ALAMEDA -- The Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs have been playing each other for a long, long time. The old AFL originals have been battling since 1960, continuing their rivalry in the AFC West post-merger.
They play home and away each season, meaning contests at Arrowhead Stadium and Oakland Coliseum have hosted many of these storied contests.
Several of them, of course, have been played partly on infield dirt. That was more common when baseball teams and football teams shared stadiums. Oakland Coliseum is the last standing salute to a bygone era, making it the only place where grass doesn’t stretch from end zone to end zone during baseball season.
Sunday marks the last time that will happen. The Raiders and Chiefs likely will play the last NFL game ever with infield dirt Sunday afternoon. The Silver and Black are moving into a plush new Las Vegas Stadium next year and won’t play a home game again until after the World Series should be over. Even if the Athletics go on a playoff run, odds are infinitesimal they’d be still playing when the Raiders return home to face Detroit.
Some old school Raiders fans may get sentimental losing that unique feature, but it won’t be missed by those forced to play on it.
It’s harsh and unforgiving and, no, it doesn’t end up helping the home team.
“It’s a big advantage. Our guys love it so much," said Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, his words dripping with sarcasm. “It’s like I used to play when we were in Tampa and it was a 120-degree heat index, and everybody said it was an advantage to us. You know what, I like the old elements of football, I’ve been accused of being old school. I know a lot of friends like me that like watching a football game on the dirt. I used to like to play in the yard, but it’s going to be pretty neat, Chiefs-Raiders on the dirt one more time.”
Landing on it isn’t neat for offensive or defensive players. The Raiders just played on it Monday against Denver, with the strawberries to prove it.
“I think (Cal alum and former NFL running back) Justin Forsett said it best in his tweet, that it’s like running full speed and then when you get to full speed, belly-flopping on pavement,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s about what it feels like when you hit. If you look around it, our guys are all patched up. They have stuff on their knees, taped up today and things like that. That stuff is like road rash, for real. I wish they’d soften it up, but I guess it needs to be a fast track.”
Running backs want speed, but the traction is so much worse that it’s still hard to get going in the direction you want.
“I’m not going to say I’m a fan of it,” rookie running back Josh Jacobs said. “It’s hard to make the cuts you want, and it rips jerseys. It goes through anything. You leave the game with a lot of scratches. That’s the biggest thing. I was telling people that the ground hurts more than the tackles do.”
The Raiders shouldn’t see the infield dirt again, and they have just five games remaining at Oakland Coliseum. While the Silver and Black have more work to do here, opponents are getting nostalgic on their last time through the stadium.
“There’s just something about that place that’s crazy,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Last year, the sewage system flooded, and it simplifies the game for you. You got to work through a few things to get out there, and then you still have the baseball infield. These guys can tell their grandkids that they used to play baseball there and we’d go out and during the baseball season and play in the dirt, literally. I think there’s something to that.”