Column: The State of Raider Nation

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) leaps into the stands after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016.

Jacob Jardel
Managing Editor
@JJardel_Writing

Accounting for inevitable traffic, Royal Oaks, California is about two hours away from Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. While catching glimpses of San Jose, the home of the National Hockey League’s Sharks, travelers pass Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World.

Since 1995, though, for a young kid just moving to Royal Oaks, the biggest attraction is the Coliseum. It all has to do with one thing: the Raiders.

The team has had a sordid history with city management since late owner Al Davis gained part ownership in the team in 1966, the year the Raiders settled into the Coliseum. Davis threatened to leave the city on various occasions, doing so during a 1982-1984 stint in Los Angeles.

But the Raiders spent most of their time in Oakland. They may not have been as successful as their Bay Area compatriots the San Francisco 49ers, but they had a swagger and an identity all their own. It was a swagger that was purely Oakland (with a tinge of L.A.).

That changed on March 27, when NFL owners voted in favor of the Raiders’ proposed relocation to Las Vegas.

New owner Mark Davis, son of Al, put in the paper work to move in January after a stalemate with city officials on getting a new stadium separate from the one they share with Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s.

The vote was nearly unanimous, with 31 of the league’s 32 owners voting for the move. The only dissenting voice was from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

“My position today was that we as owners and as a league owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted,” Ross said in a statement.

The Silver and Black will remain in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, hoping to start off fresh in Nevada by the 2020 season.

It is a good sign for Las Vegas, though. The desert city dubbed the “Entertainment Capital of the World” recently received the okay for an expansion NHL team, the Golden Knights. Now, they will receive one of the NFL’s old guard powerhouses in the Raiders.

After not having a sports team, receiving two in under five years just adds to the excitement.

Mark quoted Al regarding the decision to move.

“My father always said, ‘The greatness of the Raiders is in its future,’” Mark said during a press conference, “and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness.”

He added that the Raiders’ roots were in Oakland, a city that will always be part of the team’s DNA. But for people like mayor Libby Schaaf, this fact made the move more disappointing.

“As a lifelong Oaklander, my heart aches today for the Raider Nation,” she said in a statement. “These are the most committed and passionate fans any city or team could hope to have. They deserved better.”

As one of those lifelong fans, the kid who just moved to Royal Oaks in the mid-90s, I share the mixed emotions seen in players like Khalil Mack and David Carr and in head coach Jack Del Rio. I love the city, flaws and all. I love the team, flaws and all.

And there were so many flaws, seeing as the team failed to have a winning season since 2002. We have seen stars burn out or get injured, only to play great with another team. Our coaching carousel spun nearly out of control for over a decade.

But what made this move – particularly its timing – so maddening was that it happened the year after we made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. We finally had a core worth talking about. Our quarterback had an MVP season until his injury. Our coach was more than competent.

We brought back that “Commitment to Excellence” and meant it.

That said, if it could have been anywhere, Las Vegas would not have been my top choice, but it certainly beats relocating to San Antonio. I enjoy the city, but it does not have the feel of the Raiders – that swagger and grit. Las Vegas, depending on where you go, has that in droves.

But it still is not Oakland.

I only ever went to one game at the Coliseum, what with tickets being so expensive for a family who was not well-off. But my mom had a connection to get us free tickets against Washington. So we went, and I experienced something for the first time.

I experienced a fandom beyond measure, the true essence that made Raider Nation special. The Mad Max-style grunge that was the Black Hole. The swagger that was wearing the Silver and Black. The feeling that, no matter the outside appearance or circumstance, we could all “Just Win Baby,” as Al would say.

And it was something uniquely Oakland, a city known for its tough streets as much as its diversity. A city where grit and determination could catapult you into something greater than yourself. A city, though down on its luck, could rise again in any given Autumn Wind.

Whether the Raiders infused this attitude into the city or the city infused it into them, I do not and manot ever know.

But one thing is for sure: it was a match made in football heaven that slowly made its way to divorce.

And now, the children of the Raider Nation sit in the middle.

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