Somewhere in the middle of the Denver Broncos complete and utter destruction of the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football, there was an extended shot of a lonely Oakland Raiders fan in full Black Hole regalia. He looked broken as he watched his team fall into a tie with the Detroit Lions for the worst record of the past decade.
Yet, if there were ever a glimmer of hope for Raiders fans, it’s Terrelle Pryor. And while it’s still far to early to declare Pryor a savior, especially when you consider that he plays for a team that looks beyond saving for now, there’s something to be said for Pryor even making it to this point at all.
Five years ago, the idea of Terrelle Pryor as a franchise’s messiah wasn’t far-fetched at all. It was an inevitability.
Coming out of high school in Jeannette, PA, Pryor was a two-sport superstar. On the hardwood he was a consensus five-star prospect with dozens of offers from high-majors. However, the football field was where the 6-6 235 lb. athlete shined.
He was the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, a consensus among the most respected recruiting publications in the country. His recruitment extended past National Signing Day and eventually took on a life of its own, with Pryor ultimately settling on the Ohio State Buckeyes over Penn State and several others.
Four weeks into his freshman season, Terrelle Pryor surpassed incumbent starter Todd Boeckman on the depth chart and took over the reins as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. He’d go on to rack up 1,311 yards passing with 12 passing touchdowns against just four interceptions to go along with 631 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.
They were modest numbers, but impressive for a freshman and it was enough to establish Pryor as “The Man” in Columbus heading into his sophomore year.
Over the course of the next two seasons, Pryor would lead Ohio State to a win in the Rose Bowl over Oregon and a win in the Sugar Bowl over the Arkansas Razorbacks. However, needing to polish his skills as a passer coming out of 2010, he elected to stay for his senior year of college despite being a potential early round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
However, when news broke of Terrelle Pryor’s involvement in a pay-for-play scandal that accused Pryor and several others of selling memorabilia and accepting complimentary tattoo work, the former No. 1 recruit in the country was suspended for five games. And rather than serve the suspension that would ultimately cost him close to half his remaining eligibility, Pryor decided to turn pro and enter the supplemental draft.
That’s where the Oakland Raiders decided to take a chance on Terrelle Pryor with a third-round selection, ultimately forfeiting their third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to take Pryor.
Yet, having just traded for Carson Palmer, the expectations for Terrelle Pryor were relatively low. In just three years, Pryor went from an almost certain franchise-quarterback for somebody to being lucky to simply be on a roster.
Then, in Week 16 of his second season, with Palmer out due to an injury, Terrelle Pryor got his first shot at starting in the National Football League. It was a rather mundane performance, and when the season ended, it was virtually assumed that Palmer would reassume his role as the starter and Pryor would return to holding a clipboard.
However, when Carson Palmer refused to take a pay cut to stay in Oakland as the starter, things began to change for the third-year pro.
The Raiders didn’t simply hand the job to Pryor, choosing instead to trade for Seattle Seahawks backup Matt Flynn to drum up a competition. Terrelle Pryor would go on to outplay Flynn and earn the job in the preseason, and now in three games as the starter in Oakland he’s began to show flashes of what made him such a sure thing coming out of high school in 2008.
In Week One, he led the NFL in rushing with 112 yards in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. In Week Two, he notched his first win as a starter.
Then tonight, as his defense got absolutely pasted by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, essentially overshadowing everything Terrelle Pryor accomplished on the night, Pryor was able to put together a sneaky good game. And despite losing, the 24 year-old was poised inside the pocket and showed some impressive escapability. (He would head into the locker room late in the fourth quarter to have an injury evaluated.)
It wasn’t enough to make the lonely Oakland Raiders fan in Denver crack a smile, but a 19-for-28 night for 281 yards passing and a touchdown to go along with 36 yards on the ground was enough to indicate to many that the potential is there.
The only problem is, Terrelle Pryor plays in Oakland, a town that’s seemed to devour potential whole for the last decade.
The Oakland Raiders look destitute, and the disparity between themselves and the Denver Broncos–the clear class of the AFC West–couldn’t be any more apparent. But, maybe Terrelle Pryor is enough to give the franchise hope for now.
Perhaps he can be the man to bring the Raiders from the brink of desolation to greatness. Maybe he can finally be the one to cast some light upon the Black Hole.