The Las Vegas Raiders. It has a certain ring to it, right?
Practically since the day Al Davis passed and ownership of the Oakland Raiders was inherited by his only son Mark, relocation and stadium woes have been the $2 billion black cloud hanging over the organization. While Mark had for sometime maintained publicly that he was “trying to stay in Oakland,” privately all his business moves have indicated otherwise.
When he lost a relocation bid in January to the Rams and potentially the Chargers as well, Davis told reporters in a rare press conference “This is not a win for the Raiders today.” He smiled through that statement and doubled down on his disdain for Oakland, saying, “We’ll see where the Raider Nation ends up here. We’ll be working really hard to find us a home.”
Last week he finally came out and said what everybody already knew, announcing via Raiders press release that Las Vegas “will serve as a proud new home for the entire Raider Nation.”
Nothing is finalized, as any relocation would require a vote of approval from 24 of 32 of Davis’ fellow NFL owners, and apparently that’s not a given. Some within the ownership circle, as well as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would prefer the Raiders stay in Oakland for a myriad of reasons. While potentially relocating three teams in two years would seem high on the list, reports say the NFL and its owners view Oakland as a better market financially, despite Vegas pledging $750 million in public funds. Oakland is the heart of the booming Bay Area, ripe with tech company-fueled economic growth, a larger television market and per-capita income and a larger population in general. Plus, many believe the NFL would prefer the Raiders operate under new ownership, despite Mark’s surprising competence and willingness to defer power to delegates like general manager Reggie McKenzie in the five years since his father’s passing.
Any move from Oakland would complete the rarest of feats for Davis, taking a franchise from a city a second time. The Raiders, of course, moved to Los Angeles in 1982 for much of the same reasons. The Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum, yes, the same stadium, was deemed inadequate by Davis, and after he didn’t receive one single vote of approval from his fellow owners for a move to Los Angeles, Al simply sued the NFL. He won, and the ever-defiant Raiders would win a Super Bowl a year later as the Los Angeles Raiders.
Eventually, the Raiders returned to Oakland and the same stadium, this time with new luxury boxes. While the team was embraced and met with much fanfare, the move and move back continues to be as traumatic as any breakup to makeup relationship is. Fans are divided on the prospect of the team moving locales again.
Some fans root for the Raiders, others root for the Oakland Raiders.
For me, the Raiders were as much a part of growing up and family as Thanksgiving dinner and fireworks on the 4th of July. Being a fan was passed down like an heirloom, donning the silver and black was like a tradition, and the Raider Nation was family. In that sense, I’ll always root for the Raiders, be it the Oakland Raiders, Las Vegas Raiders, San Antonio or Mars. The Raiders are the Raiders no matter where the stadium is.
Having witnessed the drama of the Sacramento Kings possible relocation first hand though, the idea losing a team is one thing, but losing an entire sport is another. When the Kings were all but certainly leaving town, it wasn’t so bothersome. Nobody is really pining to see “Kevin Martin and the Sacramento Kings,” but there was a certain comfort in knowing that a real NBA game was only a 20 minute drive away on any given Thursday night.
For the fans in Oakland, in theory there’s always Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, but really, that’s not the same. There will always be some sentimental value in the concrete jungle/cell phone dead zone that is the O.Co. The tarp adorned with the Raiders logo covering the massive 3rd deck affectionally known as Mount Davis — covering roughly 11,000 seats to beat the NFL’s blackout rules — has become a staple of game days. Featuring the only dirt infield left in the entire NFL, scraping elbows and knees and giving kickers the heebie jeebies, it’s all become part of the package.
Ultimately, though, the fans will follow. For many, the Raiders is a symbol of much more than football on Sundays. The emblem became the unofficial logo of legendary rap group NWA, and by proxy the LA riots in the wake of the Rodney King beating in 1992. For people of color, it’s a symbol of rebellion, plus there’s a certain coolness to the silver and black. It’s remained fashionable since the 60s, somehow both trendy and a staple. It’s like the men’s answer to the little black dress.
The Raider way has permeated biker culture as well, and in the 70s Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler merged both worlds by forging relationships with both Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers, and Sonny Barger, founder of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels. The Raiders were rebels on the field, but they also had the backing of true rebels off of it.
The Raiders will survive anywhere because the fanbase truly is a nation, traveling each week to watch their team in full regalia, drowning out home fans and drawing quotes like ‘It felt like a home game for us, and we really appreciate that,” from quarterback Derek Carr. Vegas is just an eight hour drive from Oakland, same for popular Raider hub Sacramento, and just three hours from Los Angeles. So the fans will be there, even if they become transients on a week-to-week basis. The idea of a weekend in Vegas, capped off with a Raider game in a shiny new stadium will always have its appeal even if it isn’t the formula for a strong home base.
There are those who will hop off the bandwagon, and maybe give up football all together. Hell hath no fury like a sports fan scorned. But earth knows no dedication quite like that of a sports fan attached to a uniform.
Personally, I’ll be rooting, be it from the couch of section 130, and I won’t be the only one. Mark Davis knows that, and that’s why Vegas is such a real possibility. Las Vegas does too, and that’s why they’re footing most of the bill for a new stadium. But trying to guess what 32 billionaires are going to do is a fool’s errand, so don’t buy that Las Vegas Raiders gear just yet. Don’t throw that Oakland Raider gear away just yet either.