As I sit here, suffering from the Las Vegas Raiders blues, I'm recalling scenes from the days of when just the thought of somebody yanking the collective heartbeat out of Oakland (you know, the Raiders) would have been equivalent to an earthquake ripping the Bay Bridge in half.
So that really happened?
I guess it did.
Not only that, but decades before 31 of the 32 NFL owners voted Monday to allow the Raiders to chase bigger bucks in Las Vegas, well, let's just say we've already seen this horror movie for Oakland. In 1982, the Raiders ended 22 seasons of playing in their original home near San Francisco Bay by heading to Los Angeles. Even so, after 12 years of a mostly nondescript existence in southern California, they returned for Oakland Raiders, Part II.
All I know is that I'm shaking my head these days while thinking about the loss of the Oakland Raiders, Part I, because I covered the latter part of that period for the San Francisco Examiner. I'm thinking about little things, but they were big things, and I'll start with my first Raiders training camp in Santa Rosa, Calif., where reporters did what would be unfathomable now by staying at the same complex as the players, coaches and team bosses. I was startled in the middle of the night in the courtyard by a hairy-faced something with wild hair and only the hint of eyes in that mix. I thought there really was a Wolf Man. Instead, it was Al Davis, and I discovered later the late owner of the Raiders didn't shave back then until around the first exhibition game.
Since the players during Oakland Raiders, Part I, were among the few who couldn't wait to get to training camp, I'm thinking about a bunch of other things I saw during those days when they were the wildest team in sports. I would tell you more, but this is a family-friendly website.
As for what I can say, I'm thinking about that trip to Kansas City with the late Bill King, the legendary Raiders radio announcer who often sat next to me on plane trips. If you've never heard of the guy, you know his voice, because it joins that of John Facenda (nicknamed The Voice of God) in dominating any NFL Films video involving Raiders, Part I, stretching from Daryle Lamonica and Ben Davidson to Ken Stabler and Jack Tatum to Jim Plunkett and Lester Hayes.
"And Stabler had to loop the ball, because he was hit as he started to throw, and it looked as if he might have been lobbing it into the Promised Land for Miami. But, no, [Dolphins defenders] couldn't get there. [Clarence] Davis got there first, and it was the Raiders' Promised land."
"The ball, flipped forward. Loose. A wild scramble, two seconds on the clock. [Dave] Casper grabbing the ball. It is ruled a fumble . . .CASPER HAS RECOVERED IN THE END ZONE! The Oakland Raiders have scored on the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play. John Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it's real. They said yes, get your big butt out of here. He does. There's nothing real in the world anymore. The Raiders have won the football game. The Chargers . . . they don't believe it. Fifty-two thousand people are stunned. This one will be relived FOREVER!
"Here's the rush. Steps up. Can't find anybody open, rolls to his left. Throws. . . and it's caught by [Kenny] King at the 40. He's going to go all the way. Nobody's near him. To the 20 to the 10 to the 5 ... TOUCHDOWN RAIDERS!!!"
Anyway, somewhere over the Rockies, I asked King to give me his favorite Oakland Raiders moments, and they had nicknames, often taken from something he said over the airways during that time. The Holy Roller. Sea of Hands. Ghost to the Post. The Heidi Bowl. I'd continue with King's list, but I'm getting the same goose bumps I got back then when he rattled off those titles to me from the same tongue that once frantically declared at the end of a game during the early 1970s that George Blanda "has just been elected king of the world!" His reference was to the ancient backup rallying the Raiders from a mighty deficit after throwing a touchdown pass and kicking the game-winning field goal.
I'm thinking about other King stories from Oakland Raiders, Part I, but I'm also thinking about that breathtaking view of the East Bay hills from inside of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. That was before Al Davis tried to block out the sun. After he took his franchise to Los Angeles, he only agreed to return to Oakland if local officials made the Coliseum higher by adding 10,000 seats to increase what was one of the NFL's smallest places. This mass of endless concrete became the steepest upper deck in the history of stadiums, which wasn't appealing to even the crazies of the Raider Nation. It destroyed that view forever. It also remained virtually empty during games from its inception. Then came four seasons ago, when the Raiders sort of admitted the whole thing was a flop by covering the area with a tarp.
Nevertheless, the field at the Coliseum now is nearly the same as it was during Oakland Raiders, Part I. Since I'm neither an engineer nor a meteorologist, I'm saying "nearly," because I'm guessing Mount Davis is affecting the surface of the Coliseum these days. Here's what I do know: During Oakland Raiders, Part I, NFL teams on both sides of The Bay operated on unpredictable playing surfaces below sea level. That's when Candlestick Park was still around, and just like the Coliseum, the former home of the San Francisco 49ers featured more than a few uneven, wet and weird spots. By late season, both fields were swamps, causing opponents to worry as much about their footing as the next play. The Raiders and the 49ers knew the locations of those spots, and they used the situation to their advantage. Still, given Davis' love affair with mind games, all of this was more of a secret weapon for Oakland Raiders, Part I.
Which is why I'm thinking about those paranoid coaches who used to believe that Davis bugged even the light bulbs inside of the visiting locker room at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.
Then again, maybe Davis did.
Whatever the case, I'm thinking about the slew of great players I interviewed in both the visiting and home locker rooms of the Coliseum during Oakland Raiders, Part I. I'm also thinking about how I often stood in awe on that soggy field near the end of games hearing 50,000 screamers sound like quadruple that amount and feeling a burst of energy when the Raiders broke the offensive huddle in their black jersey with Pro Football Hall of Fame linemen Art Shell and Gene Upshaw leading the way on the left side.
I'm thinking about Ted Hendricks, Cliff Branch, Ray Guy, Henry "Killer" Lawrence, Fred Biletnikoff, Mark van Eeghen, and I'm thinking about that simple building with the goal posts in the back that was their practice facility on the edge of Alameda, Calif. If you were driving by, you couldn't imagine it was the home of an NFL team with players of lore and fans so loyal inside of a blue collar town that the franchise adopted the grit of the community .
I'm thinking about Oakland Raiders, Part III.
It's out there somewhere.