Tom Flores (left) and Jim Plunkett (right)
Before the standup bits, the movie roles, and myriad television shows that bear his name, George Lopez was just a Mexican-American kid growing up in suburban Los Angeles.
Like many kids, Lopez liked football, but the hometown Rams weren't the team that caught the interest of young George. Instead, he was drawn to the Raiders, and the cast of colorful characters that wore the Silver and Black.
"Well, in the '70s I used to watch a lot of football on NBC, and they used to show the Steelers and the Raiders, a lot of Raiders games, from George Blanda, to Daryle Lamonica, and those guys, and they always were tough guys," said Lopez. "You see the emblem, and whoever doesn't love that emblem is crazy. Even though the Rams were here, the Rams to me were not – I never went to any Rams games. I liked them, but it wasn't like seeing the Raiders play. They were bad dudes."
From Blanda and Lamonica, to Art Shell and Fred Biletnikoff, Lopez was hooked on the Raiders and the way they played football, rejoicing in the team's wins, and hurting in defeat, and in 1979, young George was given another reason to root for the Silver and Black.
Lopez is a proud Mexican-American, and that pride has permeated his entire life, career, and beginning in 1979 with the arrival of Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores, his football team too.
Like Lopez, Plunkett and Flores are Mexican-American, and for the young Raiders fan, seeing a Latino quarterback receive the play calls from a Latino head coach, helped inspire a lifetime fandom for the Silver and Black.
Fast-forward three decades, and Flores and Plunkett's days on the gridiron are now far behind them.
Flores is part of the Raiders radio broadcast team, and Plunkett is a host on the team-produced Silver and Black Show, and although it's been nearly 30 years since the pair was game planning for matchups on Sundays, Lopez feels just as strongly now as he did then about one gaping hole on their respective résumés.
Lopez believes, and has been quite vocal about his position, that both Flores and Plunkett belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His reasoning is quite simple; both coach and player succeeded at the highest level. Former New York Jets Head coach Herm Edwards so eloquently put it in 2002, "you play to win the game," and that's exactly what Flores and Plunkett did during their time in the NFL.
"Aside from being Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores, the Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players, and those players who achieved the highest in the game – world championships," Lopez explained.
And if you look at their credentials, both Flores and Plunkett are certainly deserving by those criteria; Flores has four Super Bowl titles to his name (two as head coach, one as an assistant coach and one as a back-up quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs), and Plunkett has a pair, along with a Super Bowl MVP, and Lopez believes that should be enough, especially considering there are players currently enshrined in Canton that had a well-documented struggle on the game's biggest stage.
"You lose four Super Bowls and that means more than winning two Super Bowls," Lopez posited. "What about Marv Levy? If you take Marv Levy, and you take Jim Kelly, and you put them up against Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett, and you put their credentials there, there might be more passing yards, but to me, and to everyone in sports, and everybody that's ever played sports, it's about winning. Both of those guys won, and those other guys lost, and they're both in the Hall of Fame, so I hope it's not as blatantly biased as it seems."
As it currently stands, there are but a few Latino members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Lopez undoubtedly believes that not only are Flores and Plunkett deserving of the honor, but putting them in the Hall would also be meaningful for Latinos throughout the football community.
"Everybody has their team, they live and die with their team, but as much as you want to say whatever about football, and the team, to the growing population of Latinos, like myself, and my nephews, that watch these guys play, it would mean everything," Lopez explained. "They should be in there, and kids that don't know that are from other generations, would know, because when you study the history of the game of football, those names should be right there."
Lopez's penchant for supporting the Raiders now spans over four decades, and while the media personality is no doubt connected to the teams of yesteryear, make no mistake about it, he's thrilled to see his favorite team finding success in the early going of the 2016 season.
"I think that football is better when the Raiders are great," Lopez said.
So what is the key to that resurgent success? Lopez, like many, feels it's the presence and cultural change instilled by Head Coach Jack Del Rio.
"Jack Del Rio being there, he's a guy [that] would have been a Raider at that time, no-nonsense, Lyle Alzado-type, and a guy that you know the players respect." Lopez explained. "He's one of those dudes like Ron Rivera that puts up, and that's the kind of guy that we need. We don't need a Shanahan. We don't need a Kiffin. We need a dude that commands respect as a man, and [that] the coaches respect, and players, and that's what we've got."
Lopez believes that the future of the Silver and Black is a bright one, but as optimistic as he is about the team winning games on Sundays, part of him will always hurt until he sees his childhood idols wearing gold jackets, taking their rightful place in Canton next to the greatest players in NFL history.
"If you say Jim Plunkett didn't start great, neither did [John] Elway, and he's in," Lopez said. "There's nothing that anybody is going to be able to tell me about Tom Flores, about Jim Plunkett, of why they're not in, that's going to satisfy me, until those guys are in."