Barber: Raiders-Chiefs will mark end of a dirty era
ALAMEDA — With five seconds left in the first half of the Raiders’ season-opening game against the Broncos on Monday night, Denver kicker Brandon McManus lined up for a 64-yard field goal, which would have tied Matt Prater for the longest in NFL history. McManus’ kick was square and true, but it fell to earth perhaps a yard short of the crossbar.
Might McManus have made history under normal conditions? We’ll never know, because the circumstances of his attempt were anything but normal. In fact, they were virtually prehistoric. That kick was attempted off the dirt infield of the Oakland Coliseum, a notoriously difficult place to kick a football. Long snapper Casey Kreiter’s feet were planted right about where second base would reside during an A’s game.
Your chances to witness this sort of athletic fusion cuisine have nearly expired. Sunday’s contest against the Kansas City Chiefs will be the last Raiders game played on dirt at the Coliseum, and likely the last in NFL history.
After hosting the Chiefs, the Raiders will embark on a curious stretch of schedule that includes four away games, a “home game” in London and a bye week. They will not play in Oakland again until Nov. 3. Baseball will be done by then, even if the A’s play a seven-game World Series.
So if you watch the Raiders-Chiefs game, take a moment to honor the swath of sand, silt and clay that arcs across the otherwise green field like an open wound, stretching from 20-yard line to 20-yard line and bleeding past the Raiders’ bench area. Oh, and throw in the warning tracks that cut the corners of the west-side playing field inside the 5-yard lines and larger fractions of the end zones.
“These guys can tell their grandkids, ‘You know what? They used to play baseball and we used to go out during the baseball season and play on the dirt. Literally,’” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on a conference call this week. “I think there’s something to that.”
Among Raiders coaches, there has been no consensus on the merits of the dirt. Jack Del Rio wasn’t a fan. “It should be grass all the time,” he said in October 2017. “Hopefully, they’ll get that rectified going forward, because frankly it’s a little embarrassing to play on the cinder block. We tolerate it when we have to, but we’re definitely looking forward to having a full field of grass.”
Jon Gruden, on the other hand, is on the record saying he’d like to see some dirt at every NFL stadium in America. Because he is Jon Gruden, it’s hard to tell if he was serious or putting everybody on.
Queried on the topic Wednesday, Gruden said, “It’s a big advantage. Our guys love it so much.” Here he made Ironic Gruden Face. “It’s like I used to play when we were in Tampa. It was a 120-degree heat index, and everybody said it was an advantage to us.”
But then the coach added: “You know what? I like the old elements of football. I’ve been accused of being old school. I know a lot of friends like me that like watching a football game on the dirt.”
Of course, Gruden has never had to lace up pads and play football on a major-league infield. To the men who do, the experience is no blessing — for two primary reasons.