LAS VEGAS EMBRACES THE OAKLAND RAIDERS

TLas Vegas Sunoday: November 13, 2007 at 8:9:58 PST

A Black and Silver State

Despite the distance, Las Vegas has embraced the Oakland Raiders in good times and bad

By Ron Kantowski
Las Vegas Sun

I am standing behind the Oakland Raiders’ bench at McAfee Coliseum before their recent game against the Houston Texans when 105 behemoths and Tim Dwight rumble past me with their chin straps fastened really tight.

The ground shakes under their collective mass. Having watched the 1989 World Series on TV, at least I hope their collective mass is what’s causing the ground to shake.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a Raiders fan who seems especially eccentric, although at field level, all Raiders fans seem eccentric. He’s standing at the entrance to the tunnel from where the behemoths and Dwight have just emerged.

He is wearing a No. 57 Raiders jersey with “Violator” stitched onto the nameplate and full face paint, like Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss, with spikes coming out of his shoulder pads. Only instead of a bass guitar, he’s swinging some sort of prehistoric weapon.

Many of the Raiders fans on the flight over from Las Vegas, a desert outpost for this band of renegades known as Raider Nation, were similarly dressed, only without the face paint and the prehistoric weapons – those were confiscated at the security checkpoint.

Nearly everybody I have encountered to this point seems to have some tie to Las Vegas. So I want to ask this character, the one who calls himself Violator, if he used to be a Clark County commissioner.

But only then do I realize I am wearing a navy pullover with red trim, khaki pants and a ball cap and must look, at least to Violator, very much like the guy who will bring the water bottles to the Texans during the two-minute warning.

For all I know, he could be Lance Malone’s second cousin.

But I don’t dare ask.

The owner

Las Vegas’ fascination with all things silver and black begins at the top.

Al Davis, the Raiders’ maverick owner, told me he once ran the old American Football League out of a Las Vegas hotel room. Davis claims the idea for the AFL’s merger with the NFL was hatched on the Las Vegas Strip, a story which, if true, surely would have made Pete Rozelle break into hives.

Mr. Davis, which is what his former players still call him out of respect, doesn’t get around as well as he used to. He pretty much spends game day secluded in his box overlooking the 25-yard line or the A’s dugout, depending upon which sport you prefer.

But he’s still quick with a story, reference or observation, which I discovered during our brief conversation before the game against the Texans.

“Dave Humm is getting a group together and they’re going to buy out Bill Callahan,” he said upon learning I was from Las Vegas. Davis was alluding to his former backup quarterback, a Las Vegas native who starred at Nebraska, and his former coach, who bombed in Nebraska but still lives there, at least for a few more weeks.

Davis apologized for the empty seats atop “Mount Davis” but said he put a few thousand tickets in his pocket, to guarantee the game would not sell out. That would have meant the blackout being lifted, preventing Bay Area fans at home from watching the Patriots-Colts showdown.

I was thinking that maybe this is why fans here and elsewhere identify with the Raiders when Brett Favre threw an interception against the Chiefs, Oakland’s hated rival, on the TV in Davis’ suite.

Davis used the F-word. Not fumble. The other one.

Or maybe it’s because at 78, he still is committed to excellence, and fans respect that.

When the Packers got the ball back, Favre still was looking fidgety in the pocket. That was my cue to leave.

Besides, somebody said Fred Biletnikoff was coming up the stairs.

The owner’s friend

If you’re wondering what I was doing in Al Davis’ suite without security being called, it was because Bob Blum had set it up.

Before Blum moved to Las Vegas in 1973 to continue a broadcasting career that would land him in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, he was the Raiders’ play-by-play voice.

Blum was one of three Raiders employees Davis retained upon becoming the youngest head coach and general manager in pro football history in 1963. The two have remained close friends. When Blum was enshrined in June, Davis sent a video greeting congratulating his old friend.

With Davis, Blum says, it’s once a Raider, always a Raider.

I thought about that as Blum and I stood on the field before the game and a man with thighs like redwoods approached Blum and embraced him like a grizzly bear.

It was Clem Daniels, the old Oakland running back and five-time AFL all-star.

Once a Raider, always a Raider.

The friend of a friend

That would be Jim Plunkett, the quarterback whom Davis rescued from the scrap heap and led the Raiders to a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.

One of Plunkett’s post-NFL highlights was throwing a football right through car salesman John Barr (with the help of computer graphics) in a popular Las Vegas TV commercial. When Blum read that Plunkett had never seen the spot, he obtained a copy and presented it to Plunkett at the Houston game.

“Is this the one with me and the showgirls?” Plunkett joked before dropping off his wife, Gerry, in the same suite where Blum would watch the game.

A few minutes before halftime, Plunkett reappeared and plopped into the seat next to me, only to watch Josh McCown further disgrace Ken Stabler’s jersey number with another poorly thrown interception.

A disgusted Plunkett motioned to his wife and excused himself.

“Are you leaving? Or going to get suited up?” somebody called as Plunkett stormed off.

Once a Raider, always a Raider.

