The scene was no different from what one can expect at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on a typical fall Sunday morning.
The parking lot was bustling several hours before the Raiders were to play their sixth game of the season at the Coliseum, with the sounds of hip hop, pop and Mariachi music abounding as the smell of grilled meat filled the air.
While the atmosphere was live and festive, there was a hint of doom – and not because of the multitude of skulls, pirates and people dressed in black. These parties could have to find a new location sooner rather than later.
When the Raiders play the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos on Monday night, it could be the team’s final contest at their home for 40 of their 59 seasons.
One thing is clear: Many people who make up the Raider Nation aren’t happy to see them go.
It was 9 a.m. on Dec. 9, more than four hours before the Raiders would host the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team some fans of the silver and black have hated since the 1970s due to some epic AFC playoff games, including one that featured the “Immaculate Reception.”
In lot A, Anthony “Big Ant” Silva was grilling five tri-tips in between a row of tailgaters who set up camp underneath numerous pop-up tents with Raiders logos while flags danced in the light breeze. The Tracy resident said he’d been a fan all his life and had not missed a game since they’ve been in Oakland.
“I used to go to games with my uncle, and I’ve carried on the tradition with my family,” Silva said.
He’s not upset at the team for finding a new home and feels the city should have done more to keep the Raiders. Still, he doesn’t want to see them leave.
Silva pointed around the parking lot and commented on how many people were on hand to watch a team that was tied for the NFL’s worst record at 2-10 entering the contest.
“We’re diehard,” he said. “They can be 0-15. We’ll still be here, having a good time.”
Silva plans to attend some games in Las Vegas because he loves this team. “They can go to Egypt and I’ll be a Raider fan.”
On the other side of the stadium in lot B, Pat Rebello and her family sat outside their custom black RV sipping drinks and watching the early games on TV. The San Leandro resident said she’s been a season ticket holder since 1960, but that will not continue.
“I do not like it,” Rebello said of the upcoming move. “They did it to me one time, when they went to L.A., and now they’re doing it twice.”
She displayed a black T-shirt with silver letters that read, “Never will I say Las Vegas,” and refuses to purchase more Raiders memorabilia.
“I will not give Mark Davis any more money,” Rebello said of the Raiders owner. “I will root for them, but I will not buy another thing.”
Her son agreed. Alan Rebello said he will continue to support the Raiders but not buy anything that says Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas wasn’t built on winners,” he said, adding it’s a place for gambling.
He would have supported a move to Sacramento – but that hasn’t been seriously discussed since the early ’90s, before they left Los Angeles and returned to Oakland for the 1995-96 season.
What about 2019?
The Raiders’ last game this season is at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs, another AFC West rival.
Where will they play after that?
What’s known is the Raiders will change their city’s name for the fourth time in franchise history. That won’t happen until 2020, when their 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion stadium is ready to open.
What’s unknown is where they’ll play next season. A number of cities have been rumored as a temporary home, including San Diego, San Antonio and Santa Clara, where the 49ers have called home since 2014. The Raiders also have shown “initial interest” in playing at AT&T Park, according to a statement issued by the Giants on Friday. Quarterback Derek Carr even suggested the Raiders play at Fresno State, where he played in college.
Staying in Oakland isn’t out of the question but seems unlikely after the city sued the team and the NFL on Dec. 11. The lawsuit, announced by Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, will not try to keep the team in the city but does seek the maximum amount in damages.
“The defendants brazenly violated federal antitrust law and the league’s own policies when they boycotted Oakland as a host city,” Parker wrote in a news release. “The Raiders’ illegal move lines the pockets of NFL owners and sticks Oakland, its residents, taxpayers and dedicated fans with the bill. The purpose of this lawsuit is to hold the defendants accountable and help to compensate Oakland for the damages the defendants’ unlawful actions have caused and will cause to the people of Oakland.”
Despite the lawsuit, Davis told ESPN last month he wants to remain in the city for one more season.
“I personally want to play in Oakland,” he said. “I absolutely want to play in Oakland. We have a completed lease sitting with the city council, that all they have to do is agree to it and we’re here next year.”
An online betting site has Oakland as the favorite. MyBookie.com gives odds of +150 to stay in town. San Diego (+200), Santa Clara (+350) and San Antonio (+450) are next on the list of nine locations.
Sacramento fans speak out
The upcoming move doesn’t just affect fans in the Bay Area. Several people in the Sacramento area are bracing for life without the Raiders being 90 miles west.
The Sacramento Raider Rooters set up shop in lot B. The group, established in 1968 and then reinstated when the team returned to Oakland, arrives in three buses for games.
Members of the group had mixed feelings about the team leaving.
Derek Bellamy says he’s been a Raider fan “since I came out the womb” but likened the move to a doomed relationship.
“It’s like knowing your spouse is going to leave you in a few years,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s a wishy-washy feeling.”
He says he’ll remain committed to the team and plans to attend some games in Las Vegas.
“I’m interested to see what the new stadium is like,” Bellamy said. “I just hope they do something for the Raider fans in Oakland, a special incentive for the fans here who’ve remained dedicated and loyal throughout the years.”
Doug Lindholm wasn’t as upbeat about the move.
