The Raiders press corps has expanded. Several reporters from Las Vegas and a national media member joined the typical Bay Area crew on Monday, a sign that these Raiders will receive more attention this year.
That’s customary for a good team with engaging, marketable stars, but also a proof that these Raiders are serving two markets.
It’s a tightrope players have walked since NFL owners allowed the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas by a 31-1 vote. Before Monday, it was mostly with fans met out in public. Media access began Monday to kick off the offseason program, and marked the first time players were engaged in post-relocation talk with cameras rolling.
The Raiders plan to play three seasons in the Bay Area – they have lease options at Oakland Coliseum through 2018 – before a new, state-of-the-art Las Vegas stadium is ready in 2020. That’s a long limbo period, one where the Raiders hope to receive solid fan support from a market they are leaving while catering some to a market they’ll be joining soon.
Khalil Mack morphed Al Davis’ famous mantra into a way the Raiders can navigate often-choppy waters.
“It comes up all the time but it’s always the thing like, ‘just win now,’” Mack said Monday, answering the fourth relocation-related question of his press conference. “That’s what it comes down to for us. That’s all we want to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen down the line. You don’t know. This team that we have now, we want to focus on winning now.”
Center Rodney Hudson was asked about Las Vegas or relocation five times, and deflected each inquiry. Can’t blame him for that, When handed a hot potato, it’s best to pass it on.
Quarterback Derek Carr is the Raiders’ public face, and has consequently been the most vocal on the topic. That included an impassioned message released on Twitter the day the Raiders were approved to move. He talked about uniting Raider Nation, and thanking Oakland fans and saying how much the team loves the East Bay.
He echoed similar sentiments on Monday during seven Vegas-related questions, and understands there might be awkward moments ahead.
“I’m human, man. It’s like, that’s crazy. How do you keep playing somewhere you love and then you have to go and play somewhere else that you’re going to have to love and love the people there just like we will?” Carr said. “For me, I really had to concentrate on, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter yet.
“It’s like something that’s coming, it’s big news, it’s exciting for our organization and for fans that are Raider fans in Nevada and things like that, but at the same time we have our fans here that we need to take care of. That’s really important to me, to take care of our fans here, to make sure that enjoy our last times… What is it? Two years? Three years? Who knows? But, that’s my focus is to make sure I’m giving everything to this city that I can and not trying to do a little here and a little there.
“Obviously, there are going to be times where we’re in Vegas doing things because it’s a weird situation, but my focus is here and now, making sure that our fans feel appreciated knowing that they are going to get the very best version of me and my teammates every time we step out on the field.”
Despite repeated answers promoting unity, including one where Carr described positive interactions with Raiders fans in the Oakland area, he took some flak Tuesday for using the phrase “true Raider fans,” to describe those who remain loyal. His comment, presented in its entirety below, rubbed some fans the wrong way despite Carr’s great efforts to remain inclusive and express the difficulty inherent in serving two markets. He said fans have remained positive when engaging him.
“Honestly, it was surprising to me. I don’t know if it really should have surprised me because that’s just how Raider fans are,” he said. “It’s just, ‘Hey, we’re going with you. We’re Raiders.’ Like I said in the message, through the hard times and the good times, we’re still Raiders. There’s been a lot of hard times before. Now, we’re starting to have some good times. This is just another thing that we’re just going to deal with together. We’re not going to split up like you’ve seen other cities do. We’re not going to do things like that. For the ones that do, I don’t really believe that they’re true Raider fans. I feel their hurt. I’m with you. I hurt too. But at the same time, we’re all in this together and we’re just going to do it together.”
He reiterated his point on Twitter later Monday night, saying, “Just in case I was misunderstood…I love ALL Raiders fans, wherever they are from…We are in this together, always! #RaiderNation.”