Bleeding Silver and Black

Raiders’ fans are now faced with deciding whether to support a team that’s abandoning them.


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Photos by Stephen Texeira

On any given Sunday—or, really, any given day of the week—Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill is an exuberantly over-the-top shrine to the Raiders, a six-room riot of black and silver and framed jerseys and cutout Raiderettes on every wall. Even the dishes are named after famous Raiders.

But on a Monday a few weeks ago, hours after NFL owners voted 31-1 to approve Raiders owner Mark Davis’ request to move the team from Oakland to Las Vegas—the mood was downright funereal. Fans hugged, talked to the scrum of TV reporters gathered for the spectacle, patted each other on the back consolingly. At least one person in full face makeup and head-to-toe team uniform cried indiscreetly over a beer.

More than a month later, some of the initial sadness has worn off. Last-ditch, moonshot efforts to keep the team in Oakland have stalled, or failed, or lost momentum. Architectural renderings have been released, and barring a catastrophe (or a miracle, depending on your view), construction in Las Vegas will break ground soon for an opening in 2020. This is, in other words, really happening. “The rumors have been floating around for so long, but you come to the realization that this actually taking place,” said Wayne Mabry, perhaps better known as “The Violator,” the elaborately facepainted and costumed character he’s been playing in the Black Hole for more than two decades. “They’re actually moving.”

 

And fans now are in the position of choosing between supporting a team that has abandoned them—or abandoning a team they’ve supported for decades, right as it seems to be turning a corner. “Right now, I’m in complete and utter denial,” said season ticketholder and Oakland native “Bleacher Dave” Peters. “I’m significantly disappointed on several levels. To have gone through all those bad teams to finally get to the point where they’re sold out and they’ve finally gotten good, and now they want to abandon us? Oakland is such an integral part of what the team is. It just won’t be the same.”

But Ricky’s will keep broadcasting games, just like it did during the 13 years the team decamped to Los Angeles. The team will likely play in Oakland for at least two more seasons. After that, some season ticketholders plan to fly or drive to Vegas for games; some will relinquish their tickets but continue to watch from home. Some, like Berkeley native and lifelong fan Lamar Morgan, said they would stop wearing Raiders’ merchandise. None said during a recent visit to Ricky’s that they planned to start rooting for a different team.

“Remember, Oakland Raiders has fans all over the world,” said Christopher Rodriguez, who runs the 37,000-member strong RAIDER NATION WORLDWIDE Facebook page from his home in, uh, El Paso, Texas. “Raider Nation isn’t just a fan base but brothers and sisters supporting each other on and off game days. We rep Oakland Raiders 24/7 and when we move to Las Vegas we will rep them 100 percent.”

Here is the funny thing about sports fandom: It is at once deeply felt and completely arbitrary, an accident—of birthplace or family tradition or even which jersey you thought looked coolest as a kid—that becomes an identity. Oakland-based fans may feel jilted by team management, but not by the team itself. At the end of the day, geography might not matter as much as we think. Mabry, for example, was born in Mississippi, lives in the Inland Empire city of Moreno Valley, and for years has been driving the six and a half hours up to Oakland for games; now, he plans to do the same for Vegas.

“Bottom line, I’m not going to stop supporting the team I’ve been supporting for so long just because they’re moving. I’m a Raider fan for life,” said Mabry. “We’re part of a billionaires’ monopoly game. You just have to decide what piece you want to be on the board.”

 

Published online on June 1, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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