Raiders

Oilers tried, abandoned same lame-duck approach Raiders are attempting

Oilers tried, abandoned same lame-duck approach Raiders are attempting

ALAMEDA -- Soon after the NFL approved the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, coach Jack Del Rio wondered if anyone had a handbook on how to handle being a lame duck in Oakland.

While there might not be a book about how to handle playing in a city a team plans to abandon for richer pastures, there is a franchise that tried a similar path before deciding life as a lame duck proved to be untenable.

Just weeks before the start of the 1995 season, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams announced he had an exclusive negotiating deal to move the team to Nashville, Tennessee. A ballot measure was approved the next spring in Nashville to fund a stadium that wouldn't be ready until 1999 so the Oilers decided to spend three seasons as a lame duck in Houston.

But with dwindling crowds at the Astrodome and increasing animosity from a fan base about to be deserted, the Oilers changed plans and played the 1997 season in Memphis and the `98 season on Vanderbilt's campus in Nashville before finally moving into the new stadium in 1999.

"We started off planning to stay in Houston the whole time like they're talking about in Oakland," said former Oilers general manager Floyd Reese. "After the first year, we said this is just not going to work. That's how we ended up in Memphis for a year and Vanderbilt after that. That certainly wasn't great, and the truth is I'm not sure it was better than just staying in Houston. But you knew that staying in Houston was going to be so distasteful and be really hard to listen to the negativity every day. We couldn't do anything right. We said anything is better than this and you make the move and you find out it was better in some areas and not as good in others."

The Raiders now will see how it works for them in Oakland after the NFL approved their move last month to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. The Raiders are staying in Oakland in 2017 and have an option to play at the Coliseum in 2018 that they plan to exercise. They have no lease for 2019, leading to uncertainty about where they will play that year.

Oakland officials have indicated they don't want to give the team a lease for that season and owner Mark Davis has said he doesn't want to play in Las Vegas until the new $1.9 billion stadium is ready.

That could lead to the team playing at another Bay Area location, like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara or Memorial Stadium at Cal, or they could look for a short-term home.

Much of that decision will depend on the fan reaction in Oakland starting this year. If Houston is any indication, it doesn't figure to be good.

The Oilers averaged less than 32,000 fans a game in 1996, getting big crowds only when fans wanted to cheer for Pittsburgh and San Francisco. By Thanksgiving, the fans stopped coming with the team drawing about 20,000 for its sixth and seventh home games before playing in front of a crowd of 15,131 in the home finale.

"I'd seen that place in an NFL playoff environment at its peak," former offensive lineman Brad Hopkins said. "To see 15,000 people in a 65,000-seat stadium was completely unbelievable. Just the quietness. We had preseason games with better attendance. That was completely shocking. The fans were saying don't let the door hit you on the way out."

The only thing that made the experience a little easier on the players is that the venom from the fans was almost entirely directed at Adams and local politicians and not the players.

"They completely blamed the bureaucracy," Hopkins said. "They didn't look at us like we had anything to do with it."

Those late-season crowds made the decision to leave Houston easy for the franchise. Reese remembers talking after that game to a shell-shocked rookie Eddie George, who was used to playing in front of crowds of 100,000 in college at Ohio State.

"I went by his locker and said, `Hey, it's not going to be like this forever. This is not the NFL. What you see later on will be,'" Reese said.

Playing at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1997 wasn't much better as the average attendance was even lower at about 28,000, and many of the fans came to cheer for the opponent because they had no connection to the vagabond Oilers.

The team got only slightly more support the following year at Vanderbilt before finally finding a real home in 1999 when their new stadium opened for the newly named Tennessee Titans.

That led to a successful run with the Titans making the Super Bowl following the 1999 season and averaging more than 11 wins a season over a five-year span.

"It bound us because we understood that we were searching for a new identity," Hopkins said. "We had to do it on our own. We came together and became a team."

 

If McGregor beats Mayweather, Raiders may move to Dublin

mayweather-mcgregor-kiss.jpg
AP

If McGregor beats Mayweather, Raiders may move to Dublin

So Las Vegas’ army of legal books are in a moderate panic because they are so overexposed with Conor McGregor bets. Apparently, other than the Maloof brothers, they can’t scare up any Mayweather money at all.

Maybe this is the secret reason Mark Davis has declared publicly that the Raiders intend to colonize Los Angeles.

The latest evidence of the books’ distress is this Big Lead headline, which subtly hints, “Vegas Sportsbooks Are Exposed Like Never Before, Will Be Decimated if Conor McGregor Beats Floyd Mayweather.”

Well, if McGregor wins (and you’ll have to tell me about it because I’d rather watch feet sweat in the noonday sun than this), gambling in Vegas apparently will not exist any longer because the sporting apocalypse will finally be upon us. And if there is no gambling in Vegas, there is no Vegas, and all of a sudden the Raiders are moving to a town whose mayor is an iguana and whose chamber of commerce is tumbleweeds.

Hence, Davis’ answer to a question from Los Angeles Daily News writer Vincent Bonsignore about how L.A. has always been a Raiders’ town and that the team will get lots of its fans from the basin – fans who apparently cannot stomach either the Rams or the Chargers.

Ignoring Davis’ folly of answering that question that way at this time, when the NFL itself is wondering if, for its financial purposes, the mayor of L.A. is an iguana and the chamber of commerce is tumbleweeds, this news reminds us that the league has managed in less than two years to ruin the second-largest market in the United States by dithering, by backroom deals, by aversion of money spent by “the wrong kind of people” (see “brown”). That level of chaos is to be appreciated and enjoyed for what it is – nature’s way of telling rich people who’s boss.

Now, if nature doubles down and figures a way to make McGregor win and break Vegas, maybe the entire down isn’t destroyed but instead becomes a colony of Ireland, where the prime minister is not an iguana but a human, and the closest thing to tumbleweeds is a Guinness brewery.

Maybe if that happens, the Raiders end up playing in Dublin instead (a delightful little asterisk since there was a perfectly good Dublin not far from Oakland to begin with) – and they spend their entire time complaining that they have to share Croke Park and that there are too many markings on the field from all those damned hurling matches.

Of course this isn’t likely to happen, and Vegas keeps taking all the McGregor money you can throw at it. But one of these times, and sooner than we think, the apocalypse is not going to take no for an answer, and you will see Mark Davis with a pipe stuck bowl downward in his mouth standing next to a pot of gold.

Which of course will belong to the Bank Of America, because there are some things even the apocalypse can’t beat.

Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list

nfl-generic.jpg
AP

Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list

Raiders defensive lineman Jihad Ward injured his foot during the team's offseason program and hasn't seen the field since. Last year's second-round pick had it surgically repaired, and missed training camp rehabiltating. 

He's finally ready to go. He passed a physical on Monday and was removed from the physically unable to perform list. The team had a walk-through on Monday. Ward should be active for Tuesday afternoon's practice, the first back at their Alameda practice facility. 

The Illinois product had 30 tackles in 13 starts last season, playing significant snaps with Mario Edwards Jr. out due to a hip injury. He'll have to compete for a spot in the rotation, even after working with the first unit during the offseason program. Rookie third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes has played well in his absence and could be a three-down player inside. 

Ward was a raw, yet athletic talent capable of playing several techniques across the line. The teams sees great potential, though Ward must continue to develop as a player. 

In addition, the Raiders activated tight end Cooper Helfet off the non-football injury list.