As the Raiders attempt to conjure up answers for its reassembled defense being somehow worse than its bare-bones predecessor, they have bigger-picture issues.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signing the state’s stadium bill Monday provides a path to Las Vegas that will now put the league’s owners to a decision. The owner that could be moving has already made a fascinating one.
On Saturday, Mark Davis said he would keep his team in Oakland for the next two seasons as, in his dream scenario, the $1.9 billion domed stadium in Las Vegas undergoes construction.
Somehow spinning it as wanting to win a championship for Oakland, the owner — whose team is far from certain to be approved to relocate to the much smaller and more controversial market — would be inviting a bizarre arrangement if everything went according to plan.
Davis planning to pick up the next two one-year options on the Oakland Coliseum would be a preposterous ask for Raiders fans, who haven’t exactly had much fun following this organization for the bulk of this century. Assuming the Vegas venture receives 23 other yes votes, fans would then be expected to continue to support a team that has already committed to leave and pay full ticket prices while doing it?
That just sounds insane.
This isn’t like a TV show proclaiming Season 10 will mark the final episodes. This particular fanbase’s loyalty would be put to as great a test as any team in memory, with one side essentially having shown no consideration for the other throughout this process. A segment of Raiders fans that attend these games are not exactly known for their well-mannered behavior, either, but they’d have overwhelming public support on their side.
Who would be expected to pay full prices for tickets at what all parties acknowledge is an antiquated stadium, and do so knowing the team is going to leave? How could that not seep into what still looks like a rising team? The on-field product would be affected by this turmoil.
Cutting the cord after this season and moving into UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium, even as a promising team plays there, would serve the Raiders better if they’re actually bound for Sin City. That 40,000-seat venue would look better aesthetically if it were full than the 63,000-plus-seat stadium scattered with empty seats.
Imagine what would have occurred if the Rams still wanted to play in St. Louis while their Los Angeles palace was being built. They would have morphed into wrestling heels in their own home.
Modern-era relocations have almost exclusively featured immediate departures.
The St. Louis Cardinals bolted for Phoenix after the 1987 season and began play in the desert in 1988, receiving league approval earlier that year. In 1995, the Raiders and Rams moved to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, but neither entered the 1994 season as surefire departing tenants. Browns 1.0 committed to move midway through the 1995 season, and Cleveland’s vitriol helped turn a team that qualified for the previous year’s playoffs into one playing out the string amid a miserable backdrop.
The exceptions here are the 1996 Oilers and Raiders of the early 1980s, although the two circumstances were different.
Bud Adams’ Oilers mirror most what could occur with a late-2010s Raiders lame-duck situation. The franchise received approval to relocate before the 1996 season but set out to move after playing two more years in Houston. That ended up being siphoned to one, an unremarkable 1996 slate that saw sparse Astrodome attendance and an 8-8 team somehow go 2-6 at home. The Oilers moved to Tennessee a year early, playing 1997 and 1998 at the Liberty Bowl.
Al Davis wanted to move the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1980, but owners blocked it en masse. After two years of trying to leave, the renegade Raiders boss won a lawsuit and moved his team south in 1982. So, Bay Area Raiders fans of the early ’80s didn’t have certainty over how much longer their team — which left the stadium the current iteration plays in due to dissatisfaction — was going to be in town. Of course, that didn’t stop the 1980 Raiders from winning a Super Bowl.
A Vegas approval followed by two years of middle-finger seasons in Oakland would differ due to fans knowing the team was only playing there because it didn’t want to take up residence in a college stadium. Picturing a scorned Black Hole seems a bit terrifying, but it would bring ingredients for an interesting social experiment.
If the Derek Carr- and Khalil Mack-led Raiders suddenly followed through on this optimism and returned to the playoffs this season, would fans immediately turn on them if they came back even though a Vegas move was booked?
No post-merger team has left a city after making the playoffs, but with the Raiders and Oakland not having engaged in substantial talks since February’s L.A. vote did not go in the franchise’s favor, Davis is locked in on Nevada. So, a playoff run wouldn’t matter here. It might make a difference to the league, which represents Oakland’s last hope in lieu of relevant stadium plans.
Would Raiders backers be hardened by the events of 2015 and, among those who are old enough, 1982, and simply accept the reality and continue to support them? If there’s a fanbase that would be prepared to deal with something like this, this is it. Maybe that’s what Davis is banking on as he tries to make this into a win-win for him.
The owner can’t win with Bay Area Raiders fans anymore, so it’s goofy he would try and dress up a short-term stay as a farewell tour. The franchise hasn’t done anything worthy of missing, and those sentiments probably aren’t going to be shared by Silver and Black proponents, no matter what happens this season.
They deserve better.
There are plenty of moving parts to this process, but the collective psyche of Raiders fans who have to balance hope for the 2016 team and bitterness toward a franchise brings an underrated subplot as relocation talk again floods the NFL news cycle.