By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Saturday, October 15th, 2011 at 4:43 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that the Raiders will play at the Coliseum Sunday in the post-Al Davis era.
Curious to see how it will manifest itself in terms of fan reaction. My guess is the crowd will be properly respectful during the moment of silence, and the level of anger and malevolence will be taken down a notch or three in terms of the opponent.
I’d also expect to see a building crescendo of enthusiasm and some long, poignant cheers, with fans building off the energy of each other as well as what is taking place on the field.
This is uncharted territory. The loudest I’ve ever heard to heard the Coliseum is when Tory James intercepted a Jay Fielder pass and was in the process of returning it for a 90-yard touchdown against the Dolphins in the first playoff game in the Coliseum since their departure to Los Angeles.
But that was “just” a playoff game. They happen every year, in every city, and eventually recede from memory. In my previous life as a fan, the most unforgettable moment, coincidentally, was also against the Dolphins. It was the “Sea of Hands” game. My dad’s season tickets were in the second deck of the south end zone, but before the final drive, we walked along the concourse following Oakland on its final drive until Ken Stabler hit Clarence Davis in the end zone.
It was bedlam, completely off the hook in terms of euphoria and enthusiasm.
But like the Tory James play, it was incredible for those that were there, but nothing to mark it as truly unique.
In truth, there has been only one truly unique experience regarding Raiders football that I’ve witnessed.
It happened on Aug. 26, 1989, when the Raiders were (surprise) having issues with their experience with the Los Angeles Coliseum and scheduled a preseason game in Oakland. Tickets sold out almost instantaneously. It was a preseason game that meant nothing, yet it meant everything.
The Houston Oilers beat the Raiders 23-21, but no one seemed to care. The Raiders were back, and it was insanity. Players going through warmups were cheered wildly. I remember Todd Christensen bowing to the crowd after catching a pass in the end zone while going through the pregame paces.
Colleagues Bill Soliday, Carl Steward and I took a long stroll around the jammed parking lot. People had constructed paper mache Raiders. Banners were everywhere. Either Bill or Carl, I can’t remember which, said, “I didn’t know all these people were still around.” The team had been gone for seven years.
One other thing I remember making my way into the stadium was Al Davis, getting out of his black Lincoln limo, and a throng in the parking lot screaming as if he were a rock star. He gave them a fist in salute before making his way in. The memory plays tricks, but I think he was wearing white that day.
Davis had taken the team away because he couldn’t get upgrades that included luxury boxes, battled the NFL in court. Yet the fans, at least the ones in attendance, didn’t seem to care. All was forgiven. I’ll always think the fan reaction that day had a lot to do with him bringing the Raiders back six years later. He realized the passion was still there.
The Raiders have worked hard in the past week to ensure the stands will be full. Season ticket holders had a 24-hour window to get two free tickets, and rest assured, blocks of tickets have been distributed to various groups, including schools, so it will resemble the Coliseum experience of the Raiders glory days as well as the preseason game in 1989.
Raiders CEO Amy Trask is urging fans to get into the stadium early for the moment of silence and National Anthem. From what I understand, there’s a remarkable piece of film to be shown right around that time that is not to be missed.
I’ll be there early and have no idea what to expect, but suspect I’ll remember it forever.