ALAMEDA — Life was good for Shane Lechler way back when. His first job out of college entailed hanging out with the likes of Charles Woodson and Tim Brown, cashing huge checks and only rarely being asked to perform under game pressure.
The Raiders selected Lechler in the NFL draft in 2000 to do their punting. That's something Lechler didn't do much of his first three seasons, when the Raiders made the playoffs every year and won 33 games, tied with the Green Bay Packers for second most to the Philadelphia Eagles' 34 wins over that stretch.
"It was kind of like, 'How much are we going to beat 'em by this Sunday?'" Lechler recalled. "That's the way it worked back then. We rolled into a lot of stadiums, and we knew we were going to beat them. We just didn't know how badly."
Lechler knows a thing or two about bad these days. As it turned out, Lechler caught the Raiders roller coaster just as it neared the top. What once seemed like a never-ending joy ride has turned into a hellish experience that has reached historic levels.
The Raiders went 33-15 in their 48 regular-season games from 2000-02. They enter today's game against the New England Patriots enmeshed in a 22-71 tailspin that isn't losing much, if any, of its momentum. By comparison, the Patriots are 74-19 during the same period.
A loss today by the 3-10 Raiders, or in any of their final three games, would cement their place in the annals of the NFL as the first team with six straight seasons of at least 11 losses.
Furthermore, if the Raiders lose two of their final three games, they will post the worst six-year record since the NFL expanded to 16 regular-season games in 1978 — the Detroit Lions went 24-72 from 2001-06. Also, the Raiders' .237 won-loss percentage since the start of the 2003 season is the third-worst six-year stretch in NFL history.
The Lions, who are synonymous with football futility, are viewed as a good bet to finish 0-16 this season. But even if they do, they still are assured of having more victories over the past six seasons than the Raiders.
"We hit a thing that I admit that I didn't think we would hit," Raiders managing general partner Al Davis said Sept. 30. "I didn't think it possible that we would hit these couple of years. But, as I told you, we will get it back."
Wide receiver Ronald Curry is one of six players on the Raiders' 53-man roster who have been here for the duration of this streak. Lechler, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, running back Justin Fargas, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and linebacker Sam Williams are the others.
Curry joined the team in 2002 and was part of a Super Bowl team that won 13 regular-season and postseason games. He hasn't been a part of more than five victories in any of his past six seasons.
"Around here, when the season gets to tail-spinning the way it is, you just look back in the past," Curry said. "It's like, 'Here we go again.'"
And again. The Raiders search for answers season after season. To no avail.
Current coach Tom Cable is the team's fifth since 2002. The roster has been turned over. Different offensive and defensive schemes have been implemented.
Davis trades for high-profile players such as wide receiver Randy Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, drafts highly regarded players such as quarterback JaMarcus Russell and running back Darren McFadden and signs Hall of Fame-caliber free agents such as defensive tackle Warren Sapp, yet the losses keep coming.
The Raiders haven't won three straight games in any of the past six seasons. They owned a winning record only once, at 2-1 in 2004.
During the past six seasons, they lost an NFL-record 17 straight AFC West games, dropped 12 road games in a row and lost at least one game to 27 of the 31 other teams.
"The thing that I get frustrated with, and I kind of bang my head against the wall, is when I see the decisions that are being made, in terms of the players, in terms of the free agency, in terms of the draft picks, in terms of the coaching carousel," former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said in an interview on KNBR radio Thursday. "It's very frustrating as an ex-player."
Gannon played a pivotal role in the Raiders' success from 2000-02. On his watch, the Raiders seldom were out of a game.
Most important, Lechler said, was Gannon's leadership skills. He refused to accept anything less than total commitment. He, along with coach Jon Gruden, helped transform the Raiders from a collection of talented individuals into a cohesive team.
"Rich was a very vocal guy," Lechler said. "In 2000, 2001, you had (Greg) Biekert on the defense, who wasn't vocal, but he was one of the best leaders I've been around. You had Eric Allen out there. We had some pretty steady guys.
"I don't know that we lack all the leadership, but we're very young at positions that need to be the leaders. I just wish "... maybe they will get it one day. Maybe it will click."
Then again, Asomugha said, there isn't any reason for optimism heading into next season other than the fact the Raiders start 0-0.
Between now and then, Davis figures to make numerous coaching changes — Cable is coaching on an interim basis — and sweeping moves to his 53-man roster.
"A lot of times, the more we change things, the more we stay the same," Asomugha said. "You change the coach, you change a player, you change this, you change that, but you're getting the same results. So, who can put their finger on what's going on? No one.
"We have our reasons that we keep in house "... but that stuff, it looks bad. We're not playing good football. You can't sugarcoat it."
Cable said his biggest challenge since replacing the fired Lane Kiffin four games into this season has been getting his players to believe in themselves, to purge their minds of what has transpired in recent seasons.
"You have to change a mind-set, the culture of losing, if you will," Cable said. "Everybody has good players in the NFL. We're no different. But what's between your ears is what matters at this level.
"Just trying to get everybody to believe in the same things and think about the same things and play for the same things. That really is how the good teams do it."
Contact Steve Corkran at firstname.lastname@example.org.