The short answer to this question has to be Oakland. For most 2nd- and 3rd-generation Broncos fans, the Raiders were the bench mark upon which we measured ourselves. The Chiefs were disliked, even hated, but there is a difference.
As Ian and I discussed on MHR Radio, the rivalry that exists between the Broncos and Raiders is historic and massive. My father grew up in the shadow of Mile High Stadium (old Bears Stadium). During the '60s and '70s, the Raiders were the measuring stick for Denver. There is history there. My dad and uncle used to say, "14-2, 2 losses to the Raiders is an unsuccessful season. 2-14, 2 wins against the Raiders, not that bad."
I can’t remember 1977 because I wasn’t alive, but I have heard the stories. Tom Jackson telling John Madden, "It’s over Fat Man," might be the most important moment in Broncos history. That was a magical season that announced Denver as a true player in the NFL. That season was all about getting past the hated Raiders.
There is no doubt, all of us are Raider haters, but the Raiders have been far from relevant for several years. During the late '90s, John Elway and Terrell Davis were battling with Kansas City, and not Oakland for division supremacy.The 1997 title run included a win at Arrowhead in the divisional round. Oakland was nowhere in sight.
In the current Broncos greatness, the Raiders have been less than irrelevant. Hating the Raiders has been a staple of the experience, but wins were almost a forgone conclusion. Kansas City has been the true test. Of course, many young Broncos fans may see the Chiefs as a bigger rival. They have had more success than the Raiders in recent years, making Kansas City a more important rival.
Maybe the true rival lies outside of the division. During the '80s, was there a bigger rival than Cleveland? The Elway legend is born on the backs of unbelievable results against the Browns. The Steelers were the high-water mark in the '90s. It took a major leap to get past them in the 1997 AFC Championship game, giving the Broncos another chance at a Super Bowl.
The history of Pittsburgh and Denver started long before that. The Broncos had to beat Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers just to get a chance at the Raiders in the AFC Championship game in 1977. When you add Denver's win over Pittsburgh in the divisional round last year, two of the three times the Broncos won the Super Bowl they beat the Steelers in the playoffs. It could have been more if Denver could have won at home against Pittsburgh in the 2005 AFC Championship game.
Or what about New England? Peyton Manning’s time in Denver certainly brought the Patriots into the realm of rivals. I hate Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and so do you. What made winning Super Bowl 50 that much sweeter was beating New England to get a chance at Carolina.
All of those rivalries have one thing in common: They are dependent upon some outside force. The Patriots aren’t a true rival. They are created by happenstance. The Steelers don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The Browns? A cliff note. It truly comes down to Kansas City and Oakland. Raiders and Chiefs. Which week gets your blood hottest?
Forget relevance. Forget who matters. The rivalry is alway the Raiders. They are always the team that ranks above the rest in terms of hate. I’m a born and raised Raider Hater. My kids will be Raider Haters. Their kids will be Raider Haters. The Chiefs are important rivals. Sunday night is a huge affair, but if you are talking rivals, no other team matters more than the Oakland Raiders.