OAKLAND, Calif. — Derek Carr knows what outsiders think about the run-down Oakland Coliseum with the infield dirt for early season games, substandard locker rooms, and a lack of all the amenities prevalent in newer and more expensive NFL stadiums.
For Carr and the Raiders, there’s a different word that comes to mind.
“I just laugh, because it’s home to me,” Carr said. “It may not be perfect and to everyone’s standards or anything like that, but it’s home. This is where I was drafted. This is where I have some of my favourite memories. Even when I got hurt, that’s still a moment for me that I’ll never forget, just the love that the fans would show, and driving on the outside of the stadium to find the X-ray machine because there’s no way straight up to the locker room, driving through the fans. Those are things that I’ll never forget.”
The Coliseum might be hosting its final NFL game on Monday night when Oakland (3-11) hosts the Denver Broncos (6-8).
The Raiders are set to move to Las Vegas in 2020, where they will play in a new $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat stadium that will make the Coliseum look like a relic.
The franchise is still looking for a home in 2019. The City of Oakland sued the Raiders over the move earlier this month, leading the team to pull its lease offer to play there next year. The Raiders are talking to the San Francisco Giants about playing in AT&T Park next season, could look to share Levi’s Stadium for a year with the 49ers, or even look outside of the market for a temporary home next year.
Returning to Oakland, where crazily dressed fans have filled the Black Hole for the past 24 seasons, is also a possibility. A decision likely will come sometime before the Super Bowl.
But for now, the players and coaches just want to savour what could be the final game in Oakland.
“I am really sensitive about hearing that,” coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere Monday night, on Christmas Eve, the Denver Broncos coming to town. I get excited thinking about it. Just raging in the Black Hole. Rocking and raging down there after the Steelers game, after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of the great Raiders teams. I get excited and I get emotional about it. Hopefully, we get it all resolved where we can continue to play here.”
The Coliseum hosted its first pro football game in 1966 and is now the last of the multisport stadiums that were so prevalent in the 1970s and ’80s. The Raiders share their home with the Oakland Athletics, leading to the infield dirt that is in the middle of the field each year until baseball season ends.
The stadium has been home to many memorable games: the “Heidi” game in 1968; the Sea of Hands playoff win over Miami in 1974; and the night Brett Favre threw four TD passes in the first half a day after his father died.
The Raiders won AFC championship games at the stadium leading to their first Super Bowl title in the 1976 season and then again in 2002, the last time they won a playoff game.
Gruden said he might show his players a video the night before the game so they can fully appreciate the history.
“It’s a real football stadium,” he said. “It’s dirt, grass. It has tradition. It’s where some of the best games in history of football have been played. It’s where some of the best players in the history of the world played football games at. You’re walking around before the Steeler game and you see Franco Harris and Lester Hayes and you think about some of the battles that they had at that place. Reggie Jackson lighting the torch. There’s a lot of things that happened in that stadium.
“Next question. I don’t want to start crying about a stadium.”
The Broncos are a fitting final opponent, having won more games there than any visiting team as a longtime AFC West rival of the Raiders. Coach Vance Joseph, who spent six seasons as an assistant across the Bay with the San Francisco 49ers, appreciates the lore of the Coliseum.
“When you are all done with this job as a player or a coach, all you have is ancient memories and the awards you won,” he said. “The memories are the most important, so you can tell your kids about playing in that stadium and who played at that stadium before you. For the coaches and players to have a chance to play there, if it’s going to be the last game, it should be an honour.”