OAKLAND, Calif. — From the costume-clad crazies in the Black Hole who turn football Sundays into Halloween, the infield dirt that serves as an obstacle early in the season to the crumbling infrastructure, the Oakland Coliseum has provided a unique setting.
A relic from the era of multipurpose stadiums, the Coliseum is the only venue remaining that hosts the NFL and baseball. That era may be coming to an end as the Raiders could be playing their final game ever in Oakland on Thursday night against San Diego.
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“We’re human so it’s hard not to think about it,” Raiders fullback Marcel Reece said. “One thing I’ll tell those guys when I talk to them is if it’s the last game here in Oakland, make it the best.”
With prospects for a new stadium in Oakland remaining bleak, the Raiders are one of three teams along with the St. Louis Rams and Chargers expected to apply next month for the right to relocate to the Los Angeles area.
Raiders owner Mark Davis and Chargers owner Dean Spanos are seeking to partner on building a stadium in Carson, which could lead to an unusual partnership between teams that have been fierce rivals for more than a half-century.
“It could be an odd marriage,” Reece said. “There’s mutual respect but never any love. Business is business. For us as players that’s way above our pay grade. No matter what, when we see each other on the field, you’ll hear a whole lot of helmets cracking and there will be a lot of fire.”
The Rams are looking to build their stadium in Inglewood and are willing to take on a partner if needed.
The three teams are expected to apply to relocate in early January with a possible vote to be held on which teams will be allowed to move during meetings in Houston on Jan. 12-13.
“I don’t know what the plans are. That’s not my area,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I let Mr. Davis, handle that stuff. I just continue to coach the football team and work on having our guys as prepared as possible.”
The Raiders already left Oakland once, departing for Los Angeles following the 1981 season. The NFL tried to block that move only to have late owner Al Davis sue his way south.
The team spent 14 years in Los Angeles before returning to Oakland amid much fanfare for the 1995 season. But the return stay has not been nearly as successful as the first tenure when the Raiders won two Super Bowls and were one of the league’s top teams.
That was part of the heyday of Oakland sports when the Athletics, Warriors and Raiders combined to win six championships in a nine-season span. The city has just two titles since the Raiders won the Super Bowl in January 1981 and is danger of losing its teams. The Warriors have plans to build a new arena in San Francisco and the A’s are also seeking a new home but seem more likely to stay in Oakland after a bid to move to San Jose was blocked because the San Francisco Giants have rights to that territory.
The Raiders have been unable to add to that success since their return outside of a three-year run starting in 2000 when the Raiders made it to two AFC title games and one Super Bowl. The team has failed to post a winning record or make the playoffs in the 18 other seasons.
The move back also wasn’t very successful off the field as the city of Oakland and Alameda County were left holding the bag after personal seat licenses failed to cover the cost of the $220 million renovation that added more than 10,000 seats and luxury boxes in what was called Mount Davis.
The city and county still owe about $100 million in debt on the upgrade, which has made financing a new stadium problematic.
“The deal that was initially stuck was one that didn’t work well for the city, the county or the Raiders,” former Raiders CEO Amy Trask said. “For years we heard it didn’t work out well for city and county. That’s true but it didn’t work for the Raiders either.”
Trask said any chance to improve the deal early on after the move was thwarted when the Joint Powers Authority than ran the Coliseum filed a lawsuit against the Raiders instead of continuing negotiations.
In the ensuing years, the stadium grew more outdated and other teams built fancier homes that brought them many more millions in revenue than the Raiders were getting from the Coliseum.
But despite those shortcomings, the players have enjoyed their unique home environment.
“The fans in that Black Hole make it special,” offensive lineman Khalif Barnes said. “The Black Hole goes back decades. There’s a lot of tradition in that stadium. A lot of great players, Hall of Fame players and icons have been a part of that stadium. I’ll miss it.”