OAKLAND - The Raiders are cheaters.
I’m not talking about the stacks of flags they incurred Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. With 145 penalty yards in the first half, they already led the NFL in that category for Week 1. But most of those were mere mistakes, not outright mendacity.
No, it isn’t the on-field opponent the Raiders are cheating. It’s the fans of Oakland. The past couple of years have been an exercise in fleecing the locals, and Monday night was the latest offense.
I mean, the big grift is obvious. Raiders fans are among the most loyal in the NFL, and the Raiders are thanking them by leaving them at home with the kids and the bills and skipping off to a love nest in Las Vegas. This has happened before, so we shouldn’t be surprised. The Raiders want to move to Vegas in 2020. Some Oakland and Alameda County politicians want them out in 2019. To be determined.
Raiders owner Mark Davis has valid reasons for uprooting: thousand-dollar bills, hundred-dollar bills and suitcases full of 20s and 10s. And who can blame him? Vegas made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Oakland refused to make an offer. The money won, as it always does.
But Davis’ decision was a slap in the face to the people of Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. He insisted that parking was a big part of the new stadium negotiations, because of his reverence for tailgating. Then the parking plan for Vegas was released, and it included small just-off-site lots and many, many shuttles from casinos and, I don’t know, wedding chapels. Davis claimed he didn’t have the money to build his own stadium in Oakland, yet he is paying Jon Gruden $100 million to coach for the next 10 years.
Raiders fans have mostly sucked it up and accepted their fate. Most say they will still root for the team when it’s playing in Nevada. Many plan to buy tickets and fly to Vegas for games. They welcomed Gruden back to the fold as if he were Norman Schwarzkopf.
How did Gruden thank them? By trading their best player, Khalil Mack.
Again, there were reasons. Mack wanted a lot of money — more money than any other defensive player in the league. The Raiders already had a lot of salary tied up in quarterback Derek Carr. And the Bears, among other teams, offered a dowry of draft picks in trade.
But the Mack trade was a slap to Oakland’s other cheek, the one it had already turned, like Jackie Robinson. By swapping a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year for draft picks (and replacing him in the short term with rookies), the Raiders were trading the present for the future — a future that does not include Oakland.
Gruden, who is firmly in charge of this organization, erased one of the city’s most entertaining and beloved athletes. Raiders fans mostly hated it, and haven’t been afraid to say it on social media.
But when the Monday-night opener rolled around, all seemed to have been forgiven. From my seat in the press box, I can gaze down to a wide section of lower-level seating, and I’m used to seeing a couple-dozen No. 52 Mack jerseys. This time, I spied only a couple. It was like the fans were saying, OK, we’ll forget about Khalil and give this thing a shot.