Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No Soul In "The Hole"

Well...it happened.  I was neither shocked nor surprised by it. Nevertheless it appears to be close to a done deal...barring any snags, mishaps, or cost overruns.

The Oakland Raiders have been approved to move to Las Vegas.

And the Raiders as we know it are no longer the Raiders.

Hear me out on this. This is not sour grapes or petulant whining about losing a team after getting them back after losing them. This is also not a referendum on what should or should not have occurred with the team of which I've been a fan for the majority of my life. This is actually a commentary of the qualitative state of this team and the National Football League as a whole. A league in which the owners of the other teams approved their move to the desert by a 31-1 margin.

So this vote initiates what projects to be an unprecedented, unfamiliar, and awkwardly unpredictable time for this team and its rabidly loyal fan base, a fan base forged in the furnace of The Town. Oakland is unlike any other city in America (and that includes New York City): a city that is just as blue-collar as Detroit, as ethnically influenced as Atlanta, as unapologetically authentic as Houston, as "grit-and-grind" as Memphis, and can garner respect from South Central L.A. and Compton as being hardcore...which is very difficult to do. 

In short, if you can make it in Oakland, you can make it anywhere. The Oakland Raiders were seamlessly symbolic of that identity. But whenever you subtract "Oakland" from Raiders, it becomes just another team in the sea of NFLness. Despite any future Super Bowl runs, it just becomes a run-of-the-mill franchise...not the glorious Team of the Decades, the Silver and Black, the Autumn Wind, etc.

The move to the L.A. Coliseum is Exhibit A. Yeah, they won a Super Bowl and could have made a run for a second, but they were a shell of themselves because they left their soul 400 miles north. Ice Cube can say that the Raiders will always belong to L.A. all he wants. The fact is what made the Raiders who they were could not be replicated in another location. You cannot buy loyalty, and you most certainly cannot buy a soul.

From the moment that Mark Davis established a running tag line about wanting to stay in Oakland, most of us from Oakland had some reservations about what that meant. Now we all know. Staying in Oakland was only as good as the public money available. And when there was a pot of gold offered by another city waiting to be pilfered, Mark and the other 30 owners save one could not resist the bling and lusted after it like the Pirates of the Caribbean. (No pun intended.)

This whole experience revealed a glaring misunderstanding at the epicenter of Raider Nation. For a massive segment of the lifelong Raider fan contingent, there has been a failure to separate the Oakland Raiders As A Team from the Oakland Raiders As A Business. These two realities are sometimes viewed as synonymous, but in fact are mutually exclusive on their faces: usually sold as a unit, yet ever competing with each other to see which has the upper hand. The fan contingent often finds itself as the only pawn in this game of Silver and Black chess.

If this is the Oakland Raiders As A Business, I guess he's smirking for a new reason now...

A fine example of this was set within this menagerie of a pretend city-versus-city tug-o'-war.  The Oakland Raiders As A Business said that it doesn't really matter where the team plays because Raider Nation is a worldwide brand. The Nation will follow the Oakland Raiders As A Business as it masquerades as the Oakland Raiders As A Team, regardless of where the home games are played. What most multimillion dollar businesses tend to misunderstand is that you can project but never guarantee. Over-promising often leads to under-delivering.

And with Las Vegas not being the major market that Oakland is and is increasingly becoming, all that glitters is not gold. This could be the one time that the NFL is putting big bucks before basic economics. And any dominologist will tell you that all money ain't good money. This could potentially blow up in the Raiders' and NFL's faces like a defective science kit.  Let me show you how...

Oakland natives have ways of exposing fakeness, especially when they feel that they have been played like a sit-down Pac-Man game in Target. When they support you, they are all in; but when you do wrong by them, they make you feel their pain. And Raider Nation has some options to drive home the point home that the Oakland Raiders As A Business made a huge miscalculation. The Nation could conceivably cancel their personal seat licenses out of spite. Or they could just not show up to the games that the Oakland Raiders As A Business will play in the Oakland Coliseum for the next 2 years...which will not be a good look market-wise. Or they could just wait around for when the Oakland Raiders As A Business cannot sell out their PSLs in Vegas, or has waves of empty seats on national broadcasts, or bumps heads with UNLV, and then silently gloat at their misfortunes as if to say, "Mmm hmm..." 

Or they can just use this experience as leverage to create a reasonable facsimile of the Oakland Raiders As A Team, using another disgruntled NFL franchise as a stunt double. Or they can just continue to be Oakland: forever misunderstood yet finding a way to overcome loss and maintain its soulful integrity as a city. And there are still other options.

Any way you slice it, Oakland has every opportunity to come out ahead (financially and otherwise) and the Raiders/NFL alliance has every potential to come from ahead to lose big on the largest craps table in Lost Wages. Kudos to Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland, who refused to repeat history and chose to stand her ground against the Oakland Raiders As A Business...hoping to summon the derelict soul of the Oakland Raiders As A Team, albeit unsuccessfully. I guess the "Black Hole" into which the soulful essence of the Raiders has fallen is a bottomless one, and no amount of financial largesse is able to flood the chasm enough to allow that soul to see the light of day again.

One might argue that Al Davis at least had some modicum of principle when he moved the team south. But he was an owner, and owners have needs. Loyalty to a fan base will not trump their needs.  The truth is if the fans do not have financial equity in the team and a seat at the table - say like the Green Bay Packers - no team is safe. And every NFL owner is only as beholden to the public trust as the depth of the fans' pockets to keep them skinnin' and grinnin'.

With Mark being comparatively as broke as the other NFL owners and probably as financially strapped as Oakland, he is going for the fast money and now probably feels like he picked the right suitcase on Deal or No Deal. Only that he failed to remember where he came from, which is always an unwise judgmental error in a city like Oakland. 

Whenever he proposes to leave behind the team's half-century roots, halt the team's legacy in their city of birth, forfeit the team's identity, and pretends to believe that he can have what he and his father had in Oakland, sleeping on a bed of money may only bring a body full of paper cuts in the morning. And to expect that the soul of the team will happen to awake out of its wanderlust and find itself on Russell Road is akin to asking for God Almighty to intervene. But God don't like ugly. And when it comes to the Oakland Raiders As A Business, neither does the city of Oakland. Not this time.

No more selling of the city's soul to a team that builds monuments to itself (read: Mount Davis) and departs to build another monument on the backs of a soulless city with free money to dispense and a bloody finger with which to willingly sign its life away...all because the NFL told them that they got their back. Heard it all before.

Maybe Mark should've spent more time doing some soul-checking. Maybe in doing so he would've been reminded or learned this very important phrase native to northern California: "Game recognize game in the Bay, main..."

And you certainly can't afford to run game on the one soul you have. Because once it gets lost in a Black Hole, it ain't coming back.

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