Las Vegas Raiders. Let that sink in.
I was born a Raider. I bleed silver and black. I remember the sinking feeling I had when the Raiders lost to the New England Patriots in the infamous “Tuck Rule” game in the 2001 Divisional Playoffs that birthed a dynasty. I remember tuning in to Super Bowl 37 and watching the Raiders get crushed by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I remember the feeling I got every Sunday from 2003 until 2015 expecting the Raiders to lose. “Just Win, Baby” became “Just Lose, Baby”, as the Raiders became synonymous with losing.
None of those feelings compare to the one I have now with the news that the Oakland Raiders are no more. They are now the Las Vegas Raiders. On Monday, the Raiders received conditional approval from the NFL to relocate from Oakland, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. They received “yes” votes from every owner in the NFL with the exception of Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins. Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement the Raiders plan on playing at the Oakland Coliseum for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, as the new stadium in Las Vegas is not set to open until 2020.
The city of Oakland took a hard stance in new stadium negotiations throughout the last decade or so, refusing to use public funds to pay for a new stadium. Oakland made a last ditch effort to keep the Raiders by sending the NFL a revised $1.3 billion stadium proposal. On Saturday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave an impassioned speech in which she pleaded to the NFL to keep the Raiders in Oakland. I was moved by her speech. I couldn’t help but feel this was a woman who wanted to see the city of Oakland, the birthplace of the Raiders, keep their beloved football team. However, this was a move just to save face. It was an 11th hour PR strategy. The very definition of a Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds in the fourth quarter. She could have done more. Oakland could have done more. They lacked the urgency to do more.
One can hardly blame the Raiders for their decision. The city of Las Vegas put up $750 million in public funds from a hotel tax to build a new stadium. That number could be $950 million when accounting for the extra $200 million in public funds that suddenly became available over the weekend. Las Vegas ponied up. Whatever the Raiders needed, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval provided it. Governor Sandoval had the political power to do so. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf didn’t. There was no alternative for the Raiders. Las Vegas was the only option on the table. The Raiders had to go all in. The move resulted in a payout larger than one you’d see at any of the Las Vegas casinos.
Mark Davis also said in a statement Monday that his father and former Raiders owner, the late Al Davis, once told him ” ‘the greatness in the raiders is in its future.’ ” That future no longer includes Oakland. Losing the Oakland in the Raiders name just doesn’t feel right. No matter what decade you were playing the Oakland Raiders, you knew you were in for a rough afternoon. Oakland epitomizes the toughness, grit, and win at any cost mentality that everyone came to know the Raiders by. Even in an age where techies are gentrifying the city, Oakland still maintains its blue collar identity, the same one everybody also came to know the Raiders for. Even when they moved to Los Angeles in 1982 those same qualities remained. Something about putting Las Vegas in front of the Raiders’ team name just seems wrong. Sure, the jersey colors, players, and logo will remain, but those aforementioned qualities get lost once Las Vegas is stamped onto the team’s name.
The Raiders will always have the classic Al Davis-isms. Commitment to excellence. Just win, baby. But it’s the “autumn wind” anthem that is perhaps the most apt description of how the whole Las Vegas saga has unfolded. “The autumn wind is a Raider. Pillaging just for fun. He’ll knock you ’round and upside down, And laugh when he’s conquered and won.” That wind no longer blows in Oakland. It’s the Raider Nation that’s been pillaged, knocked ’round and upside down. Mark Davis can now laugh that he has conquered and won his new stadium, but it comes at the expense of a city and fan base that has now lost its team twice. Even with all of my disappointment and heartbreak with the news of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, I can’t help but fall back on this phrase: Win lose or tie, Raider Nation till I die.