As any respectable quantum astrophysicist will tell you, a black hole is an object with sufficient density that the force of gravity prevents anything from drifting beyond it; its defining feature is the appearance of an event horizon—a boundary in space-time through which matter and light can only pass inward towards the mass of the black hole. Nothing, not even light, can escape. (I, of course, did not learn this from any quantum astrophysicist. I cut-and-pasted it from Wikipedia.)
The Black Hole also happens to be the first movie I can remember that both enthralled and terrified me (according to Wikipedia, it came out in theaters when I was only five years old*). I have no recollection whatsoever as to what the movie was about,** but I remember being very frightened by the violent, faceless drones and morbidly fascinated by the concept that there was a place somewhere out there that could swallow everything that got near it. It gave me nightmares. I still can’t believe that this was a Disney movie.***
*Not that Wikipedia necessarily knows how old I am or when I was born…though, yeah, probably.
**If you have three minutes and twenty-nine seconds to kill, watch this trailer and tell me if you have any clue in hell as to what this movie is about either.
***Though come to think of it, two other traumatic moments of my early childhood involved seeing Bambi’s mother get shot and watching Dumbo get taunted mercilessly because he was different. WTF, Disney?
I mention all this because a black hole—and you probably realize that I am now referring to that Black Hole—is precisely what this Chiefs team and its fans need right now: an inescapable force to pull us in and push us forward into a situation both fascinating and infuriating (like this guy).
As I’ve ranted (in what I hope has been a mildly entertaining if not horribly organized or enlightening manner) on this site the last couple of weeks, this team and this season and how we feel (and “should” feel) about it all has been hard to define. After two losses, some of us were rooting for (or at least expecting) 14 more. Three games later, the 2012 NFL draft is now beside the point, and even a division title again seems kinda, sorta within reach. The Chiefs’ current 2-3 record is only one game off from where they stood last year after their first five games.* Not that this has us any more excited—we still have no idea what to expect.
*A completely meaningless stat comparison, since it is devoid of all context—but then again, isn’t that why we love stats? No nuance!
And all of this is why Raiders Week could not come at a better time.* This week, the rest of the season doesn’t matter. To borrow a cliché,** when rivals meet, you throw out the records. Even in the recent, horrible seasons of 2007, 2008, and 2009, Chiefs fans were able to savor a victory over the Raiders each year. Even while finishing 10-38 over that span, Kansas City was 3-3 against Oakland.
*Though, really, is there ever a bad time for Raiders Week? Seriously, if the Chiefs’ schedule every year consisted of 16 games against the Raiders—eight at home, eight away—we’d probably be okay with that, no?
**“To borrow a cliché” is itself, in fact, a cliché.
The inescapable pull of the Raiders rivalry will, at least for one week, drive this team and infuse them with a clear identity. As I wrote before the most recent Raiders-Chiefs matchup at the end of last year, the fact that K.C. had already clinched the AFC West was irrelevant. And the challenges of this season will be just as immaterial come Sunday (which is not to say that we won’t miss Jamaal C., Eric B., and Tony M.). In short, we never need a reason to want to beat the Raiders.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the current circumstances don’t offer some interesting extra motives:
Honor Thy Father: Yes, Uncle Al may have passed on, and much has been made of the Raiders’ inspired play in his memory. But the Chiefs should draw just as much inspiration from the memory of their own founding father; it is entirely in their hands to maintain and honor Lamar’s legacy. (Because who else is going to do it? His son?)
Revenge: Beating the Raiders used to be commonplace. Since 1990, the Chiefs have enjoyed winning streaks of five, six, seven, and nine games against the Raiders. Until last year, it had been eight years since they had gone without the joy of at least one win over Oakland. But in 2010, the Raiders stole a heartbreaker in Oakland and then dispensed a big dose of disgrace at Arrowhead. The Chiefs may have qualified as the AFC West Division Champs, but they sure didn’t win it from the Raiders.
Payback: A new wrinkle in the plot is the last-minute matchup of Matt Cassel vs. Carson Palmer. Cassel wasn’t just Palmer’s backup at USC, he was his roommate, a role in which Cassel also got stuck with most of the mop-up duty and other chores (doing the dishes, vacuuming, dusting the Heisman Trophy, etc.). The two quarterbacks’ only NFL regular-season meeting came almost two years ago in Cincinnati, a game Palmer’s first-place Bengals’ won over Cassel’s 3-12 Chiefs. This time, Cassel should be the one more ready to play.
Getting Even: Meant literally, not as another synonym for revenge. A win on Sunday and the Chiefs are right at .500—a critical first step to getting above .500.
Yes, beating the Raiders on Sunday—besides being the right, moral thing to do—could do many things: bring the team together, jumpstart them out of the potentially momentum-slowing bye week, validate and build on the progress of the last few weeks, and spring the Chiefs free from a fate we all once thought was inescapable, pushing them forward in the right direction.
Out of the Black Hole.