The Raiders will arrive at their home stadium on Nov. 26 to play the first of 19 remaining regular-season games as the pride of the East Bay.
Derek Carr will pull on his black jersey, stand beneath The Black Hole and fight off the blackest of days for Oakland’s fans three hours at a time until sometime around Christmas 2019.
On that day, more than 50,000 fans will walk through cracking concrete hallways, look up at Mount Davis shielding the Oakland Hills one last time and prepare for a finality they know too well.
Soon after, the present and the future will collide, and the 2020 vision of Raiders owner Mark Davis will crystalize. The Las Vegas Raiders will play their first game in a stunning $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat stadium that took its next major step toward reality Monday in a groundbreaking ceremony that honored the team’s storied past while pointing firmly at its next era.
“We’re the Oakland Raiders and we’re going to try to bring a championship up there,” Davis said. “But in 2020, we are going to be the Las Vegas Raiders and be proud of that.”
Davis entered this interminable dance with his fans in March, when NFL owners approved the team’s move to Las Vegas starting with the 2020 season. He stood in front of national media at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix and offered to refund season tickets for Oakland fans mad at the team’s move.
About 1,000 people took him up on the offer. All of those season tickets resold within days. Fans of the Silver and Black love their nomads, even if the son of the owner they idolize followed his father’s legacy by finalizing his quest for a permanent home in another city. That new city threw its arms around the Raiders with one standing ovation after another at Monday’s event.
“Through the whole process, it’s been a balancing act of trying to enjoy the fact that we’re going to be moving to Las Vegas, but not disrespecting the fans in Oakland,” Davis said. “They’re very, very dear to us and very important to us. So that’s been the toughest thing.”
The organization put that enjoyment on display in Monday’s 50-minute ceremony, welcoming hundreds of people including former Raiders greats Howie Long and Jim Plunkett to a sprawling tent in the center of the 62-acre parcel off Russell Road near Interstate 15 they soon will call home.
League Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft attended, as did Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos — the latter two forming the duo that will occupy the new Los Angeles stadium that once appeared targeted for a Raiders return. Carol Davis, the 85-year-old widow of Al and mother of Mark, watched from the front row.
“I’m so happy she could be here to witness this historic event,” Mark Davis said. “I only wish my father could be here as well, but I know he’s up there smiling proudly because as he always said, the greatness of the Raiders is in its future, and the future is now.”
Almost. While Davis joined Goodell and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in donning silver hard hats and shoveling the first dirt on the 31-month construction project, the Raiders remain a franchise with a foot in the present and another in that future. A group including community relations, marketing and finance personnel moved to Las Vegas in the past few months to grow the team’s presence in Southern Nevada. Yet the team brought more than 100 staff from its Alameda, Calif., headquarters to Monday’s ceremony, underscoring the team’s dual residency.
“We’ve been, for the last 15 or 20 years now, trying to find a home,” Davis said. “As you know, we moved to Los Angeles in the hopes of building a stadium down there and that didn’t work out. We came back to Oakland, gave it a really good shot trying to get something done there for the last six or seven years. And it just didn’t happen.”
Within two years of Davis’ first discussions with local business and community leaders, a new stadium backed by $750 million in public funding did happen in Las Vegas. Prior to the calling the Nevada Legislature into a special session to approve a tax increase for that money, Sandoval met with Davis in Northern Nevada to size up the seriousness of the Raiders’ interest.
“Undoubtedly, I knew the gravity of it all. But I also knew the opportunity in it,” Sandoval said. “That was part of it: I needed to have Mark Davis’ word that they would come so that I could turn around and go to everyone else — specifically the Legislature — and say, if we do this, this is going to happen. I wasn’t going to call a special session for them to use that as leverage somewhere else, and they gave me their word that wasn’t going to happen.”
The popular second-term governor shook hands on a deal with Davis: if I get you this funding, you bring your team to Nevada.
“In Nevada, a handshake still means a handshake and a deal’s a deal. These gentlemen are men of integrity,” Sandoval said of Davis and team president Marc Badain.
Moved by their future home’s response to the Oct. 1 shootings, Davis and Badain planned a groundbreaking ceremony heavily tinged with the #VegasStrong message. Singer Judith Hill led the Las Vegas House of Blues Gospel Choir in a stirring rendition of “Rise Up” to open the event, as 58 beams of white light illuminated one-by-one behind them to commemorate the lives lost. First responders presented hard hats and shovels to dignitaries, and Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo received individual recognition as well.
“The Raiders are proud to be joining such a special team, for together we are Vegas Strong,” Davis said.
The Raiders donated $50,000 to the Las Vegas Victims Fund in the days after the tragedy, a token toward a community that welcomed the team quickly after the announcement of its move. The franchise took in more than 40,000 personal seat license deposits of $100 per family within a month, and that number pushed past 50,000 this summer. Roughly 43 percent of the deposits came from Nevada.
The next-largest slice of the pie? California, at 29 percent, including fans from Los Angeles and Oakland who have followed the team through its previous moves in 1982 and 1995.
“The fans are the most important thing to us as well. They’ve been very understanding,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of people that may have their feelings hurt, and they may feel hurt right now. I’ve met with a lot of them, I’ve spoken with them. Even after talking with me, they may understand me, but they still don’t agree with me. But at least I’ve tried to talk to them and make them understand why this happened.”
With or without that closure, 2020 officially now appears on the desert horizon for Oakland and Las Vegas alike.