As many of Las Vegas Raiders players, coaches and staff graced the field of Allegiant Stadium for the first time, a voice from the loudspeaker welcomed the team with an ominous message that perfectly encapsulates the character of a franchise and its new home.
"Welcome to the Death Star, where our opponents' dreams come to die," said Raiders owner Mark Davis, via ESPN. "My father always said that the greatness of the Raiders is in its future. Well today that future really starts. This magnificent stadium was built on the backs of thousands of players, coaches, administrators and fans, who for the past 60 years have proudly worn the Silver and Black."
The Raiders franchise enters the 2020 season in a new home and a new city after spending the last 26 years in Oakland, where they shared a stadium with baseball's Oakland Athletics.
"This is our field of dreams," Davis declared. "This is our house. The stadium's personality will be defined by you, so take pride every time you step on this field wearing those famed black jerseys and silver helmets. You are the Raiders. There will be many personal accomplishments out here on this field. Someone on this field today will make the first tackle; somebody will score the first touchdown, and somebody will make the first interception. But most importantly, it is what we do as a team. So, I will leave you with three words -- Just win, baby. Welcome home."
It was a dress rehearsal of sorts for the Raiders, who practiced in the brand new, $1.9 billion stadium on Friday with full pads and their classic silver and black uniforms. An idea of coach Jon Gruden, given how the Raiders' inaugural season in Las Vegas will be without fans and without a preseason thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's crushing, I know how bad it hurts our owner," Gruden said, via the team's website. "Mark Davis, like I said earlier, he set this up -- I don't know how he did it. He's been able to let his fans in here and our sponsors, and the people who made this happen. All I can say is, let's beat this virus as soon as possible, the sooner the better, and when we do we're going to have great fun in this facility and Las Vegas will come back stronger than ever."
The Raiders showcased the bells and whistles of Allegiant Stadium ahead of their practice scrimmage; showing player introductions over three video screens, piping in crowd noise over a state-of-the-art sound system that also played "The Autumn Wind" poem to set the mood, and the 95-foot torch that holds the late Al Davis' eternal flame couldn't be missed. The 65,000-seat domed stadium also features a translucent roof, sliding lanai doors facing the Las Vegas strip, and an authentic grass field that is already a favorite among the players.
"It's very impressive, man," Raiders running back Jalen Richard said. "The yard keepers for the field have done a great job -- it's really fast. It's comfortable, I know a couple of guys thought it was going to be turf, but it turned out to be real grass, so we're very excited for this."
Richard also remarked how the seating arrangement will have fans "on top of" the players on the field.
"With this thing filled, it's going to rock," he said. "It's going to have that feeling like Minnesota's stadium where the fans are just on top of you."
The Raiders' first game at Allegiant Stadium is scheduled for Sept. 21, when the team welcomes the New Orleans Saints on the prime-time stage of Monday Night Football in Week 2. While the Raider Nation won't be in the stands to help christen their new home, there's no doubting an energy will be felt as the Raiders take the field for the first time.
"This place is a one-of-a-kind joint," Gruden said. "We've just got to keep pounding this virus into the turf and open these doors so people can enjoy it like we did today. It's a spectacular out-of-sight place. The bright lights, the natural grass in a domed stadium, the spectacular locker room, it's a state-of-the-art facility. It's got everything you can imagine, and I can't wait to share it with our fans. It's a lot different than Alameda. No disrespect to the old stadium, but it's a lot different."