Few people are more familiar with the Denver Broncos’ rivalry with the Oakland Raiders than Lincoln Kennedy. As the Raiders starting right tackle from 1996-2003, Kennedy played against the Broncos 16 times.
Kennedy was present for many memorable moments in that timespan. He watched in 1997 as Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman roasted the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos for 227 yards in an upset win. He was there for the fight between Bill Romanowski and Shannon Sharpe in 2002, which resulted in Sharpe dislocating his elbow. And he was present for — and very much part of — the snowball game in 1999 when Broncos fans pelted the Raiders with snowballs, and Kennedy and Charles Woodson got involved in altercations with fans at Mile High Stadium.
Kennedy, who now works as a broadcaster for the Pac-12 Network and the Raiders’ radio network and lives with his family in Phoenix, took a couple minutes out of his day to discuss the rivalry ahead of the team’s Sunday Night Football matchup.
(Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Denverite: I spent this morning researching the history of the rivalry, and there’s a lot of great stuff over the years. I guess the first thing is, it seems like this is the first time in a long time that both teams are good. Does it feel that way to you? That the rivalry is back?
Kennedy: Yeah. I mean, it’s always been a rivalry where both teams and both organizations don’t like each other very much. And you’re right, the Raiders haven’t really been relevant since, geez, I played in the early 2000s. So well over a decade. But I think it also boils down to exactly what you’re looking for. I think the AFC West is the most competitive division in football right now. And then we have a Sunday night game for first place. What better teams to have than the Raiders and Broncos?
Denverite: I guess the easy storyline is Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense versus the Broncos’ defense. What do you think about Carr and what he’s been able to do this year?
Kennedy: I’ve seen him be incredibly accurate and poised. And for the most part, he takes care of the ball. I think it’s been a total team effort in the sense that they don’t give up a lot of sacks, they don’t give up a lot of pressures. And he’s got a number of players to go to, from (Amari) Cooper to (Michael) Crabtree. Add the addition of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to the mix, along with Latavius Murray, and they’ve got a pretty complete offense. I wouldn’t say totally complete because I think they’re lacking a little bit at the tight end position. But all the other speciality positions, they have it covered, along with the offensive line.
Denverite: You were with the Raiders from 1996 to 2003. What do you remember about the Oakland-Denver rivalry from your playing days?
Kennedy: How I hated going to Denver. It always seemed like we had to go there when it was snowing (laughs). Conversely, when I used to look at, say, the Charger and Bronco rivalry, it seemed like this rivalry (Raiders-Broncos) was well in the books.
I remember it seemed like you had to play twice well before the season got underway. Case in point, this year. They’re playing twice in three weeks. You don’t normally see that out of rivalry games. They get to come to Oakland now when the weather is still relatively mild. There’s really not much of a home-field advantage other than the atmosphere. And then the Raiders have to go to Denver late in the year when the weather will definitely impact it.
That’s the way the Raiders have been treated. You have another team from California, San Diego. They’ve already played both games before you got into November. So it’s one of those things where you can complain about a lot of nuances if you will, but it’s just a rivalry where two organizations don’t really like each other.
Denverite: You mentioned playing in the snow in Denver. I don’t want to spend a ton of time dredging up bad memories, but in 1999 you and Charles Woodson were famously pelted by snowballs. Can you take me through that. What happened in that game and afterwards?
Kennedy: The short story was we played a game that went into overtime. We lost in overtime. That day it was snowing at the stadium. We literally had to keep our helmets on the entire game — even on the sidelines — because snowballs were raining down from the second level. Then overtime happened.
I can’t remember the Denver running back who scored the touchdown to win the game. But as I turned around, I saw a lot of my teammates scurry off the field trying to duck snowballs. I thought to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. We lost the game. They won the game. Why are you guys being jerks?’ I’m tired. I’m not going to run back toward the locker room. And just as I was walking back toward the sideline, I saw this guy in the front row of the stands.
This is old Mile High Stadium. He just wound up and threw a snowball that hit me right in the face on the bridge of my nose. And I felt a little sting, so I put my hand on the bridge of my nose, and it was bleeding. And by that point, I was just furious. I’m not going to allow that to happen.
I went around the fence because the old Mile High just had a chainlink fence that separated the stands from the field. And I was about ready to climb over that. I realized I couldn’t. So I went around to the row where the guy was standing. He stood up and grabbed my face mask. I swung and knocked his little ass out. His brother stood up. I swung and knocked him out. Then there was a group of Raiders fans on my left who rushed over. There was a little melee. And I realized the error of my ways. But yeah that was that night.
Denverite: I can understand you being angry. A snowball opened a cut on your nose. I read an old story in the San Francisco Chronicle that said you had to climb a fence to get to them?
Kennedy: I was prepared to. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the old Mile High. It wasn’t a very sturdy chainlink fence that separated the access to the stands from the players’ bench. It was really flimsy. So when I pushed on it, it just bent back. It wasn’t even going to allow me to climb it. So I had to go around, if that makes sense.
Denverite: Have you talked to the Broncos fans you got in an altercation with since?
Kennedy: No. The police came in and said the guy wanted to press charges. I told him what happened. They said they’d get back to me. I was contacted by the District Attorney afterwards, and they said no charges would be filed. Just try to maintain some self-restraint from this point forward. I was like, ‘Look, I had perfect restraint until one of your patrons hit me with something you guys are supposed to prevent.’ So I had the right to defend myself.
Denverite: I think in a couple of the stories, your teammates and coaches said they found batteries inside of the snowballs. True?
Kennedy: Oh yeah, that’s notorious. Look, I played at Washington (in college), and we used to go to Oregon. They’d put all kinds of things in there. They’d throw all kinds of things at you, from bags of dog poop to batteries (inside snowballs). It comes with being in hostile territory. I’m sure some of the Raiders fans have done that to Broncos players in the past. It’s nothing that’s unusual. I just at that particular point, I lost my temper and wasn’t going to happen in the way in which it did. So I went and did something about it.
Denverite: Is it exciting to see the Raiders be good again?
Kennedy: I think the NFL is better received when teams like the Raiders and Cowboys are relevant. Because there’s such a huge following, and they have such a history. Not that you take away the shine from teams like the Broncos when they are doing well. But I think it’s better for the NFL when the iconic teams are relevant.
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