“It’s terrible, it’s disastrous. I don’t know what the league is thinking,” he said. “When they play in Vegas, it’s going to be a neutral site. It’s going to be other teams’ fans being like, ‘Hey, we’re going to Vegas! Yahoo!’ It’s not going to be like here, with the infamous Black Hole, where they yell and scream and do things that they probably shouldn’t be doing.”
He’s been a fan since 1970 and credits George Blanda’s play as a big reason why. The Hall of Fame quarterback and kicker played the final nine of his 26 seasons with the Raiders.
“We had just moved to the Sacramento area and this old man kept winning games,” Lindholm said. “These deacons at our church were in the parking lot listening to the radio and they’re like, ‘Hey, listen to this.’
“It was hard to watch games on TV because they were blacked out, but when we did everyone got so excited when this old man would run out on the field. I was hooked!”
Despite his love for the team, it’s unlikely he’ll go to Nevada for a game.
“I’m probably never going to go to Vegas. I’ve never been to Vegas in my life,” he said. “Why would I go someplace to just lose or spend money? Doesn’t sound like fun to me.”
Lindholm’s nephew wasn’t in attendance, but he’s also part of the Raider Rooters. Mike Lindholm, who is well known on Facebook and among fans as “Raidermike,” truly wears his loyalty – not on his sleeve, but on his back.
The 41-year-old has a tattoo of the Raiders shield that covers the top half of his back. Included on his skin are logos from the team’s three Super Bowl victories, variations of the team’s logo over the years – and a few phrases not fit for this publication.
His uncle turned him on to the Raiders in the early 1980s.
“He always had the games on and they were the only team that looked the same in color and on the little black-and-white TV we had,” Mike Lindholm said.
He will remain a fan and has been collecting any Oakland gear he can find through online auction sites.
“I will never buy any Raiders gear that has Vegas on it and give Mark Davis any of my money,” he said. “His legacy has been making his dad turn in the grave, and it’s so disrespectful toward the fans.”
He also won’t travel to the team’s new home because, “How can you have a fun tailgate and party in 110-degree weather?”
The Lindholms might not be interested, but the group has already arranged plans to send members to Las Vegas Stadium.
Sacramento Raider Rooters president Ed Atkins says since the group was reborn, it has arranged trips to other cities over the years, including New Orleans, Seattle and even London. Members can enter free drawings for a chance at tickets.
How do the Raiders feel?
It’s not just the fans who have to deal with a new location. Raiders players and coaches are also greatly affected.
Coach Jon Gruden said Dec. 17 he would like to play at the Coliseum next season and spoke about why the location means so much to him.
“It’s a real football stadium,” he said. “It’s dirt, grass. It has tradition. It’s where some of the best games in the history of football have been played. It’s where some of the best players in the history of the world played football games at. You’re walking around before the Steeler game and you see Franco Harris and Lester Hayes and you think about some of the battles that they had at that place. Reggie Jackson lighting the torch. There’s a lot of things that happened in that stadium.
“Next question. I don’t want to start crying about a stadium,” he added with a laugh.
Carr, who has played his entire career with the Raiders, was asked during a Dec. 12 news conference about Monday’s game possibly being the last one there.
“That is crazy, and to me that seems weird,” he said. “It just seems different to even have to think that way because I’ve spent five years playing in this stadium. We’ve had people talking trash about it or whatever they want, but I love it. It’s ours. It’s been fun, and the fact that it could be the last is crazy, but when that time comes, we will enjoy it.”
No matter where the team ends up playing, Kolton Miller doesn’t think the support will change.
“Everywhere we go, we see a lot of Raiders fans,” the rookie left tackle from Roseville High School said after Oakland’s 24-21 victory over the Steelers. “It’s called Raider Nation for a reason.”
Saying goodbye to Oakland
The parking lot was already packed and live with supporters in each of the eight lots surrounding the two sports venues; the Coliseum sits a stone’s throw from Oracle Arena, where the Golden State Warriors play – for now. The two-time defending NBA champions are also leaving for the new Chase Center in San Francisco, not far from the Giants home, AT&T Park.
When the Raiders leave, one fan said she’s considering following them. Angela Grasty-Brown was tailgating in lot A. She had with her a large photo of her late father, Azel Grasty Sr., better known to Raider fans as “Oaktown Pirate.” He died in 2014.
Wearing different-colored contact lenses like her father did with his game-day attire, she said the Las Vegas stadium will have a photo of him.
“Repping already,” she said.
Over in lot D, Martin Garcia Jr. and his friend, John Stalin, were barbecuing ribs and enjoying the crowd, even with there being a high number of Steelers fans.
The Sacramento-area residents say they’ll continue to be fans but will miss Oakland.
“This camaraderie will not be in Las Vegas,” Garcia, 39, said in reference to all the tailgating and partying. “It’s disappointing that I can’t pass this on to my son.”
Garcia, who has been a fan since the Raiders had Bo Jackson on the roster, plans to see at least one game in Las Vegas each season.
Stalin, 31, is another who won’t buy anything that says Las Vegas, but he’ll remain true to his Raiders fandom.
“One-hundred percent, this is what we do,” he said. “We are the Raiders. It’s all about loyalty.”