“And her mother said, ‘Never mind, your part is to be, what you’ll be.’”
-- The Who, Sally Simpson.
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One of the enduring lessons of American sports is that when it comes to sharing the same geographical space, there is an alpha team, and a beta team, and the roles are almost never reversed. The Dodgers lord it over the Angels, the Yankees lord it over the Mets, the Cubs over the White Sox, the Giants over the Jets, the Lakers over the Clippers, etc. That relationship dominates every decision the beta team makes because being the perpetual afterthought creates a corrosive atmosphere.
And locally, this applies as well. The Giants lord it over the A’s, the Warriors over the Kings, and the 49ers over the Raiders. In an economic system where only one winner is allowed and sharing is anathema, the alpha team gets used to standing on the beta team’s neck, and the beta team exhausts itself trying to escape.
Which is part of why the Raiders have always looked to leave their ancestral home, and why they are so enthused to become the Las Vegas Raiders.
Only they got beaten to the hearts of their customers – again. In a town that once had every team because it had no team at all, the hockey team Vegas was willing to accept is now the epicenter of everything the town’s sporting consciousness holds dear. The Golden Knights are the modest little team that went from fetus to newborn to full fledged king in 11 months.
And Jon Gruden has to follow that?
The Knights fought their way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of life. IN THEIR FIRST YEAR OF LIFE, YOU HEAR ME? This has been done twice before, both times in hockey, and only because of circumstances beyond the team’s control. And even if they do not end up winning the Cup and taking it from one casino to the next through the entire summer in a Bizarro world twist on an old Canadian tradition, Las Vegas is theirs. They were first, and they were best first.
And once again, the Raiders have to punch uphill, as they have every day for nearly their entire history. They had a window in the Seventies when they were demonstrably better than the 49ers in all ways, including the stadium in which they played, and then Al Davis left for Los Angeles and fighting with the Rams.
Then he came back at the tail end of the 49ers dynasty, briefly made an excellent team that faded too quickly, and since then there has been only losing, death, and wanderlust. Vegas was supposed to solve all of it – the Raiders would have their own state, and the gambling capital of the world. They would be the alpha dog at last.
And now there is a team that a year ago had no players and now is neck-deep in civic memories that will last forever, from the way they melded with the two in the wake of a terroristic act on Opening Night to the way they raced to the most improbable Stanley Cup Final ever. The Knights are the team that turned the concept of the honeymoon and layered it in platinum.
Next to all that, Mark Davis is the beta dog again, and unless he moves to a city that doesn’t even have a successful Division 1 college team, it would seem he is doomed to be that guy forever. His part is to be what he’ll be.