The backup quarterback

Former Bishop Gorman standout Dave Humm is probably the most direct connection between Las Vegas and Oakland. He spent seven years as a Raiders backup quarterback behind Stabler and Plunkett, earning two Super Bowl rings.

Humm is in his 13th year as a member of the Raiders broadcast team. When he contracted multiple sclerosis and could no longer travel with the team, Davis wired Humm’s home in Las Vegas so he could continue to host the Raiders’ pre- and postgame shows with George Atkinson, the former Oakland defensive back, and announcer Rich Walcoff.

“The success of any organization or business starts at the top,” Humm says of the affinity the ex-Raiders have for Davis and he for them.

“As far as loyalty goes, you try to give back as much as Mr. Davis does. But that’s hard to do.”

I asked Humm why Las Vegas has embraced the Raiders when there are NFL teams in closer proximity.

He said it’s not just here that it happens.

When he was with the Colts and Bills, Humm said, he and his teammates could check into a hotel without anybody noticing. He said traveling with the Raiders was like touring with Metallica. He felt like a rock star.

“We couldn’t even get in the lobby,” Humm said.

Flight 864

On any given Sunday during football season, the colors of Southwest Airlines change from orange, yellow and periwinkle (or whatever you call that purple-bluish paint scheme on the fuselage) to black and silver.

I mentioned that to a flight attendant as a Raider fan who looked like he might not be all that interested in returning his tray table to its full and upright locked position – he was wearing a John Matuszak jersey and hadn’t shaved in what? A week? A month? With Raiders fans it’s so hard to tell – elbowed past.

She quietly asked how the Raiders have been doing.

“Not very good.”

“What about the Texans?”

“Ditto.”

“Good,” she said, nodding toward two more passengers wearing silver and black who somehow eluded security. “That means they probably won’t be drinking.”

But Pegi Bostick, a member of the Dallas-based flight crew, says the Raider fans who travel to Oakland from Las Vegas and then right back after the game almost always behave themselves.

“They look a lot meaner than they act,” she said.

When I asked whose fans were most capable of making friendly skies not so friendly, she didn’t hesitate.

“Kansas City,” she said. “They are very loud and drink a lot.”

The fan

Flight 864 was nearly over Fresno before I worked up the nerve to talk to the Raider fan seated directly behind me.

He looked like the fourth member of ZZ Top. He had one of those scraggly goatees you can tie with a rubber band and was wearing a tank top that called attention to his many tattoos. There were flames and barbed wire and maybe a dancing girl or two wearing a grass skirt. And a Raiders shield protecting his right shoulder like Jack Tatum on third and long. He said he had an even bigger Raiders shield on his back that had been autographed by Tim Brown and Ted Hendricks and Tatum and some of the other Raiders legends. He didn’t show me that one. I didn’t complain.

“I go back to The Snake and The Holy Roller,” said Mike Deskin, invoking the nicknames of Ken Stabler and his intentional fumble that Dave Casper fell on in the end zone in that infamous 1978 game against the Chargers.

Although Deskin looked a little menacing, he proved Pegi Bostick right – Raiders fans are way friendlier than they appear. Deskin, whose late grandmother Ruthe was the assistant to the publisher of this newspaper – small world indeed – owns a local construction business and a custom-made Harley-Davidson motorcycle sporting the Raiders’ colors.

“People are always asking if they can pose with it,” he said.

He has four season tickets above the end zone – the one opposite the Black Hole, where the real tough guys hang out at McAfee Coliseum.

Deskin pulled out his wallet to show me a youth football photo of his son, Demetrius, posing for the camera in – what else? – a Raiders uniform.

Although guys in the Black Hole also carry pictures in their wallets, they usually have the phone number of a good bail bondsman under them.

The mother of all road trips

Although some of the distant Dallas Cowboys precincts in Clark Country have yet to report, you can safely make the argument that Las Vegas is a Raiders town.

But I didn’t know London is a Raiders town.

Or Sydney.

As I was contemplating trading my boarding pass with the A on it for a C and two Pete Banaszak bubblegum cards, I noticed two Raiders fans getting their game faces on near the Duty Free counter.

One was wearing a Tim Brown jersey, the other a No. 24 Michael Huff. With the exception that I didn’t notice any distinguishable scars, they looked like most of the other Raiders fans getting their game faces on – until they responded to a question.

One talked like the Stones, the other like the Bee Gees.

Chris Gee is from London. His pal, Greg Grimstom, hails from Sydney.

They came from England by way of our (sometimes) fair city to prove their allegiance to the Raiders and to confirm that American football couldn’t possibly be as bad as the exhibition the Dolphins and Giants had put on at Wembley Stadium just the week before.

But after watching the uninspired Texans beat the unprepared Raiders, I’ll bet they’re willing to give soccer a second chance.

Ron Kantowski can be reached at 259-4088 or at ron@lasvegassun.com.

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on November 13, 2007.

One Response to “LAS VEGAS EMBRACES THE OAKLAND RAIDERS”

  1. […] iamawriter wrote a fantastic post today on ;LAS VEGAS EMBRACES THE OAKLAND RAIDERS

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