Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area we had two professional football teams to root for, the 49ers, the Raiders, or both.
This year I picked the wrong team to win big. The Niners are languishing in the throes of a brutal rebuilding year, mustering only a 1-7 string of defense-challenged blow-outs. The offense has scored points, but never enough to even come close. Chip Kelly’s arrival as head coach hasn’t altered the losing dynamic, and Colin Kaepernick’s controversial protest has drawn all the wrong kind of press.
Across the bay, in my original hometown of Oakland, the Raiders just knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs on Sunday Night Football and are sitting atop the AFC West.
Many Oregonians and adoptive Oregonians harbor warm memories of Kelly’s tenure coaching the University of Oregon Ducks. He was a big winner there. In my pre-season PJM essay I was happy to wax glowingly about how the 49ers might fare under his leadership. But renewal and redemption are not coming this year from the Red and Gold side of the bay.
While Kelly struggles to find his place in SF’s post-Harbaugh landscape and surmount the rigors of the NFL, the gritty Raiders are putting old-school hurts and Madden-Era moves on the opposition. Going in to the Sunday night showdown with Denver, the Raiders were 6-2. After the game, notice was up: The Silver and Black are serious contenders again.
All this comes under the shadow of yet another franchise relocation for the team. When Al Davis decamped for Los Angeles in 1982 you can bet the hometown fans, me included, were furious. But we stayed loyal, and experienced grudging but genuine happiness when the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
Then, in a turnabout unprecedented and yet to be repeated, the Raiders came home to Oakland. Long lines of freeway traffic again intersected the working class and at times violence-prone neighborhoods around the Oakland Coliseum during football season. After mixed success and mediocrity, the Raiders again made the Super Bowl in 2002, but were blown out 48-21 by the Tampa Buccaneers. They have not been in a post-season game since.
For all the historic football it has seen and wonderful memories it holds, the Oakland “Mausoleum” is a relic, and lies at the heart of why the Raiders are looking to move again. Las Vegas beckons with a glitzy new sports complex, and a very attractive market. One obstacle remains to be surmounted: the Raiders must get the approval of three-fourths (24) of the league’s 32 owners. Despite reservations from some owners about the enticements “Sin City” would offer young men, the early line is that the league will approve the move.
What moves to Las Vegas probably stays in Las Vegas. The Chip Kelly piece reminds me that it’s best not to get too caught up in the fortunes of the teams you root for. But I’m harboring a new fantasy, which I undoubtedly share with my fellow Raider fans. In it, the “Oakland” Raiders go out swinging, big league.
In October, team owner Mark Davis told ESPN that the team will play two more seasons (2017-18) in the city by the bay, and then take up temporary digs in Nevada after their Coliseum lease expires, while waiting for their new stadium to be completed. “We’re going to turn the Silver State silver and black,” says Davis.
That leaves the rest of 2016 and two more Oakland seasons for members of the original Raider Nation. But whither Oakland, Los Angeles, or “Vegas, Baby,” in our hearts the Raiders will always recall the upstart AFL bad boys who helped create the combined leagues of the NFL and became the winningest team in football.
As Al Davis would say, “Just win, baby.”