"Is this it? You guys don't look that tough to me."
Those were the words I uttered about four feet away from the vaunted Black Hole, the most well-known of all Raiders fans, the one and only time I played in Oakland back in 2004 as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Immediately, grown men with spikes in their shoulder pads and all kinds of other costumes started screaming at me, trying in vain to grab at me, coming up with unique phrases that rhyme with my last name.
It was awesome.
Like a lot of players, I had grown up watching the Raiders and the infamous Black Hole on television, and knowing that it might be my only opportunity to ever play there, I wanted to try to take advantage of it and get them riled up a little bit. The NFL is a very short time in most players' lives and I wanted to get the full Black Hole experience while I could -- and boy did I ever.
It wasn't just the fans in the Black Hole. The Oakland Coliseum (now called O.co Coliseum) had by far the worst visiting locker room I had ever experienced on a bunch of different levels, including how overcrowded it was. It was the weird sludge dripping down from the ceilings. It was the random wires that seemed to be hanging down from everywhere as you took the field. It was what you got when you played the Oakland Raiders, and even if the numbers didn't exactly bear it out during the lean decade and a half they suffered through before last year's resurgence, there was no question that the Raiders had a home field advantage, perhaps one of the better ones in the league.
At least not in 2019 (or 2020), that is, when the Raiders move to Las Vegas after the NFL owners approved of the relocation on Monday at their yearly meetings by a vote of 31-1 (the Dolphins had the only dissenting vote).
Is it possible that the Raiders just went from having one of the best home field advantages in the league to the worst?
Las Vegas is a city made up of tourists and transplants who moved out there for the job opportunities and a better life. Some move out there to retire. While some of them may be Raiders fans, there are just as many fans of the Giants, Jets, Steelers, etc. as well. They're not in Oakland, or even Los Angeles, for that matter. Will they have any home field advantage?
"Raider nation will travel, man," Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown, who played for the franchise in both Los Angeles and Oakland, told NFL Network, adding, "thousands of people traveled to Oakland from Los Angeles and, OK, instead of going to Oakland you're going to go to Vegas. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
While I agree the Raiders have a fervent fan base and that many Raiders fans from L.A., Oakland, and around the globe will make the trek to Las Vegas, will that be enough to offset a home market made up of people who are already fans of other NFL teams? What kind of season ticket base will the franchise have versus fans that just plan to come to a game or two each year because of the travel involved?
And speaking of coming to a game or two, the Raiders game immediately becomes the most appealing away game for the fans of the other 31 teams to travel to every season, meaning a good chunk of the stadium when the Raiders play at home will be Packers fans or Chiefs fans or whomever the Silver and Black are playing that day. It wasn't like that in Oakland. It will be in Vegas.
None of these are reasons for owner Mark Davis and the Raiders not to take the sweetheart of a deal being offered by the powers that be in Las Vegas, but they are absolutely things to consider from a competitive standpoint, once the Raiders move into their new digs in Sin City.
I certainly hope I'm wrong, but it feels like there is a chance the Raiders will have the worst home field advantage in the NFL.
No matter what, it will never again be like it was for my one adventure face to face with the Black Hole back in 2004.