The NFL’s public hearing in downtown Oakland on Thursday night was, for the most part, a sad spectacle.
Disgruntled fan after disgruntled fan took to the microphone to implore the Raiders and the NFL and local government to find a solution that will keep the team in the Bay Area. Their pleas were heartfelt and incredibly personal.
One man announced that he’d been a Raiders fans “since I was that big,” holding his hand at waist level, “since they were playing at Laney College and Yuell Field.” Another said he was hooked after his father gave him a present: Tickets to the Raiders’ first AFL game in 1960. A guy named Robert Strong said he’s loved the team since fearsome safety Jack Tatum helped him find his grandfather; he had gotten lost after a game.
A younger man reported that he had left work early that day and driven straight to the hearing from Fresno. He had left his wife at home. “She’s nine months pregnant with our child – who, by the way, we named Davis,” he said to Raiders owner Mark Davis.
Two different speakers, both men, had their voices crack with emotion while addressing the NFL representatives.
If the fate of the Raiders were based upon the passion of Oakland fans, their relocation wouldn’t even be up for discussion. They’d be East Bay forever. Of course, the fans’ emotional ties have nothing to do with this. The City of Oakland wants the Raiders to stay, but doesn’t have the money to finance a new stadium. Davis would prefer to keep the team here, but doesn’t have the money to finance a new stadium. Nor can he live with the old one, which (along with San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium) is the most decrepit in the NFL.
In effect, there was nothing to be served by Thursday’s hearing, or the earlier ones in St. Louis and San Diego, except: (1) to give the NFL the ability to say “hey, we listened; we really listened,” (2) to offer the league a way of distancing itself from team ownership should one of them disappoint its fan base by moving, and (3) to put pressure on local government to pony up money or be left to face an irate fan base.
That said, one person on the receiving end of the speeches deserves credit: Mark Davis.
Stan Kroenke didn’t show up to the St. Louis hearing on Tuesday. The Spanos family avoided the San Diego hearing on Wednesday. And Davis was in no way expected to attend Thursday night. But he did, leading to some uncomfortable moments – such as when a heckler shouted over him, “You don’t have any money, Mark!”
Davis spoke briefly before the event (he received a standing ovation), and he picked up the microphone to answer one man’s question midstream. Most impressive, he stuck around afterward to further engage with fans. Davis has previously demonstrated his willingness to wade into a crowd, and he did it again Thursday. Good on him.
It took me a while to get close enough to the team owner to record what he was saying during the postscript. Here’s what I was able to catch. The last three questions are mine.
Mr. Davis, we’d like to invite you to the Black Hole this Sunday.
Davis: “I’ll come by before the game, but I won’t be in the Hole. I’ll be out there on the field part.”
Woman suggests putting together a citizens committee to join Raiders’ talks with city and county.
Davis: “Like I’ve said, we’ve done a lot of talking. A lot of talking.”
But it’s not over.
Davis: “It’s not over. No, it’s not over! I’ve been honest all along. We want to stay here. Everything that we’ve done is parallel. And Oakland is not competing with any other city. They’re competing with themselves. That’s the point. That is the point.”
Guy offers: L.A. sucks, bro.
Davis: “I don’t think that’s fair to say. We were there for 12 years and we had a great 12 years there. And I’ll tell you what: Part of the Raider Nation down there is pretty damn good people. So I wouldn’t be talking that way.”
But the foundation is here.
Davis: “Oh, there’s nothing like there is here. I agree with that. So let’s get something done then. Listen, I’m part of you guys. I want you to know that.”
Davis: I was really surprised to see you show up tonight.
“Greatest fans in America, man. That’s what it is. And the passion.”
Press Democrat: Was this helpful at all? Did you learn anything tonight?
“No, I’ve already known all of this. I’ve got the same passion these guys got. Like I say, we need help. And that’s what it’s gonna take. If the people don’t want to help, if there’s a line drawn in the sand that we’re not gonna contribute or anything like that, I don’t know what we can do. It just doesn’t happen on it’s own. But if partnership gets together between the city and the team and the community, then something can happen good. And the Raiders will be here the rest of my life. And that’s all I can say.”
Press Democrat: Do you feel any closer to that happening than you did, say, a year ago?
“No. Not right now.”
Press Democrat: Is that frustrating?
“It’s frustrating for all of us. But we’re gonna get something done. We’re gonna get it done. We’ll figure it out.”
Yes. And when they do, Oakland might be the loser. Again.