For all the time, care and diligence the NFL has put into keeping Eric Reid from testing positive for anything except basic bodily fluids, it could have applied a few minutes to the problem of the weekend.
Namely, flexing the Raiders’ game on Christmas Eve to another day and time. Say, like Sunday at 2 a.m.
You know the story by now – because of the happy confluence of construction deadlines in Nevada, local politics in Oakland and the general malaise that wraps itself around the football team like a Velcro skin, Monday night’s game between the gentlemen and the Denver Broncos has that worst of all possibilities.
A meaningless game that might have nothing, but meaning or might not. A celebration of football and secular-religious festivity that might turn into a stadium-wide brawl, or might not. A night of family bonding in which children want to talk about Santa while the adults would prefer to concentrate on Jon Gruden, or might not.
Monday night, and the last, maybe, Raider game ever in Oakland – a referendum on how many ways the Raiders can kill buzz on a night in which football really doesn’t belong anyway.
It still isn’t a guarantee that the Raiders will leave Oakland for good after Monday’s game, though the threat is clearly there since the city of Oakland decided to gamble a year’s rent to win hundreds of millions of dollars. All the Raiders have to do is find somewhere that will take them in 2019, a elaborate house hunt that might well end up in a figurative manger, if we must.
But for the moment, the spectre that this is the anti-est of climaxes is the thing that sells this game, with everything from empty sections and dispirited tailgaters to drunken protests and burning jerseys in the scrum.
And the NFL, which can move games from one country to another at the drop of a divot, decided that this king-hell bummer, scheduled at the worst conceivable time on the least attractive day, will show it all – the uncertainty, the angst, the bitterness, the betrayal, the way the stadium sausage is made.
I mean, who books this stuff, the White House?
First, the day itself. The NFL used to avoid Christmas and Christmas Eve like it feared divine retribution. It played the 1950 championship game in Cleveland on a Christmas Eve (the game drew less than 30,000 in an 80,000-seat stadium) and then went another two decades before playing the AFC first-round playoff games in 1971 on Christmas Day, and because people liked the two-overtime Kansas City Chiefs-Miami Dolphins game so much, the league stopped avoiding the Christmas holidays.
Because the NFL is, after all, bigger than Jesus.
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Okay, enough sectarianism. This isn’t really about playing on Christmas Eve anyway; the league has played 26 games on The Night Before Christmas in the last two years and the nation is no worse off than it would have been anyway, which is still pretty damned bad.
This is about the Raiders, and the last game that might not be. There isn’t a single story line that comes from this game that is good. Oakland depressed or Oakland enraged, empty seats or felonies on the half-shell.
It is more likely that Raider fans who believe this is the last waltz will skip the whole enterprise. Going back to 1981, there have been nine teams that have moved to another geographic area, and the only one that left a visible scar in the stadium was Cleveland in 1995 – and that town got a new team in four years.
But San Diego left 15,000 seats unbought for the Chargers' finale in 2016, as did St. Louis the year before. Houston drew only 15,131 to its last game before the Oilers changed names and relocated to Tennessee, and the previous final Raider game in Oakland in 1981 drew 10,000 below capacity in a 23-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.
In other words, people don’t do wakes unless they have to, and they certainly don’t see the value in going to a wake on Christmas Eve. In short, while the other events that make this franchise the hot mess it is were beyond the league’s control, scheduling this game on this night wasn’t.
But that’s Roger Goodell’s problem, and Mark Davis’ problem, and Libby Schaaf’s problem, and maybe even chief of police Anne Kirkpatrick’s problem. However this turns out, even if the Raiders sign that one last lease, this will be just one more septic backup, only with tinsel.
So ho, ho, and against our better judgment, ho. Current events eat history, and the future saddens more than it cheers. Meanwhile, the NFL has only two more opportunities to make sure Eric Reid's urine is clear.
Happy holidays, if that’s your idea of a good time.