Beautiful and bittersweet; Raiders win their Oakland finale

  OAKLAND, Calif.—It was wet and wild, beautiful and bittersweet, a last hurrah for the Raiders in the city that with its characters and character has been as much a part of their psyche and history as the wins and losses.

  Such sweet sorrow on this  Christmas Eve Monday of rain and reverie, when the fans, Raider Nation if you will, showed their loyalty and, like their team did with a stunning 27-14 win  over the Denver Broncos, their resiliency.

  Big time sports is built on caring,  by the athletes of course, but no less by the fans, who, as on this damp evening, turned the Oakland Coliseum parking lot into the international festival of food and music, and not surprisingly when the alcohol flowed, perhaps with some tears, turned the stands into a raucous arena.

  Yes, a few brawls, as some in the celebratory crowd of 53,850 lost control. More significant were the cheers, as fans—even knowing this probably was their final appearance in Oakland, maybe in California—stayed to what was the end of the game and could be the end of an era.

  They were given what they were owed, a victory that was set off five minutes after the opening kickoff on a 99-yard yard punt return for a touchdown by Dwayne Harris.

  The Raiders because of a disgraceful money-grabbing, egotistical move by owner Mark Davis are moving to Las Vegas where in 2020 a multi-billion pleasure dome of a stadium will be ready. But until then they are without a definite place to play, and whether they set up camp in San Francisco or Nevada or—heaven help us, London—it won’t be the same.

    Won’t be the festivities and tacos and joyful greetings that have preceded every game, including Monday night’s, in the big parking lots off 66th Avenue.

  Won’t be the same without the Black Hole, the fanatics—and that’s meant in the highest regard—who stand and yell in the sections directly behind the south goal posts.

   “I am thankful for  our fans,” said Jon Gruden, who in his return as Raiders coach this season now has a 4-11 record, with one game left, at Kansas City

“They were there every game for us. I really appreciate the support. Our fans really fueled us.”

  But the Raiders are leaving those fans, leaving the Coliseum, leaving Oakland—maybe something can be worked out for 2019, but all that does is extend the pain of waiting—departing at the whim and greed of their owner.

  Asked his thoughts on the idea this was the ultimate game in the Coliseum, Gruden, who coached the Raiders some 20 years ago, said, “I don’t like it. It’s too sentimental tonight. It’s for other people to decide. The love affair for the fans here goes way back, and when we get this result like we did tonight, it is a Merry Christmas for everybody.”

  The Raiders performed the way they were supposed —or at least Gruden and management  planned —making big plays, grabbing the momentum, playing superb defense.

   The sad thing for these Raider partisans, the guys in the skull masks, and the shoulder pads, the playful attire, is the team, with all those first-round draft picks (including those from the trade of the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, and one of its most exciting players, Amari Cooper) should be a champion by the time it gets to Vegas.

  The Broncos had more total net yards, 300 to 273 for Oakland—yeah, thought I’d throw in the city’s name once more—but that doesn’t include the 99-yard punt return.

   Quarterback Derek Carr who took a victory lap at game’s end, waving to fans from whom he doesn’t wish to be separated, completed 19 of 26 passes for 167 yards. Doug Martin ran 21 times for 107 yards, including a 24-yarder for the Raiders second touchdown.

  “This was different,”  Carr could be heard saying to backup AJ McCarron. “Last year we were on the road. Two years ago I broke my ankle. This was great.”

  In front of the media, Carr, being asked what it was like the last two minutes with a big lead, said, “I can’t wait to not have to win a game with two minutes left. Can we please just enjoy one? . . .What a perfect way to do it on Christmas Eve. This might possibly be the last game in Oakland,  at the Coliseum. It was really nice. It was different. I love Oakland. This is home. We have the best fans the world. They were on fire.”

  A fire even a rainstorm couldn’t put out.

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