How Raiders Coach Jon Gruden's Exit Could Lead to Doom for the Broncos

Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden during an October 10 press conference in which he denied being a racist.
Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden during an October 10 press conference in which he denied being a racist. YouTube
Colorado football fans have long understood that when bad things happen to the Raiders, it's good for your Denver Broncos. But this week's extraordinarily ugly exit of Raiders coach Jon Gruden in advance of a game against the Men in Orange this Sunday, October 17, could prove an exception to this rule — because if Denver loses the match-up, the team's entire season, which had seemed so promising mere weeks ago, could explode like national landmarks in a Roland Emmerich movie.

Shed no tears over what happened to Gruden. True, the email in which he compared the lips of NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who's Black, to Michelin tires was sent privately to the former president of the Washington Football Team way back in 2011, and it only surfaced because of an investigation into the latter franchise's profound troubles. But the New York Times subsequently unearthed many more messages sent between 2011 and 2018 in which Gruden used language that was deeply misogynistic and homophobic — especially problematic given that lineman Carl Nassib, who plays for the Raiders (now based in Las Vegas, following stints in Oakland and Los Angeles), is the only openly gay player in the NFL right now.

The Times salvo made resignation Gruden's only option — and his decision to jump rather than be pushed (if that's how the events actually went down) leaves the Raiders in disarray. The squad lost this past weekend to the not exactly formidable Chicago Bears following part one of the Gruden scandal, bringing its record to 3-2. That's the same mark as the one set by the Broncos, and the sequence of wins and losses was identical, too — three consecutive victories followed by two straight defeats. But the Broncos would currently seem to be in better shape than the Raiders, if only because no team is dealing with a bigger mess — not even the Jacksonville Jaguars, a recent Denver victim whose coach, Urban Meyer, was recently caught on video letting a female fan grind on his crotch. Advantage Broncos, right?

Not necessarily. Denver has a history of looking gift horses in the mouth, as evidenced by its most recent game, on October 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the build-up to the contest, the narrative focused on the Steelers' precipitous decline, which mirrored the decay of aging, battered quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But instead of taking advantage of this situation, the Broncos stunk up the entire state of Pennsylvania for the better part of three quarters before mounting a comeback that fell short.

If something similar happens this Sunday at home against the Raiders, the result could well be a death spiral from which recovery for the Broncos would be difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, the outcry to fire head coach Vic Fangio, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, special teams coordinator Tom McMahon and anyone else sanctioned to carry a clipboard for the outfit will grow to deafening levels.

The Raiders won't be easy pickings on Sunday. The team will be desperate and prideful — and fully capable of beating the Broncos at home. Such a triumph might not make Gruden feel any better, but it would cause a flat-out Denver disaster.

No pressure, though. The only thing at stake is the 2021 season.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts