It’s quiet – almost eerily so – on the Last Raider Game In Oakland front, which is the perfect metaphor for the least rooted franchise the NFL has ever made.
And why? Because none of the principals seem to be all that bothered by the notion that the team might just fade away in a springtime mist when nobody is looking. Nobody is trying to manufacture the requisite angst that Rams fans generated in St. Louis in 2015, or Browns fans did in Cleveland 20 years earlier. No sound bites, no cheap video of fans burning jerseys for the YouTube Channel. There isn’t a 30 For 30 being planned for “Ennui In Oaktown.”
If this is it, there actually isn’t going to be an “it.” It doesn’t get more Raiders than that.
As you know, the team and the city are locked into a thumb war over the 2019 season. Oakland is suing the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s departure for Las Vegas, and the Raiders have walked away from lease negotiations for the 2019 season – the last season before MarkWorld is completed and ready for inhabiting.
In other words, the Raiders haven’t committed to next season in Oakland, but they also haven’t committed to next season anywhere else. It’s as if they are preparing to disappear in a small puff of exhaust smoke without anyone around to complain.
The Raiders never fully regained their footprint after leaving the first time in 1982, and the on-field product has largely been an easily ignorable disaster ever since.
But Raider fans, who have always been known as a hardy lot in bad times and worse, have been beaten into near-submission by the last several years of Mark Davis’ overt and shameless flirtations with San Antonio and Los Angeles and eventually Vegas. They’ve known the day was coming when following their team would again require frequent flyer miles and hotel points and the perpetual feeling of being rejected.
And now? Any announcement on the 2019 season will happen after the Christmas Eve game, so if the Raiders do find a new place to play for next season as they have threatened, nobody will know this was the last game until way later . . . after it’s too late to organize a made-for-local-TV protest outside their corporate offices in Alameda.
And we won’t even get that smarmy “Jesus Comes And The Raiders Leave” narrative you all crave.
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This all still feels like the team and the city will come to a grudging accommodation for next season, mostly because all the other alternatives seem significantly less palatable to Davis and the league. The ceaseless tub-thumping for Santa Clara flies in the face of both Davis’ wishes and those of Jed York and the 49ers. A year in San Diego will displease both Stan Kroenke and Dean Spanos. The unlikelier notion of San Antonio will happen only against the express wishes of Jerry Jones and the McNair family. And playing in Sam Boyd Stadium, the home of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, is a monumental non-starter unless it has to be.
But the NFL might not be inclined to let the raiders dither about on this, since it and its 31 other owners are also being sued. They might force them to pick a place and not let them engage with Oakland just to be corporate bullies, the thing they do best of all. If Oakland wants to risk a sure $7.5 million for the longshot chance to win half a billion, there won’t be a proper optic wake.
Then again, there never is with the Raiders. They just sort of show up when they show up, as they have since they were first cobbled together in 1960 from the ashes of a planned launch in Minneapolis that went bad.
So their final game in Oakland might not be their final game in Oakland. It might still be December 29, 2019, or even after that if there are construction delays. This is already the most disorganized franchise move ever, so finishing with a flourish of confusion and panic is a more fitting coda for professional football in Oakland.
It’s just not nearly as cathartic for the good people who put their hearts and souls and money and grills into the team all these years. Yeah, like they ever mattered.