The Raiders like to talk about their Oakland roots. But let’s face it, those roots were nothing that a $750 million check couldn’t sever.
Mark Davis’ team is on the move again. The Raiders, those jaunty travelers, took off for Los Angeles in 1982 and made a triumphant return to Oakland in 1995. Now, thanks to a landslide vote by NFL owners at their annual meeting in Phoenix, they will be jetting to Las Vegas sometime between now and 2020, when a new domed stadium there will be ready for action.
Eyes aglow at the thought of divvying up the Raiders’ relocation fee (expected to be about $350 million), hearts aflutter as they weighed the precedent set by the state of Nevada in pledging to hand Davis and his team $750 million in public financing, 31 of the 32 league’s owners voted YES. (The Miami Dolphins were the only dissenters.) Then they all winked at one another, knowing it one day could be any of them seeking a similar blessing.
Here in the Bay Area, Raiders fans are understandably mournful. That includes Santa Rosa, where the team trained from 1963 to 1984.
When I was idolizing Reggie Jackson and Ken Stabler in the 1970s, they called Oakland the City of Champions. The Swingin’ A’s won titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The Warriors got theirs in 1975, the Raiders after the 1976 season. Now the Warriors, having finally reached the apex of the NBA, are on their way to San Francisco, and the Raiders are shopping for warm-weather clothes and sunscreen. The A’s might have gone already if it weren’t for MLB’s foot dragging. What a shame.
No loss wounds Oakland’s spirit like the Raiders. Al Davis built a brand that matched the hard-edged city in which it thrived, right down to the no-frills color scheme and the leering pirate logo. Oakland fans loved their football team so much that many of them stayed loyal even when Davis didn’t. They kept their garages decked out in Raiders motifs; some flew to Los Angeles for the occasional game.
Those fans welcomed the Raiders back with open arms in 1995, and most of them stuck with the team through the humiliating seasons of Norv Turner and Art Shell and Lane Kiffin. Al’s son, Mark Davis, will reward them with the backsides of moving vans, just as the Raiders are becoming Super Bowl contenders.
After Monday’s vote, Mark Davis took to the podium to deliver a brief statement. He wore a mob boss’ pinstriped suit and a Dickensian orphan’s bowl haircut.
“I know that there’s gonna be disappointment, and maybe some anger,” Davis said. “And I just hope that in the future as we play in Oakland this year, that they understand that it wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the coaches that made this decision. But it was me that made it, and if they have anybody to talk to about it, it should be me.”
It was an admirable declaration. And a correct one. This was Davis’ decision, and he must absorb any outrage levied by Bay Area sports fans.
Over the past few months, as it became increasingly apparent that the Las Vegas deal was going down, some observers started blaming the city of Oakland and Alameda County for the team’s departure. Others were blaming the state of Nevada for “stealing” the Raiders.