ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Melvin Gordon hates the Raiders, in his own unorthodox way. It isn’t about the black and silver, or the pirate logo or the fans in costumes. It’s more personal than that.
“I just pick players to hate,” Gordon told DNVR.
Gordon has played the Raiders 12 times since he entered the league in 2015. The hatred has been building since then. But over time teams change.
“There’s guys on that team that you hang out with in the offseason,” Gordon said. “Then those guys get traded and you can’t just continue to hate them. That’s why I grabbed a couple players, and I easily get triggered.”
Gordon doesn’t pick players to hate on other teams around the league. He doesn’t even have players he hates in the rest of the AFC West.
“It’s just this team.”
The Broncos and Raiders will take the field together for the 126th time this Sunday in Las Vegas, extending one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL. Gordon began his career in San Diego before joining the Broncos three seasons ago. Despite arriving to this particular rivalry fairly recently, the Raider hate is long-standing.
“I was taught when I came in to hate the Raiders.”
Gordon isn’t passing that message along. He says he doesn’t need to.
“They should know,” he said. “Everybody knows.”
Caden Sterns picked up on the hatred as a rookie last season.
“Everybody hated the Raiders so you’ve just gotta hop on that bandwagon,” Sterns said. “We really don’t like them. They don’t like us. It is what it is.”
Sterns learned about the rivalry at the same time as Javonte Williams, who was also a rookie last season. He caught on quickly, too.
“I definitely started feeling it,” Williams told DNVR. “I definitely feel the hatred coming from the rivalry.”
He understands why Gordon’s hatred has grown with each passing season.
“It takes time,” Williams said. “You keep getting hit by the same players, eventually you’re gonna be like, ‘Alright brother, you’re doing too much.'”
Those hits come at twice the rate as the rest of the league, since the teams play each other twice per year.
“That was the first time I ever played a team twice in one year,” Williams said. “Everything leading up to it—you could feel it,” Williams said. “You get chippy. You get real serious.”
In team meetings Nathaniel Hackett has pushed the importance of this week because it’s a divisional game but hasn’t emphasized the fact that it’s the Raiders in particular, according to a few players in the locker room.
“[I] can’t really hate anybody in this world,” Hackett told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s too much energy, but we’re just—it’s another game, we’re excited to go against the Raiders.”
Williams thinks it just takes some time to get used to the rivalry.
“I think Coach Hackett is treating it like a normal game, probably because he doesn’t really understand where it’s coming from yet,” he said.
Nose tackle Mike Purcell’s thoughts about the Raiders may run the deepest in the locker room. He grew up in Highlands Ranch as a Bronco fan. As you’d expect, he didn’t like the Raiders. He says playing in the game brings out the feelings more than watching did.
“It really just adds more fuel to the fire,” Purcell told DNVR.
This will be punter Corliss Waitman’s first rivalry game as a Bronco. (He told DNVR that his punting duel with Mitch Wishnowsky last week was not the beginning of a rivalry.) This week, though, he’ll be punting against the Raiders’ AJ Cole, who he’s trained with in Alabama for nearly a decade.
“We definitely go out there and compete,” Waitman said. “You want to be the best over the course of the game.”
Punters have to take a slightly different approach to rivalries, though.
“We’ve gotta be calm and focused,” he said.
The strongest feelings still belong to the veterans on the team. Left tackle Garett Bolles sees this game against the Raiders as a chance for the Broncos to begin to regain their spot at the top of the AFC West.
“Over the previous years our organization has dominated this league and we want to get that back,” Bolles said. “It’s been on my mind for the last six years. Anybody who has been here the last six years, we know there’s more to these divisional games. We play them twice a year. We want to start off good.”
Like Waitman, Bolles has a close friend on the other sideline: Maxx Crosby. The difference between the two situations is that Bolles will almost certainly line up across from the All-Pro pass-rusher at some point in the game.
“I love him dearly,” Bolles said. “He’s a great person and a great person I get to talk to and friendship we’ve created over the years. It might be a little heated during the game but I know we’re friends off the field.”
Bradley Chubb, meanwhile, is not taking any sort of friendly approach.
“It’s only a few teams in the league that I hate and they’re one of them.”
The Broncos have lost six in a row the Raiders when playing on the road. Chubb was on the team for four of those games. That history is a key source of his hatred.
“Every time we go there it feels like it hasn’t went in our favor,” he said. “It’s always a tough game. I always know it’s gonna be a good matchup. I always know they’re going—I’m not going to say dirty—but they’re talking stuff. We’re talking stuff. We’re going back and forth.”
Chubb won’t hold back.
“I hate ’em, to be honest with you,” Chubb said. “I hate ’em.”