Derek Carr knew what was coming, and he was OK with it. He walked toward the Black Hole—the most famous fans among an infamous fan base—and it came: one last booing. It was loud. It was strange. The Raiders had just played their final game in Oakland and lost to Gardner Minshew II. Carr walked closer to the fans, cut through the boos, and embraced some fans in the crowd—he said afterward he liked seeing the familiar faces he’d come to know during his six years in Oakland. “What’s new?” he said of the boos, smiling.
They were booing Carr, sure. The Raiders’ season has been a disappointment, and losing to a Jaguars team that looks on its way to getting people fired is not a great home finale. But mostly, I think they were just booing. Booing everything. A team that is leaving them. A league that has facilitated the relocation of three franchises in four years. One playoff appearance in 17 years and no wins. A quarterback who, if he leads the Raiders to greatness, will do so in front of a different group of fans. Probably some government officials. They were booing everything.
It was, in hindsight, respectful of several fans in the Black Hole to let the players leave the field before jumping onto it and being apprehended by police officers. One by one, they’d jump on the field, take two steps, get handcuffed and walk off. One fan, as he walked past me, told the officer escorting him off the field that he just wanted to hop the railing once. The officer laughed and said he understood. Let me repeat: It was all strange.
The NFL is done in Oakland now. I went to the game because I wanted to see what that end looked like. The Jaguars beat the Raiders 20-16. A last-second Hail Mary bounced off a Raiders wide receiver’s helmet. The team will move to Las Vegas next year and play in a much different stadium, with fewer boos and less character. I want to be clear here: The Raiders’ home venue in Oakland is deeply crappy. It has all the hallmarks of an outdated, multipurpose stadium. Nothing is convenient. Some staircases lead to nowhere. The angles of the stands are off, which means the sight lines are bad. The franchise needed a new stadium; next year, it will move into a noncrappy one. You know the type. Lots of glass, the kinds that host Super Bowls and have field-level suites whose occupants will miss the third quarter because they are prepaid for food and drinks and are going to take advantage of it. Those nice stadiums are all alike. Bad stadiums are different in their own little way.
There is something charming about crappy football stadiums, and the Raiders may have had the last one. There are good reasons this is the case: new stadiums mean significantly more revenue, more convenience, and better technology. In Oakland’s case, the plumbing doesn’t always work. There are dugouts next to the field. The inner tunnels are confusing messes because the stadium is built for baseball. The Raiders will get nice plumbing next season and, in the process, will replace a lot of their fans. The team’s exit was rarely discussed in the weeks and days before Sunday’s game, even in the Bay Area. There was, despite how few highlights there’d been during this three-decade-stint in Oakland, a nice nod to Raiders nostalgia: Charles Woodson spoke at halftime. Hall of Famer Jim Otto read from The Autumn Wind. But it did not feel like a grand celebration of anything, really.
“The last game in Oakland should matter much more than it does, but there we are,” Ray Ratto wrote this week. “Part of the problem is the Raiders themselves. If you stand in the doorway threatening to leave the party for hours, eventually everyone else will agree that you should leave. Now multiply that by years, and you’ll see why there is so little note being taken of this goodbye.”
There are a few reasons why very few people spent much time talking about the last game in Oakland. The first is that the team was supposed to move to a temporary spot this year, only to backtrack and return to Oakland when a viable alternative couldn’t be found. Then there’s the fact that the Raiders are seen as having a national fan base, and it’s assumed that a lot of fans will keep supporting them in Vegas. Many fans in the parking lot before Sunday’s game were from out of state, and they’ll presumably keep traveling to watch the Raiders in Nevada. If anything, people inside the league have told me, a lot of the team’s Southern California fan base, those who supported the team when it was in Los Angeles, will be closer once it’s in Las Vegas. But these things paint over the fact that for tens of thousands of Raiders ticket holders, the journey is over. So, a handful of them threw nachos and bottles. And nearly all of them booed.
The Raiders fan base is unique; it won’t become normal after the move, but it won’t match what it had in Oakland, because this was different than anything in the NFL. I walked through the parking to take in the atmosphere of the last-ever game. There are probably fewer than 10 parking lots in the NFL that have college-type atmospheres, where you feel like you’re at a huge event. This, again, is partly due to newer stadiums and overly regulated tailgating situations. The Raiders are the kind of fan base for which having a 3-foot-tall statue of Jon Gruden wearing a Corona visor is fairly common.
Football is missing something on Monday that it had on Sunday—what, exactly, that is will be determined by how organically Raider Nation moves to Vegas. Oakland fans got caught up in one of the strangest sagas in the history of the league: the push to bring an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles. It ended with the Rams and Chargers going into a brand-new stadium that cost a few billion dollars. The Raiders, the third team in this game of musical chairs, is off to Las Vegas. They would have been massively popular in Los Angeles and will have a nice deal in Las Vegas, but I went to Oakland and saw a lot of people who love them there, or depended on them.
The nice man who has checked my #Raiders credential for years tells me, "I've lost two jobs in a year -- this and the Warriors. Today affects more than just the fan base . . .— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) December 15, 2019
Oakland fans didn’t do anything. They were just in the wrong state—one where public financing for new stadiums is almost impossible to come by—at the wrong time. In the modern NFL, the wrong time is anytime after you’ve been in your stadium for about 10 years and need an upgrade.
When I got into an elevator, someone asked the operator whether he was moving to Las Vegas with the team. He shot back, “I hear they’ve got really nice elevators there,” before laughing and clarifying he wasn’t. The elevator was near the plaza between the stadium and Oracle Arena, which the Warriors left this year for a new arena in San Francisco.
Carr was asked whether he had a message for fans. He said that they probably didn’t want to hear anything from him or the team. He’s likely right. They just wanted to boo. Boo everything. Let them. They’ve earned it.