I must have been in an elongated state of denial because until I actually entered the “Death Star” aka Allegiant Stadium Monday, I still wasn’t convinced I was going to see an NFL game in Las Vegas.
But as I turned onto Hacienda Avenue and saw hundreds of fans partying outside and entered the 65,000-seat silver and black edifice that cost a shade over $2 billion to construct, I realized this was real. Las Vegas did indeed have an NFL team of its own and the fact that it’s the Raiders, not the Chargers or the Rams or the Jaguars is so, well, Vegas.
UNLV may be on the verge of dropping its Rebels nickname, but the rebel that burns in every part of the Raiders franchise is permanent. It ain’t going anywhere.
And in one of life’s rich, yet subtle ironies, to help christen an NFL stadium in Las Vegas, a team from another city known for wanton debauchery — New Orleans —was the opposition.
You can’t make this stuff up. Then again, it is 2020.
And in a hotly contested affair which saw the Raiders climb out of a 10-0 hole then hold off the Saints late to prevail 34-24, they christened their new home the right way. Too bad Al Davis didn’t live to see it. Ditto for David Humm, Bob Blum and Mike O’Callaghan.
Davis, you know. For decades, he was the Raiders. And his spirit lives on in the gigantic torch that resides in the end zone that gets lit before every home game.
“It feels good, a good win on Monday night, but just like I told the guys after the game, ‘the job’s not done.'”@derekcarrqb wants his actions to speak louder than his words and on MNF he played like it » https://t.co/dJUVpsyB5L pic.twitter.com/WWc6tYcmYv
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 22, 2020
Humm you probably remember from his days as a backup QB with the Silver and Black. He batted Multiple Sclerosis after his playing days and fought the good fight before finally succumbing in 2018. He was a local football hero, having starred at Bishop Gorman High School before going on to play at Nebraska, then for the Raiders. He was a favorite of Al Davis even though he was a backup.
Blum and O’Callaghan? If you’re a longtime resident of Southern Nevada, their names ring a bell. Blum was the team’s first radio announcer, going back to the old AFL days at Frank Youell Field. For years, he broadcast UNLV sports as well as minor league baseball. He was close with Davis and though he died in 2012, I know he was looking down from football heaven through the translucent roof.
Same for O’Callaghan, the former Governor of Nevada and chairman of the Las Vegas Sun when I worked there from 1988 to 1999. He bled silver and black and would travel to Raiders home games, be they in Oakland or Los Angeles where he would often accompany Davis on his ritual pregame walk on the field. Only a privileged few got to experience that.
O’Callahan didn’t live to see this day either, having died in 2004. I could have imagined him walking the field Monday, taking it all in.
But while it’s easy to reminisce, it’s more critical to think about the future.
What did Monday mean for this city?
It is arguably one of the most important events to have taken place in the history of Las Vegas, sporting or otherwise.
You can build opulent casinos and hotels. You can bring in world-renowned entertainers to perform. You can even have a successful hockey team. But when your city enters the NFL world, you get a certain legitimacy that nothing else can match.
Yes, Las Vegas was legit long before Roger Goodell, who happened to be in attendance Monday night, gave his blessing to Mark Davis to pick up and leave Oakland. But for the roughly 2.6 million residents who call Southern Nevada home, having the Raiders here gives them an identity that goes beyond the Strip.
It means going to a grocery store and buying a Raiders hat or a lanyard. It’s going to the team store and walking out with a Derek Carr or Josh Jacobs jersey. It’s making the Raiders game the main game on the big screen with the sound on in the sportsbook.
It’s giving kids who don’t know about football a team they can call their own, just the way the Golden Knights made hockey cool three years ago and kids can tell you all about Mark Stone and Robin Lehner.
And let’s give an assist to the Knights. If Bill Foley and his partners don’t pony up half a billion dollars, if the NHL doesn’t give the green light to Las Vegas having an expansion team and if sports betting wasn’t warmly embraced by the hockey universe and make it socially and politically acceptable, there is no NFL. There are no Raiders.
It was still weird being inside a Las Vegas football stadium Monday night. But now, the real weirdness was not seeing 65,000 people with me, yelling their heads off. Several hundred still made the pilgrimage to their new place of worship, partied outside, expressing their love for the Silver and Black.
Hopefully a year from now they’ll be inside and the scrimmage-like atmosphere will be replaced by screaming maniacs. But for now, having their own NFL team will more than suffice.
Welcome to the big time, Vegas. Somehow, and against all odds, you made it.