out of, yes, even the Patriots and showing concrete signs of finally being badasses again. The fans who fought for their team’s honor far more aggressively than they ever fought for their own could use a nice boost. But the world’s vengeance works far more often as a despair drip attached directly to your frontal lobe. They won’t disappear because they’ve been fading slowly for years, and they will vanish in the Golden Knights’ Vegas quickly enough.
Antonio Brown is just the magician’s big finish. “Nothing up my sleeve... presto! There’s still nothing up my sleeve.” But he got what he wanted. Bill Belichick got what he wanted. The punditocracy got what it wanted. Steelers fans got a lovely dinette set with a property tax bill tied to the end of it. And the Raiders got what they always get. And now it’s V-Minus-7, one more wagering opportunity in a weekend full of them, in one final season that almost certainly will roll over and play dead by Hallowe’en.
Broncos. Tonight. 10:20 p.m. EDT. Oakland. Be there, or don’t. At this point, what difference does it make?
Ray Ratto likes the under and the Raiders plus the 2½ tonight, just because that’s the way this works.