Two teams that had polarizing seasons last year meet tonight in Oakland when the Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams won the National Football Conference last season to advance to their first Super Bowl since the 2001 season, although both trips to those Super Bowls resulted in the Rams losing to Tom Brady and his New England Patriots.
The Raiders, who opened Jon Gruden’s second stint as Oakland’s head coach last September in a Monday Night Football primetime telecast against the Rams, got blown out in that game by 20 points, 33-13. That result foreshadowed what was to come for both teams.
The 2018 loss by the Raiders was the start of a season that left hopeful Oakland fans with little more than weekly disappointments. The win by the Rams was the start of a glorious season that garnered everything their fans wished for minus that last loss to nemesis New England.
So, enough with the history lesson, what happens now?
Well, it is preseason, so we know the scores don’t count in regards to season long prospects. Preseason is reserved for the best teams to round themselves into shape for the contests that do matter beginning next month, and the lesser teams to give their starved fans something to cheer about.
There is always a little more motivation for bad teams in August.
Weak teams can battle uniforms that will be filled by more talented players next month, and gain some measure of satisfaction for beating those opponents even in games that don’t matter. Bad teams are also looking to excite a fan base in August in hopes of inspiring season ticket sales, something the best teams are most often not needing.
Oakland fans are like an abused wife. They welcome back their tormentor with open arms even after being abandoned. No team in football had a stronger fan base in the 1970’s than the Raiders. When I worked for the team in those years under Al Davis we had sellouts with season ticket sales and 21,800 people on the waiting list to buy season tickets.
Then, after the 1981 season, the Raiders walked out and moved their operation to Los Angeles. Davis figured he would be met with the same level of enthusiasm in Southern California that he had built in Northern California. He saw himself hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities as the toast of the town.
The once anointed kings of Monday Night Football were soon banished from hosting the prime time game because ABC and the league were not interested in highlighting empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The action in the stands in Los Angeles was more violent than the play on the field. After 13 seasons in Los Angeles, like a husband that abandoned a loyal wife for a younger secretary, the Raiders lost interest in LA and invited themselves back into the house they had abandoned.
In one of the dumber and more arrogant decisions made by the team in this transition, the two Al’s, Davis and his executive assistant, Al LoCasale, decided to sell season tickets back in Oakland with a usery seat license fee and a plan to give the fans that purchased tickets early not the best locations in the stadium.
At the time, LoCasale boasted to me, “Then we will have the best seats to sell last to make sure that we sell out.”
The plan was not only bad faith and another example of mistreating their best fans, it failed. The Raiders didn’t sell out the stadium and so when they opened the 1995 season against the San Diego Chargers, fans that had shelled out ridiculous sums of money for seat licences while thinking they would be delivered the best seats available, were located in line with the ten-yard-line. Fans that showed up on game day went to uncrowded ticket lines and were able to purchase seats located on the 50-yard line for only the price of the ticket.
The Raiders never recaptured the magic of the 70’s during their most recent stay in Oakland, and now are looking for a new life beginning next season in, get this, Las Vegas. In my minds eye I picture an 80-year-old billionaire that is leaving his betrayed wife again for Sin City in anticipation of shacking up with a young body.
I’ll give this relationship little chance to succeed long term.
But, despite my distaste for how the Raiders have operated in recent decades, I am a mercenary when it comes to making money from their results. The preseason is a perfect time for Gruden to lead his team to wins, whether that will translate to victories in Oakland, with team management seemingly more geared to what is expected in future years in Las Vegas, is highly questionable.
First things first.
Qoxhi Picks: Oakland Raiders (-4½) over Los Angeles Rams