Just win, baby.

There’s something special about those three words. Something uniquely powerful. Something distinct to the silver-and-black uniforms of the Oakland Raiders.

In the 1980s, Al Davis’ famed phrase fueled Raider teams notorious for their toughness. Sometime in the 1990s, however, those words were seemingly forgotten, lost in the L.A./Oakland Raiders’ sloppiness, both on and off the field. Though they had their fair share of star players, Al Davis’ team lost its way in the last decade of the 20th century, and his famous mantra was left largely unfulfilled.

When Jon Gruden was hired before the 1998 season, things began to turn around. The fiery coach eliminated the locker room turmoil, emphasized the elimination of penalties, and installed the West Coast offense. Before long, “just win” is exactly what the Raiders started to do. In fact, if not for the now infamous “tuck rule,” the Raiders could have been the team beating the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl.

Despite his success in Oakland, Gruden moved on after last season to coach another group of cutthroats in Tampa Bay, and many figured the Raiders were finished. They failed to realize the transcendent power of those three words.

Just win, baby.

Bill Callahan may not have any experience as a head coach, but he’s got the Raiders at 4-0, and averaging 40.5 points per contest. The players say his laid back approach has relieved tensions that Gruden’s intensity created in the locker room. Whatever he’s done, it has worked so far.

Just win, baby.

Rich Gannon is 36 years old. In other words, by NFL standards, he’s ancient. He’s also got 10 TDs and 1,355 yards passing in just four games.

Just win, baby.

Tim Brown and Jerry Rice? Also very old, but still very good. On Sunday, Rice took a pass from Gannon to the house for the 197th TD of his illustrious career. And don’t forget Jerry Porter, who racked up 117 yards on seven catches in the 49-31 win over the Bills.

Just win, baby.

What about a running back? Charlie Garner has 335 yards on 40 carries. For the mathematically impaired, that’s 8.35 yards per attempt. Only our own Robert Carr ’05 can boast a similar average.

Just win, baby.

Special teams? Much improved, as evidenced by the two kicks returned for touchdowns last week. If they can get Sebastian Janikowski to stay sober, they’ll be set. Defense? Though they gave up 31 points to Drew Bledsoe, they also picked him off three times. With experienced players like Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski leading the way, the Raider defenders are just as savvy as their offensive counterparts.

Just win, baby.

All their hyperbolic stats aside, you can’t judge a team based solely on the first four games. But if the Raiders can maintain their momentum and avoid injury, they should be a lock for the postseason. With the age of their team, they must make their run now, or not at all. That gives those three words, that one obvious yet poignant phrase, all the more relevance.

There is only one recourse for the 2002 silver and black: Just win, baby.

Week 5 Highlights:

Miami 26, New England 13: Both teams came into this game hoping to bounce back from their first loss of the 2002 campaign and take sole possession of first place in the AFC East. And it was the Dolphins, not the defending champion, perform-in-the-clutch Patriots, who came out on top. Why? It’s the running game, stupid. While Ricky Williams ground out 105 yards against the Patsies’ defensive front, New England could muster only 37 yards as a TEAM. Without the threat of the run, the Dolphins’ defensive front brought an all-out assault against Tom Brady, sacking him three times and picking him off twice.

N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17: With the way these two teams have been playing, it was merciful of the football gods to provide any scoring at all. Though the game wasn’t a thriller, the Giants did manage to hold on to the early lead this week and, believe it or not, now sit atop the NFC East with a 3-2 season mark. The G-men should consider themselves blessed: their winning record comes despite the fact they’ve been outscored this season 81-76, and, as bad as they’ve been, the Jets are much, much worse.

Random Thoughts

Washington 31, Tennessee 14: Woeful Wuerffel pushed aside as Ramsey rams his way into the hearts of Skins’ fans.

Indianapolis 28, Cincinnati 21: Bengals’ plight would be funny, if it didn’t happen every year.

Denver 26, San Diego 9: Griese avoids his dog, gets the victory.

New Orleans 32, Pittsburgh 29: Tommy Maddox, confused by the NFL coin-toss system, tries to race the Saints for the flip.

Tampa Bay 20, Atlanta 6: Seems Bucs’ defenders are taking “kill the quarterback” a little too seriously.

San Francisco 37, St. Louis 13: Rams seen searching for Jim Everett. Flipper Anderson won’t return calls.

Arizona 16, Carolina 13: It’s too bad the Cards got booted from the NFC East, or they’d be in first place by now.

Kansas City 29, NY Jets 25: J-E-T-S, Stink, Stink, Stink!

Jacksonville 28, Philadelphia 25: Umm — somebody tell the Jags it’s not 1999, okay?

Monday Night Preview: Green Bay at Chicago

Now this is a classic Monday Night Matchup. I have a vivid memory of these teams playing in the pouring rain on Monday Night on Halloween in 1993. The Bears won that one, but I can’t pick against Brett Favre on Monday night, especially with his biggest fan, John Madden, in the booth. Green Bay 28, Chicago 20.