OAKLAND — Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today not to, as the Purple One once famously said, “get through this thing called life.” Besides, Prince was a Vikings fan.
No, on what very well might be the final Raiders game in Oakland, against those dreaded Denver Donkeys, er, Broncos, we assemble to bid adieu to an eyesore. A mausoleum, not a Coliseum. A death trap for vermin (skunks and mice and possums, oh my) and hopes alike (one winning Raiders season since 2002, really?).
But, to paraphrase the Bard, we come here bury the Coliseum, which is a mere 52 years old, not to slam it.
No, it is wrong to speak ill of the dead or, in this case, the dying (talk all the trash you want about the Broncos, though). Because, to paraphrase Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, sure, the Oakland Coliseum’s a dump. But it’s our dump. Just ask the Raiders’ co-tenants, MLB’s A’s, whose clubhouse is regularly flooded with sewage.
Well, what Carr actually said was, “You think about all of the great games, all of the Hall of Fame players, all of the memories that I’ve accumulated for five years in that stadium. It’s a special place to me and it always will be.”
Wait, what? It was on this field two years ago to the day where Carr suffered a broken leg, ending his and the Raiders’ dream season. Since that fateful Christmas Eve, when they were 12-3 and headed to the postseason, the Raiders are just 9-23, including a playoff loss. And, still, Carr digs the place, even if his opponents throw shade.
“Yeah, I’ve heard all of that, people talking trash about it through the media, saying our machines are broke or saying the field is terrible or the locker room stinks and all of that,” Carr said with a Cheshire Cat grin. “And I just laugh, because it’s home to me, you know?”
So take that, Gertrude Stein. Because when it comes to Oakland in general, the Coliseum in particular, there is indeed a there, um, there. And it’s filled with wonderful moments in Raiders history.
From the Heidi Game to the Sea of Hands. From finally beating the Steelers in an AFC title game to thumping the Titans to return to the Super Bowl after a 13-season SoCal sojourn. From the comic relief of the oh-so-disrespectful Lane Kiffin to the horror of Carr’s broken leg to the return of Jon Gruden.
This broken-down joint, which turns into Halloween for every Raiders home game with the Black Hole’s costumed denizens, has forgotten more football than you’ll ever know through its half-century and four name changes. Maybe that’s why Gruden got a little choked up this week. Or maybe Chucky has realized the Raiders have no home for next season, though they will be in Las Vegas in 2020.
Damn, how did we get here?
From the Raiders’ perspective, and the view of anyone who has ambled into the Coliseum in recent years, they have long needed a new home and authored a sports village proposal to split the Coliseum grounds with the A’s, building a football stadium in the southwestern part of the grounds with a baseball yard going up in the northeastern quadrant. The A’s wanted nothing to do with it. Some say they Raiders even talked to the 49ers about splitting a new football-only facility on the Coliseum grounds with them, but the Niners balked, saying Oakland was too far away from their downtown San Francisco fans, so they instead went further south to Santa Clara. Las Vegas offering $750 million to entice them to Sin City, after the Raiders finished third in a three-horse race for Los Angeles in 2016, sealed the deal.
And from the City of Oakland’s side, it insists the team is leaving local taxpayers holding the bag for Coliseum improvements made upon the team’s return from L.A. in 1995 (think, the tarped-off uppderdeck known as Mt. Davis) while the Raiders would counter and say Oakland simply mismanaged the money and should have been able to pay off the debt in 23 years.
The NFL? It’s probably still busy counting the money from relocation fees.
Maybe the Raiders aren’t behind the times as the lone NFL team to still share a stadium with an MLB team — baseball dirt infield in August, September and possibly October, anyone? — but the last time they won the Super Bowl, half of the league’s then-28 teams played in a dual-sports complex. That was in 1983, and the Raiders were not one of those teams, playing in the even more ancient L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Indeed, no one’s hands are completely clean in this case of death by misadventure in the streets of Silver and Blackdom and still, there is a faint pulse. There is a possibility, slim as it may be, that the Raiders could play here again next year. “It’s a real football stadium,” Gruden insisted as he gritted his teeth. “It’s dirt, grass. It has tradition … I don’t want to start crying about a stadium.” And we could be doing this all over again next December.
But why wait? Let’s praise the dead and dying before the Coliseum meets its Raiders fate. With apologies to Prince, maybe we are all simply trying to get through this thing called…a football life.