by John Furgele (The Exquisite 228)
It is official. The Las Vegas Raiders have—or in 2019—will arrive. It was just a matter of time before the NFL moved a team to what they call Sin City. They let the NHL go first, but sadly, the Vegas Golden Knights will be a mere afterthought now that the NFL Raiders will soon be coming to town.
Everybody is feigning sadness. How could the NFL do this? The Oakland Raiders began play in the AFL in 1960 and after 57 years, it is over. Sure, they moved to LA from 1982 to 1994, but we all knew that Al Davis wouldn’t stay there because Los Angeles was never going to build him a stadium. So in 1995, he came back; back to the place he abandoned, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. We know the Coliseum is not a good stadium. It is the last of the multi-purpose playpens in North America. In the 1970s, it was not unique. The Raiders, Steelers, Bengals, and Eagles all played at these concrete jungles.
The Raiders were winners. In the 1970s, they were perennial participants in AFC Championship Games. If not for those darned Steelers, they might have won three or four Super Bowls. That said they did well, ringing the bell in 1976, 1980 and 1983. Those old enough recall the 1980 season when Davis was embroiled in a bitter battle with then commissioner Pete Rozelle. This year, people drooled of the thought of Roger Goodell handing the Lombardi trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but Rozelle to Davis in 1980? That was not contrived. That was real. The men hated each other, were suing each other and when the Wild Card Raiders shellacked the Philadelphia Eagles, it happened. When Rozelle presented the trophy to Davis after Super Bowl 15, the men shook hands and Davis, with his PT Barnum charm proclaimed that “This was our finest hour; this was the finest hour of the Oakland Raiders.”
The Raiders left for LA, but success continued. Another Super Bowl title came in 1983 and eventually a return to Oakland and the Coliseum. The return showcased the zany fans that inhabit the East Bay, but the team struggled. There was a Super Bowl appearance in 2002, but much futility thereafter. Davis aged and lost his touch and the Oakland Raiders became a laughingstock. Minutes after he was laid to rest, his son, Mark began plotting a move. He could have gone in with the 49ers and shared a stadium, but owners are greedy. He wanted his own palace and he knew that the city of Oakland and the state of California weren’t going to give him one.
The move was a formality. Today, if you want to be an NFL city, you have to give in to every demand of both the owners and the league. The league says they value history, fans, and tradition, but then use words like untenable in describing cities with poor stadiums. If Minnesota didn’t replace the Metrodome where would the Vikings be playing? San Diego, another AFL pioneer wouldn’t build the team a new stadium, so owner Alex Spanos, who has a net worth of $2 billion left for a soccer stadium in Los Angeles.
The Buffalo Bills stadium goes back to 1973. The team was recently purchased by Terry Pegula who is worth an estimated $4 billion. He also owns the NHL Buffalo Sabres. The league has already called New Era Field untenable and has begun putting pressure on the politicians and leaders that a new stadium must soon be in the offing. The owner, careful not to offend a fan base that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since the 1999, says there is no pressure to build a new stadium right now. But, we know that refrain will soon change, right Mr. Pegula?
That’s the way it goes in the NFL. It is a league where you really have to play for pay. If you don’t give the owners what they want, they leave. Look at St. Louis. They tried to placate Stan Kroenke with plans for a replacement for a relatively new stadium that they had, but Stan the Man wanted the glitz of Los Angeles. Poor St. Louis. They have now lost two NFL teams in the Cardinals and the Rams.
The good news is that all is not lost for Oakland. They will get another team someday. Now that Oakland is available, it has never looked so good. And, soon, they will begin flirting and wooing a prospective owner to its town. Maybe it’s the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Jacksonville Jaguars, but sooner than later, they will successfully court and land another team.
Baltimore lost the Colts, and got the Ravens. Houston lost the Oilers, the greatest football team, and got the Texans. Cleveland lost the Browns and got the Browns. St. Louis lost the Cardinals and got the Rams, only to lose them, too. Eventually, somebody in Oakland will build a $2 billion stadium with all the amenities and another NFL team will find its way to the East Bay. They won’t be called the Raiders, but they will play in Oakland; it’s just a matter of time.
As long as there is money, there will be a team. The NFL is excited about Las Vegas and unlike hockey, it is a can’t lose proposition. The NFL shares TV revenue. There is no such thing as local TV revenue, so it doesn’t matter how big Las Vegas is, or how many fans come to their games, because the league splits television revenues in 32 equal parts. Green Bay works in football; it couldn’t work in basketball.
The NFL can have teams in Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay and certainly, Las Vegas. Heck, if Des Moines, Iowa builds a $2.5 million stadium, they too, could attract an NFL franchise. What would they be called? The Des Moines Sentinels? The Iowa Huskers? Laugh now, but never be surprised and never say never.
Today, the Raiders lost a team and that is sad and wrong on many levels, but the sun may soon rise again in the East Bay. All it takes is a disgruntled owner and some politicians who can find some funding streams. Nashville took Houston and Indianapolis took Baltimore and then Baltimore, enraged as they were when Indy stole the Colts, went out and stole the Browns!
The NFL is all about The Shield. But, there is a lot that goes on behind it and it’s all cutthroat all the time.
Today, we can cry for Oakland, but eventually Oakland will strike back. Here’s hoping Buffalo, Jacksonville and others are sleeping with one eye open.