After a long, glorious history in Oakland, it appears the Raiders might soon be playing their final game in the city before saying goodbye.
On Christmas Eve, 2015, the Oakland Raiders hosted the San Diego Chargers on a national-televised Thursday night game.
It was an emotional evening in the East Bay. There was a possibility that it would be the final Raiders’ game in Oakland.
Just a few weeks later, ownerships from the St. Louis Rams, Raiders and Chargers all vied to move to Los Angeles. The NFL and its owners chose the Rams over the Raiders and the Chargers, who at the time, were teaming up to make the L.A. land rush. Ultimately, that Christmas Eve night was an emotional false alarm for the Raiders and their loyal, hardened fanbase.
What a relief for the city that already watched the team go to Los Angeles from 1982-94.
It turns out, however, that scene from three years ago was simply a dress rehearsal.
It’s happening again in Oakland. This time, the chances of the Raiders playing their final game in Oakland are much higher.
Here’s the deal: The Raiders are either leaving Oakland after this season or the next. The fans desperately want one more year before Oakland heads to the shine of Las Vegas in 2020.
The sudden suspense of whether Monday night’s game against Denver will be the final one in Oakland is part of the aftershock of a lawsuit filed by the city of Oakland last week against the Raiders, the NFL and its other 31 teams. The city is looking for lost future funds due to the move and wants to keep the Raiders’ brand in Oakland to potentially, someday, bring the NFL back to Oakland.
In the meantime, the biggest consequence of the lawsuit is it may move the Raiders out of town a year early. The lawsuit was rumored for months and the Raiders made it clear they wouldn’t sign a lease to play in Oakland in 2019 if a suit was filed. They kept their word. They withdrew their offer a day after the suit was filed.
Speculation of where the Raiders will play next year is rampant. Other Bay Area venues, San Diego, San Antonio and even Phoenix, St. Louis and Seattle are among the reported possible cities.
That mean Oakland fans might get the shaft. Again.
Cue the sadness and emotion of another possible Raiders’ swan song. Bah humbug.
If the 2015 experience is an indication, it should be a fairly loud, positive scene. Yet, this time is different, because the Raiders’ departure is more real this time.
There will be sadness and bitterness. Will it be as ugly as the final game of the Cleveland Browns before they left for Baltimore in 1995, when some fans threw seats and fireworks onto the field near the end of the game? Probably not.
Still, there will likely be some feisty fans. A group known as Forever Oakland is planning on handing out signs to support the lawsuit’s pursuit of keeping the Raiders’ name in Oakland after Mark Davis takes his team to Vegas. There’s no doubt, this legal tussle and its side effects will hover over the Coliseum come Monday night.
Jim Zelinski is a former Raiders’ longtime season-ticket holder who ran a group called Save Oakland Sports. He hasn’t been to a game since March 2017 when the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas became a reality. He said he’s supporting the Forever Oakland group.
“The Raiders and the NFL didn’t fully appreciate what they have in Oakland,” Zelinski said this week. “They have the most loyal fans in the history of the NFL. This is a fanbase that continued to sell out even though this is a team that moved on them twice … Mark Davis could have gotten a stadium done in Oakland if he really wanted to … It’s a shame what they have done to the fans who deserve some of the credit for the fame and fortune of the franchise.”
Zelinski can’t be accused of sentimental embellishment here. Raider Nation has long had a special relationship with this franchise dating back to its heyday of the 1970s. There were Ken ‘Snake’ Stabler, Willie Brown, Jack Tatum, Ted Hendricks and those wild fans. The Oakland experience will always be a part of the league’s lore.
That doesn’t mean much to a fanbase that is about to be dumped again. The fact that the NBA’s current dynasty squad, the Golden State Warriors, are on the verge of heading over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and that baseball’s Oakland A’s don’t have a clear idea of their future, makes this a city in a professional sports crisis.
The truth is, Oakland could survive without the Warriors and the A’s. The Raiders are a different animal. There will be a dearth when they leave. That may be just days away.