Christmas week is here, including in the National Football League.
And who should the Denver Broncos be playing on Sunday but the original Grinches of the NFL, the Las Vegas Raiders.
It is a tradition throughout the NFL for fans to hate the Raiders. But there is a saying that "the NFL is always great, but it is better when the Raiders are good."
Denver has more than held its own in the rivalry, especially in recent decades, but back in the day, with the knowledge that bitter rivalries start somewhere and somehow, from 1963 through 1976 the two teams played each other 28 times, and Denver's record was 2-24-2, making the Raiders ultimate Grinches for Broncos Country.
In fact, several of those losses came within a week or two of Christmas.
That huge losing streak mentioned above started when future Hall of Famer Al Davis took over as head coach (before he was the general manager and, later, the owner). In that time, he changed the uniform colors to the current silver and black, and he created the now famous pirate logo on the helmet (using the facial features of onetime Western movie star Randolph Scott — no one knows why).
In fact, the Broncos-Raiders rivalry featured a little-known change in Denver's uniform also.
Some fans are aware that the Broncos had a caricature horse as the primary helmet logo from 1962 through 1966. But most are unaware that the original horse was blue; with televised games all in black and white in the early 1960s, it looked like mud on the helmet on TV.
In 1962, the Broncos-Raiders home and away games came consecutively, in weeks five and six — the Broncos wore the blue horse through the first five weeks, and then, to make their look cleaner for TV audiences, changed to a white horse for week six in Oakland — crazy, but without any fanfare or even a press release.
I did not know this myself until looking at old game films and making a research trip to the Denver Public Library.
While Al Davis was a "Snidely Whiplash" character whom fans loved to hiss and boo, he in fact had another side and was intensely loyal to former Raiders players and to a motley cast of characters whom he assembled along the way.
Among that grouping was the inimitable George "Run Run" Jones, an all-time character.
I could write a book about Jones and his mates, but in the interest of brevity, I will resist that temptation.
George Jones was a hero of the Korean War who drifted a lot postwar, eventually being one of those guys who hung around the San Francisco Bay Area.
He was a star in the original Roller Derby, skating for the Bay Area Bombers with the famous Joanie Weston, also known as "The Blonde Bomber." You had to see Roller Derby to truly appreciate the sport, but it was George who would grab Joanie's arm and hurl her forward ahead of the pack to score points.
George did everything fast, hence his nickname, "Run Run."
He had lost his teeth along the way and wore dentures, which he often removed for Roller Derby matches, making him look "like, a hundred years old," according to Bay Area observers.
In 1963, right about the time Al Davis arrived with the Raiders, so did Run Run Jones. He was perhaps the first of Al's cavalcade of characters, and he stayed with the Raiders for 43 years until his death in 2006. He had a great personality that matched his speed of activity, most of which was spent in the position of clubhouse assistant.
But Run Run was more than just a clubhouse assistant. He was Al's guy.
And back in the day, when you were Al's guy, you did everything and anything he asked, and you were rewarded with the owner's loyalty.
I once asked Mike Shanahan, who coached two seasons for the Raiders, if he remembered George Jones.
"No, I don't think I knew anyone named George Jones, " he said.
"What about Run Run Jones," I replied.
"Yes, I absolutely remember Run Run," Mike said. "What a character. He would do anything you asked, and super fast!"
Naturally. That's how he became Run Run.
He was already Al's guy when Raider linebacker Ted Hendricks (a future Hall of Famer) ran into him in a bar (of course it was in a bar!) and brought him to practice to meet John Madden. The future Hall of Famer and Run Run hit it off immediately and Run Run right away became the guy who spotted the ball for every snap at every Raiders practice.
The Raiders won three Super Bowls and Al Davis made sure Run Run got a ring each time. There were numerous times when I saw him wearing all three rings at once. A little garish, but what the heck.
He had a great smile (teeth or no teeth) and a gregarious personality, and he would greet everyone, even out of towners like me, with "How you doin', handsome!"
Run Run had a wife and kids, but his living quarters by choice often were literally at the Raiders facility, mostly in a little camper that Al provided for him.
He was a classic.
So this week the Broncos and Raiders will celebrate Christmas, then get after each other Sunday in the fabulous new stadium in Las Vegas.
But I will remember a lot of greats from years gone by, and among them will certainly be Run Run Jones.