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Kaufman Propels 1997 Raiders Past Broncos

Kaufman's rushing total of 227 yards broke the previous Raiders record of 221 yards rushing set by Bo Jackson on November 30, 1987.

October 19, 1997

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Twenty-one years ago, running back Napoleon Kaufman etched his name in the Raiders record books with a performance for the ages. In Week 8 of the 1997 season, the 6-0 Denver Broncos traveled to Oakland to face the 2-4 Raiders. A decade earlier, running back Bo Jackson set the team record for most rushing yards in a game with 221 yards on 18 carries in 37-14 win over the Seahawks at the Kingdome in Seattle. 

Kaufman, the Raiders first round selection in the 1995 NFL Draft out of Washington, had gained just over 1,300 yards in his first two seasons in the NFL. Harvey Williams was the starter in 1995 and he rushed for 1,114 yards that year. In 1996, Kaufman split time with Williams and Joe Aska. In 1997, Kaufman was the feature back, and on Oct. 29, 57,006 fans watched him make Raiders history.

Both the Raiders and Broncos were coming off their bye weeks in Week 7. 

"The time helped me," said Raiders quarterback Jeff George, the AFC's top-rated passer. "I didn't throw any balls at all while we were off. My arm was a little sore, so the bye week couldn't have come at a better time for me."

Raiders quarterback Jeff George

As it turned out, passing would be a secondary weapon in the Raiders’ offensive arsenal that Sunday. Right from the go, the ground game would be the key to success against the Broncos in the 74th league battle between the two AFL originals. The Raiders had dominated the series with a 48-23-2 record since the rivalry began in 1960. But Denver had won the last four games against the Silver and Black, although three were decided by only five points or less.

With four first-year Raiders in the starting lineup - rookie defensive lineman Darrell Russell, safety Eric Turner, guard Lester Holmes and George - and three players in their first season as full-time starters - linebacker Mike Morton, defensive back James Trapp and Kaufman - this was certainly not the same team Denver had downed in 1995 and '96.

The Raiders opened the action in high gear as another newcomer, Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard, returned the kickoff to the Oakland 29-yard line. On the very first play from scrimmage, Kaufman took a handoff from George, followed guard Steve Wisniewski and fullback Derrick Fenner up the middle, burst free, broke to the right sideline, and went 57 yards before being pushed out of bounds. Then, on 3rd and 10 from the Denver 14, George dropped straight back and hit wide receiver James Jett for the game's first score.

“It was a post pattern," Jett recalled. "The defender had pretty good coverage, but Jeff made a perfect throw and I had the right angle to make the catch."

Kicker Cole Ford added the point-after and the Raiders led 7-0. A sack of John Elway by Chester McGlockton short-circuited one Denver possession, but the Broncos drove 71 yards on eight plays to even the score, 7-7, on a running back Terrell Davis 2-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter.

Oakland began the second quarter as they had the first, driving 78 yards for a score. George passed for 45 of those yards, completing the march by hitting tight end Rickey Dudley for five yards and a touchdown to put the hometown Raiders ahead. Kaufman ripped off runs of 11 and 14 yards during the drive.

After his touchdown toss, George jumped into the end zone stands, joining the jubilant fans. "It's nice to have fans like that," the Raiders quarterback commented. "In my eight-year career, I've never had fans like that. I ran over and let them know I appreciated them. You see guys painted up, you just want to be with them."

In the final moments of the half, Elway led his team downfield in a race against the clock - and the Raiders. The defense stiffened, and Denver was forced to settle for a kicker Jason Elam 44-yard field goal to leave Oakland ahead at halftime, 14-10. In the opening 30 minutes, the battle between running backs Kaufman and Terrell Davis of the Broncos had Kaufman ahead in rushing yards, 117 to 42. George had thrown only nine passes, but two had been for touchdowns.

The Broncos came out firing in the third quarter and drove 80 yards to go ahead, 17-14, with the score coming on a three-yard Davis run.

Denver took over again with 6:11 left to play in the third quarter. Seven plays later, the Broncos faced a 3rd and 9 at the Oakland 33. Elway dropped back to pass, was pressured, and scrambled with defensive end Lance Johnstone in close pursuit. "At first I thought I was going to sack him, but he got away," said Johnstone. "So, I stuck a hand out, grabbed his arm and he coughed it up." The ball bounced off Elway's leg, and as the quarterback tried to recover, he was grabbed by McGlockton, who batted the ball away. At that point safety Eric Turner scooped up the ball on the Oakland 35 and sped down the left sideline, flying by the Raiders bench. Johnstone got credit for a strip-sack and Turner scored on 65-yard fumble return for a touchdown to put the Raiders back on top 21-17.

Safety Eric Turner

"That play was huge because we had them out," Elway said after the game. "We were really moving the ball. It was a killer. Everybody in the stadium was quiet, and it just woke everyone up."

A four-point lead with more than 17 minutes left to play was not enough to feel safe in an AFC Western Division game, especially against John Elway, who was famous for his late-game heroics. On the Raiders next possession, Kaufman fumbled and Tyrone Braxton recovered, giving the Broncos the ball at the Oakland 36. After an offsides penalty took it to the 31, the Silver and Black defense rose to the challenge, limiting Denver to just six yards on three plays. A missed 43-yard field goal left the Raiders in front 21-17.

After the teams traded punts, the Raiders took over at their eight-yard line. Kaufman earned some room on a nine-yard blast off left tackle out to the Oakland 17. Then, on 3rd and 1, Kaufman burst over right tackle and raced 83 yards for the score, putting the Raiders up 28-17. Kaufman broke a tackle, kept his balance, broke free and took off, untouched the rest of the way.

"Napoleon makes these ordinary runs look spectacular," commented Wisniewski. "It looks like up the middle and a cloud of dust, but he breaks them. It looks like two, three or four yards, and he's hitting it for 40 or 50 yards. He reminds me very much of blocking for Bo Jackson."

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The Broncos, en route to the AFC Championship and a Super Bowl win over the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 1997 campaign, would not make this one easy for the Raiders. With just 2:15 left to play, Denver scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. Davis added the two-point conversion to close the gap to only three points, 28-25.

After Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 11 yards, the Raiders started from their own 12-yard line with 2:05 remaining. Two runs gained nothing, and Oakland was faced with a 3rd and 10 on their own 12 with 47 seconds left to play. Failure to get the first down here could give Elway the field position to start a final drive for the field goal to tie or a touchdown to win.

On 3rd and 10, George completed a 15-yard strike down the middle to diving wide receiver Tim Brown for the game-clinching first down.

"It was obvious who I was going to," said George later. "There's no doubt in my mind. If Timmy had two or three guys on him, I was going to Timmy the whole way. That's just one of those situations, third and long, where you know where your money man is."

Kaufman's rushing total of 227 yards broke the previous Raiders record of 221 yards rushing set by Jackson on Nov. 30, 1987. in Seattle in a 37-14 Monday night win over the Seahawks. "I've been praying about getting 200 yards," noted Kaufman, an ordained minister. "And, I tell you, the Lord is an answerer."

It took 24 years for Bo Jackson to break Clem Daniels’ record of 200 yards set on Oct. 20, 1963, and just 10 for Kaufman to re-write the record books. Kaufman’s mark still stands 21 years later, and in 21 years, nobody has come close.

Running back Napoleon Kaufman

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