Doubt is a powerful motivator.
People telling us we’re not worthy, not capable, not worth the trouble, despite our very best, can spur a lot of powerful, complicated feelings. Some of us will falter without that direct affirmation. We’ll fail when someone says we’re not up to snuff, swallowing ourselves in a whirlpool of self-doubt and self-hatred. But some of us will take that criticism and run with it. When we attain our ideal goals, when we make it, whatever “it” is, that previous critique, that off-hand comment, that grand gesture saying we didn’t belong, it’ll still linger in the back of our minds. After all, someone gave up on us. Someone, somewhere, said we didn’t deserve what we thought we had earned.
That in itself, that reason to prove everyone who dared cast us aside wrong, is a catalyst for success.
He’s not an Average Joe or Jill, and he’ll never say it himself, but Khalil Mack still feels spurned by the Raiders.
By now, everyone is intimately familiar with the league-shaking trade that sent the perennial All-Pro from Raiders’ silver and black to the Bears’ navy and orange. As decorated as they come, it didn’t take long for Mack to become a household name. In four seasons with the Raiders, Mack was a three-time Pro Bowler, First-Team All-Pro twice, a Defensive Player of the Year, and generally one of pro football’s great defensive terrors. Mack would’ve fit right into a classic John Facenda “Autumn Wind” highlight video. Hell, he would’ve been the highlight.
“The Autumn Wind is a pirate; the Autumn Wind is Khalil Mack.”
But (then) Oakland never felt he was worth the compensation of the NFL’s (then) highest-paid defensive player. It didn’t matter that Mack hip-tossed opposing tackles with seemingly minimal effort. It didn’t matter that an otherwise mediocre defense held together by expiring glue and thin string and broken rubber bands would’ve likely set league records for ineptitude if not for the buzzsaw of Mack screaming off the edge 60 times every game. Mack was the best draft pick the Raiders had made in almost two decades, but no, they could not reward him appropriately.
And so, armed with a new head coach (ahem) that wanted to head in a different direction, they sent him to the Bears. Chicago gave him millions of dollars guaranteed without blinking, and the rest is history, or rather his story. The Bears are constructed around Mack’s skill-set. He has enjoyed more support on his side of the ball than the Raiders could’ve ever dreamed. Without a fraction of a doubt, he is the engine that makes everyone go, an uncommon defensive talisman. Just ask a healthy, revitalized Robert Quinn what it means to have a one-on-one matchup on almost every snap. That’s the Mack Effect. Over three years later, everyone at Halas Hall feels its influence.
But regardless of logic, Mack has never quite been able to prove the Raiders wrong. Sure, the Bears lean on him for, well, almost everything while paying him handsomely. But there’s a different kind of pleasure in bringing the hammer down directly on those who maintained they did not want you and that it was time to pack your bags. Please leave; we might call, we might not. Sayonara.
Mack did get a chance, once, two years ago in London. A quiet three tackles in a 24-21 loss had to have been one of the more disappointing defeats of his illustrious career. For a moment, at least, the Raiders were better off without him. They won without him. They were right, and he was wrong. That’s a special kind of pain.
Recent reports dictate that the Raiders wanted Mack back. They had intense regret over losing a player of his caliber and that many, many tears were shed. Unfortunately, these kinds of decisions you can’t simply walk back once made. Once the damage has been done, people like Mack don’t just forget and put it out of sight and mind.
Sometimes, in these revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold situations, a second chance is all you need. The Bears will play the Raiders again this Sunday, in fresh digs in Las Vegas. A few years older and perhaps a few years wiser, Mack has another shot to stick it to the franchise that brought him into the fold but then declined to give him everything. If professional athletes even have such a thing as paper, print-out calendars anymore, this is a game that Mack has had circled, highlighted, and blotted out with giant red Xs for months. Every alarm on his phone, or his Apple Watch, or smart device doo-hickey, has been calibrated for this moment again.
I could be wrong, sure. But neither I nor I suspect the Raiders themselves would do well to doubt Mack once more.
Windy City Gridiron’s staff picks Bears-Raiders and every other NFL game from Week 5.