Time to trot out the old Gertrude Stein quote that in Oakland, “there’s no there there.” With news that the NFL Raiders will be running off to Las Vegas comes the sense of a lost place. And, just to further disorient football fans and civic leaders, the team crassly intends to squat at the Oakland Coliseum for at least two more seasons while its palatial new playground is being built in Sin City.
“Home” games are looking like there might be no “here” there. Plenty of Raiders’ fans, often described as among the league’s most passionate and loyal, essentially are reacting to the Raiders’ good-bye by offering to make them sandwiches. You know: Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?
That includes Scott McKibben, the man who heads the authority that controls the Oakland Coliseum. McKibben told USA Today that it is “actually financially to our benefit” if the Raiders don’t exercise their option to honor their lease through 2018—a clear suggestion that the Raiders pack up and leave immediately. The Coliseum generates $7 million a year from the team but spends $8 million.
There doesn’t appear to be a real danger that the Raiders will wind up like the imaginary Port Ruppert Mundys in Philip Roth’s “Great American Novel”—a baseball team in the World War II era forced to play its entire schedule on the road because its stadium was used as a soldier’s embarkation point.
But this promises to be a mighty awkward divorce. And not so different from the last time the Raiders said “See you, suckers” to Oakland citizens. That was in 1982, when the Raiders’ founder and original owner, Al Davis—father to current majority owner Mark, who inherited Al’s tendency toward itchy feet—went looking for greener grass in Los Angeles.
The weird logistics that year included having the Raiders continue to live and train in Oakland—practicing all week within view of the Oakland Coliseum—then flying the 365 miles to L.A. for Sunday “home” games. It was a bit like having the New York Jets play home games in Pittsburgh, or the New England Patriots play home games in Buffalo.
Players reported sometimes crossing paths with Oakland residents who marveled, “I didn’t know y’all were still around here.” The local newspaper, which had recorded the Raiders’ every move for the previous 22 seasons, quit covering the team. The Raiders’ fan club disbanded, though some members went on insisting, according to that season’s Raiders’ running back Kenny King, “You’re not the L.A. Raiders. You’re the Oakland Raiders.”
King’s response: “If they want to call us that, fine. I’m a Raider. A Whatever Raider.”
So, here we are again. The Whatever Raiders, expecting to play at least one more season 500 miles from their future digs, are somehow expecting Oakland folks to go on supporting them. Mark Davis, having lived up to his father’s allegiance to the team’s pirate logo by attempting to plunder taxpayers for a better stadium deal, nevertheless went on local radio and claimed, “I still have a feeling for the fans in the Bay Area. And I’ve met with a number of them. And anything I say to them isn’t going to soothe them, and it makes this whole thing bittersweet.”
Not that such emotions stopped him from merrily abandoning those fans, the same way the original Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, then walked out 13 years later on the spectator following they had built in L.A. to return to Oakland.
And now Davis has insisted that the Raiders will carry the “Oakland” name until settling in Vegas in 2019 or 2020.
But why should Bay Area citizens still contribute to Davis’ bank account with the Oakland Coliseum again becoming the Park of the Lost Raiders? With speculation that the team might seek a temporary home at the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara—or even in San Antonio, Tex.—before its Vegas stadium is available, why should any fans buy into a one-way, short-term relationship?
Davis insisted that he really wanted to stay in Oakland, but had no choice.