ALAMEDA, Calif. —In a town still soaked with the smell of a sparkling wine that champions devour in their finest moments, the Oakland Raiders dream of such celebrations.
It’s a process, and nearly everyone reaches the summit wearing goggles — to protect their eyes from the sting of champagne — by taking different paths.
Less than five miles from where their East Bay brethren claimed a second NBA title in three years Monday evening, the NFL team many believe could be New England’s toughest AFC obstacle for a Super Bowl berth continued to push forward.
The Raiders opened a three-day mandatory minicamp at their headquarters Tuesday, the final team workouts before gathering in the mecca of wine for training camp in late July.
A little over a month from now, things get real in Napa.
Lofty expectations are handled differently by teams across sports, so to suggest the Raiders can duplicate Golden State’s title run by following the Warriors’s template in near flawless manner isn’t practical.
But the objective is identical, which is to be the ones deciding which beverage to spray on each other after winning a season’s final game.
“I’ve been here four years and the (mindset) started before me,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “When you come in, and for us the situation wasn’t very pretty, all we cared about was busting our tails and outworking everybody.
“We respect our opponents but fear nobody. When you watch a team like Golden State play — it obviously respected (Cleveland), with LeBron (James) and Kyrie (Irving) — but there’s no doubt in my mind none of the (Warriors) were scared.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something we’ve had to work on, something that we’ve had to get in peoples heads — that when we put the work in, we should expect to step on the field and dominate. It’s stuff all Super Bowl teams, all championship teams have, that quiet confidence about them, some less quiet than others, but they definitely have that characteristic.”
I’m pretty sure the only thing the Warriors were afraid of these playoffs was how many times Draymond Green’s mother might tweet about officials.
The not-so-pretty situation Carr speaks about were records of 3-13 and 7-9 his first two seasons, hardly the types of results that suggest things like handing out championship T-shirts and hats while preparing for a downtown parade are imminent realities.
But the tide shifted last year, and never was Oakland’s improvement more evident than in close games.
In a season that saw the Raiders win 12 times, eight of those victories came by seven or fewer points. Two were by one point and three others by three.
“The biggest thing is that guys don’t have to all get along, but we happen to have a group that does really well,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think it’s about unselfishness, guys that are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. Everyone has personal goals, but when you put team goals ahead of that, you’re able to do something special. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“What I expect is for us to put everything out there we have every time we come on the field. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about other things beyond that. Building that mindset that we’re going to fight for 60 minutes, that we’re going to scratch and claw and find a way as a team to come out with victories.”
Some call it blind faith, and there’s a hint of truth for a franchise that before last season offered 13 straight years of non-winning records. After all, why would anyone have really believed in the Raiders at all the past decade?
But when you close out things enough times, when you add enough comeback wins to a resume as Oakland did in 2016, thoughts about putting it all together for a title run become far more genuine.
It also helps to have a franchise quarterback getting better each season and the league’s best defensive player (Khalil Mack).
“If I don’t believe it, we’re all in trouble,” Carr said. “It works from the top down, from (owner Mark Davis) all the way to me. It has to be the same message, and the message around here is all about winning, all about winning our division and winning the Super Bowl. That’s why we do this.
“Trust me, I don’t like spending time away from my wife and kids for no reason.”
He was with them at home Monday night, where Carr watched another East Bay sports team claim its second championship in three years.
Winning cultures aren’t all built with the same flooring and rails and paint, but the goal remains universal.
When the house is finally standing, you want to be the ones soaking its walls with sparkling wine.
More Raiders: Follow all of our Oakland Raiders-to-Las Vegas coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.