DENVER — The last thing this Broncos-Raiders rivalry needs is "R8RH8R" T-shirts at Mile High on Sunday. It's screaming for a hug and a Hallmark card from aisle 4 at King Soopers: Get well soon, buddy!

"Short week, no sleep and a wild skunk running around our building," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.

Maybe we should have guessed Oakland would go full Raiders with Chucky’s return to the Bay. Trading star pass-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears? That was merely the tip of the iceberg in the path of this silver-and-black floatie tube. This is a team that’s being sued for millions of dollars ... by its own city council.

Don't fret over Gruden’s coaching acumen after a 10-year layover. Any fella who’s smart enough to score $100 million to perform a job he hasn’t done in a decade owns my unwavering respect. When you really think about the finances of the great heist, Gruden’s the smartest dude since the first professional fisherman.

Plus, I’m way more worried with his life decisions after leaving a cushy TV gig on "Monday Night Football" to run skunks out of his locker room. Did he see the varmint that stunk up the joint?

“You don't have to see a skunk, do you?” Gruden said to laughs on a conference call with Colorado media.

Please allow me to be the first to extend a heartfelt thank you and an olive branch to the Oakland Raiders for two things: moving the franchise out of St. Louis West in 2020 and for hiring Gruden away from TV. Leave it to a man who shined in the entertainment biz to spice up one of pro sports' last great rivalries.

"I do remember looking at them (the Broncos) as a model of what we wanted to become,” Gruden said of his first go-round with the Raiders, from 1998-2001, which came at the height of John Elway, Terrell Davis and Steve Atwater’s Super Bowl powers. 

Gruden’s record against the Broncos: 1-9. How is Broncos Country supposed to hate that guy?

“That was the greatest win of my career as the Raiders coach, because I knew how far we’d come in just a few years,” he said.

There’s no doubt in my mind Gruden will get the Raiders back on track — in roughly two years when the franchise wisely ditches its current dump and takes dead aim at the Las Vegas desert. Trading Mack at the 11th hour was a bat signal to the rest of the AFC West: just spin (the narrative), baby. The winning comes later.

“We’ve had 10 head coaches since I was traded (to the Bucs in 2002). That’s unbelievable,” Gruden said. “We’ve had no continuity. None. We’re building our team and we’re trying to win at the same time. But we’re going to try to build the Oakland Raiders into a great championship football team. It might not happen this week. It might not happen this month. But we have a great attitude, really good veteran leadership, we like our draft picks and we’re making progress.”

Something smells skunky about a rivalry Broncos Country loves with so much hate. 

They actually like each other.

Gone are Aqib Talib and his jeweler, Michael Crabtree. The Broncos will face Talib and his new dogs with the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6. Crabtree and the Baltimore Ravens are next Sunday. But these rivals made Sunday at Broncos Stadium sound like two college buddies getting together over a lovely Chianti to chat about that one time back in the day. Here, check out some of the niceties tossed around before the 116th meeting between the Broncos and Raiders. Everybody raise a glass for a toast.

“I think the free agent acquisition in pro football this year is going to be (Broncos quarterback) Case Keenum,” Gruden said.

And now a smooch from the Rocky Mountains.

“You watch the first half of that game and (Raiders quarterback Derek Carr) was almost flawless,” Vance Joseph said.

Kumbaya, my Lord.

“The Raiders are a great organization. They gave me my start. So I’ve got nothing bad to say about them,” said Raiders draft pick and current Broncos lineman Shelby Harris, who proceeded to say something bad about them. “But it really is the feel of the Broncos organization (that’s different). It just feels like a winning organization.”

That’s better. Now we’re getting closer.

Truth is, Mack was one of the first silver-and-black actors in a long time who could ably perform the villain role in which Tim Brown, Marcus Allen and the late Al Davis thrived. Mack stole Von Miller’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year award by a single vote and once sacked Brock Osweiler five times. Worthy adversary, that guy. Keenum should be overjoyed that Mack’s gone.

Nope, he was complimentary, too. Keenum recalled that one time he was a student in Gruden’s "QB Camp" on ESPN.

"I'm pretty sure he had watched every rep I had ever played in college," Keenum said.

"It was a lot of fun,” he added.

Who slid the Broncos-Rivalry hate-fest into the Twilight Zone?

It's almost like Gruden's Raiders are ... likable.

OK, sufferable.

OK, not the worst people on the planet.

Like "Los Angeles" Chargers, the second Gruden era is going to take some getting used to.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

Sports columnist

Denver sports columnist for The Gazette

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