With tonight’s game possibly being the final Raiders game in Oakland, we are offering a guest column from Jim Zelinski of Save Oakland Sports. He is an East Bay native, a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan and former long-time season-ticket holder who attended his first Raiders game in 1969.
The Raiders may play their last game in Oakland tonight – perhaps marking the end of an historic, thrilling, complicated, but never dull, relationship that’s unique in professional sports history. Thousands will trek to the “House of Thrills” to pay what may be a final tribute to the Silver and Black in Oakland. But let’s also raise a glass of holiday cheer to toast and thank the other half of this legendary team — the Oakland/East Bay fans – for creating scores of enduring memories and images for millions of people over several generations.
For Oakland and the entire East Bay, the Raiders have been a source of civic pride. Oakland’s Raiders have boasted some of the NFL’s greatest teams with players and coaches who broke the mold. But the team has, in turn, been enriched by East Bay fans. Oakland Raiders fans are among the most loyal and passionate in all of professional sports.
Oakland fans also have played a role in the fame and fortune of their beloved team that is leaving them — for the second time. Oakland supporters have created a unique atmosphere that helped build one of the most successful brands for the NFL.
Oakland fans deserve another trophy – for loyalty. Oakland fans still sold out games despite years of speculation and reports that their team would again move and a decade-plus run without a playoff appearance.
Given that it sanctioned the team’s move to Las Vegas despite unquestioned strong fan and community support, the NFL seemingly does not fully appreciate what it’s had in Oakland. As coach Jon Gruden noted, “Some of the best games in the history of football have been played” in Oakland.
The NFL should find a way to thank Oakland fans in a concrete manner for the memories and millions they created since the team’s birth in 1960 in the old, wild American Football League (AFL). After all, as the NFL says, “Football is Family.”
I don’t know if that will happen so I’ll say thanks now on behalf of all the fans for the shared, unforgettable memories. Here are some of my favorites:
The “roar” of the Coliseum where the Raiders played from 1966 through 1981 and made their historic return to Oakland in 1995. At times, the Coliseum indeed seemed to shake as coach John Madden described the noise during the Raiders’ immortal “Sea of Hands” playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins in 1974.
The sea of Silver and Black cars, massive motorcycles and skull & crossbones flags in the parking lot — ground zero for perhaps the NFL’s most colorful and loud tailgates that included an appearance by the legendary rock group Metallica.
The epic, larger than life rivalries against the Chiefs, Steelers and the known universe.
The return of the seagulls whirling above the stadium’s grey concrete rims in the fourth quarter –- which often seemed to herald the start of a stirring come-from-behind win.
Diversity: On any given Sunday, Raiders fans come from every race and walk of life – lawyers, construction workers, CPAs, bikers and truckers. And, of course, who can forget The Black Hole? This fan base reflects Oakland’s diversity and grit. It never will be replicated.
The thundering strains of the “Autumn Wind” before kickoff – a great song in any genre narrated by the “Voice of God” John Facenda.
The look and smell of a real grass field, the shadows and light that changed along with the season, the bray of air horns throughout the cavernous Coliseum after a victory and camaraderie between the players and fans chanting “Raaiidderrs …. Raaiidderrs!.”
Thanks again, Oakland fans, for the memories. Along with your team, you and the Oakland Coliseum should never be forgotten.