Phil Rosenthal: Raiders could be quite the road rage with traveling NFL circus
With the Not Yet Las Vegas Raiders facing as many as three seasons of lame-duck games in Oakland while building their pricey new desert digs, principal owner Mark Davis is straddling northern California and southern Nevada in a state of denial.
“I wouldn’t use the term ‘lame duck,'” Davis said as if wearing a patch over his right eye like the guy in his NFL team’s logo and adding another to cover his left. “We’re still the Oakland Raiders, and we are the Raiders. We represent the Raider Nation.”
That Raider Nation stuff doesn’t change the crutch-and-quack status of Davis’ team, which is sure to crimp attempts to generate good will with a community the Raiders are poised to abandon for a second time since the 1980s.
A better idea is run away from home and – in the NFL tradition of Red Grange with the Bears back in the 1920s – barnstorm the country.
Become Raiders in the truest sense.
Lay claim to any and all interested cities that lack an NFL team but might be interested in bidding for the chance to take one in for a game.
Exhibitions, regular season and possible postseason “home” games – put them all up of for grabs for anyone and anywhere that puts together a viable proposal.
The Cowboys talk about being America’s Team. A traveling road show could enable the Raiders to wrest that title through colonization.
It might even make more sense than borrowing a fortune to help finance the $1.49 billion palace proposed for Las Vegas, an unproven pro sports market. That’s a serious commitment on a hunch.
One complication already is that the expensive stadium in Las Vegas might not be ready until 2020. To remain in Oakland would require the Raiders to negotiate an extension of the two remaining years on their lease despite whatever bitter feelings there are.
Being the Salt Lake City Raiders one week, the Honolulu Raiders another leaves everything free and easy, nothing but good times.
Fayetteville, Ark.; Norman, Okla.; Sacramento; Portland, Ore.; Birmingham, Ala.; Des Moines; Lincoln, Neb.; San Antonio beckon.
St. Louis has a big empty domed stadium just sitting there. The league always is looking for someone to play internationally.
Dangle the possibility of landing a team permanently, if that helps. Who knows? If the Raiders hit a speed bump or sour on Las Vegas, anything is possible.
Some super-rich dude with the money to cover the requisite financial guarantees may want to impress other rich dudes by putting a game on his estate grounds.
Before anyone gets all haughty about not playing NFL games just anywhere, remember this is a league that began with franchises in Racine, Wis.; Massillon, Ohio; Muncie, Ind.; and Rock Island, Ill.
With the billions of dollars in guaranteed TV money rolling in, its teams should be able to play games wherever they want.
Plus, if NHL games played outdoors in baseball parks and football stadiums make for great television, imagine an NFL game in a public park with temporary stands.
Meanwhile, things in Oakland are likely to get dreary. Knowing Davis expects to take the Raiders away has to undercut enthusiasm in the city that inspired Gertrude Stein’s line, “There is no there there.”
Technically, Stein was referring to her childhood home in Oakland, which had been razed, not the whole city, but the Raiders will leave a void in the city where they’ve played home games 42 of the last 55 seasons.
Forget Stein. How about Robert Frost? He wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
How long can the Raiders count on Oakland for that?
Their fans are famously passionate and many do travel to see their team, but they have every right to feel their loyalty is not reciprocated.
If the ferocity with which they cheer their team gets redirected toward Davis and the Raiders instead, look out.
Admittedly, playing home games on the road is a bold suggestion for Davis. Even if he buys in, other owners and fusty league muckety-mucks may balk. The Raiders can point to how the NFL owes its survival to Grange going on the road.
The Bears’ 1925-26 cross-country tour ventured to such far-flung locales for pro football at the time as Florida, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington. Through 19 games over 66 days, they exposed the NFL game to new fans at a critical juncture.
A road show for America’s Raiders could inject new energy into what otherwise might be mundane games.
NFL teams stay in hotels the night before home games anyway.
So all the Raiders have to do is set up base camp for headquarters and practice, then get an airline sponsor to provide a really nice plane and a lodging chain to set them up with something fantastic.
Think of how civic leaders in Chicago, a city that ought to be secure of its standing in the world at large and its association with the NFL in particular, went gaga over hosting the draft.
Think of how NFL cities got excited when announcer John Madden’s bus used to blow into town rolling for a game in a given week before he retired.
Now picture the reaction in a city where the only connection to the NFL has been through television.
The barnstorming Raiders can go to red states and blue states, redrawing the map in wide swaths of silver and black.
Taking the road less traveled, as Frost once wrote, makes all the difference.
Twitter @phil – rosenthal