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Raiders to Las Vegas: Oakland sadly loses beloved team (again)

PHOENIX -- Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson had just embarked upon a Sunday morning jog alongside the canal adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore when Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie popped into view. The two men briefly exchanged pleasantries, and then Jackson picked up his pace and shook his head in exasperation.

No, Jackson isn't still stung by the fact that McKenzie's arrival in Oakland coincided with his abrupt firing after a single, 8-8 season as the Raiders' head coach. Rather -- like many others who have an abiding affection for the city of Oakland -- he was frustrated and dismayed by the franchise's impending move to Las Vegas.

On Monday, Mark Davis' relocation bid was officially approved by his fellow owners. That left Oakland, which the Raiders abandoned for Los Angeles in 1982 before returning 13 years later, to confront the prospect of losing the football team with which its identity has been inextricably linked for a second time, a first among American municipalities.

"It just won't be the same," Jackson said. "I'm sorry, but it won't be. That's their team. It means so much to those people, and I feel for them. I know it's a business and teams move. But it just won't be the same."

Though the circumstances of this move are hardly the same as they were three-and-a-half decades ago, when Mark Davis' legendary father, Al, defied his fellow owners and initiated a protracted series of legal battles, it's an equally painful blow for the residents of a city who have taken their share of figurative gut punches. Perpetually overshadowed by cross-Bay neighbor San Francisco, marginalized by cultural critics since the days of author Gertrude Stein and stigmatized in modern times for its crime rate and budget deficits, Oakland gets a lot of grief. However, as I know from personal experience, The Town is a terrific place to live. It has gorgeous views, diverse neighborhoods and vibrant art, musical and culinary scenes, and many of its perceived flaws are overstated.

What Oakland does not have is a football stadium that meets modern NFL standards -- nor does the city have the collective inclination to throw hundreds of millions in public money toward building a new stadium for an owner (Mark Davis, who inherited the team after his father passed away in 2011) who lacks the means to build one on his own. This is not unusual in the state of California, where virtually every stadium constructed in the past several decades has been privately funded, either completely or substantially. And because Mark Davis will not build his own stadium, or sell the team (or sell an interest in the team, with a path to eventual ownership) to someone who could, Oakland has been in a vulnerable position when it comes to solving the Raiders' housing crisis.

Throw in the fact Oakland is also charged with satisfying the stadium-related concerns of the A's, who annually host 81 regular-season baseball games to the Raiders' eight, and Davis was going to have a hard time finding satisfaction. After losing out on a bid to relocate to L.A. 14 months ago, Davis set his sights on Las Vegas, ultimately securing a sweetheart deal that includes a $750 million contribution approved by the Nevada State Legislature, the largest public subsidy ever earmarked for an NFL stadium. The facility is expected to open in time for the 2020 season.

So yeah, Oakland was in a tough spot, and this loss was expected. But that doesn't make its inevitability any less painful for the fans who've stayed loyal to the Silver and Black for more than half a century, even after being jilted the first time.

And I do mean loyal: In 1989, seven years after the Raiders moved south to L.A., Al Davis scheduled a preseason game against the Houston Oilers at the Oakland Coliseum -- and attracted a raucous, standing-room-only crowd of ebullient Raiders fans eager to reclaim their team. I covered that game for the now-defunct Sacramento Union, and it was positively surreal. The relationship between the Coliseum's largely blue-collar crowd and the tough, gritty teams which reflected the city's values had been forged throughout the '60s and '70s, and the lingering emotional attachment was a shock to the senses for a rookie NFL writer. I went into that assignment thinking these spurned Oakland Raiders worshippers were semi-pathetic; I left that stadium awed by the unbreakable bond they felt between them and their team.

"I was covered head to toe in goosebumps from the moment I stepped off the team bus to the moment we left the stadium," recalled former Raiders chief executive Amy Trask, now a CBS Sports analyst. "That very, very special bond between those Oakland fans and the Raiders is hard to articulate."

It's a bond that has Trask, who left the team four years ago, wistful about what might have been. She has said on numerous occasions that "there is a deal to be done in Oakland" and believes that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who took office in January of 2015, was far more equipped than predecessor Jean Quan to make it happen.

"Had I chosen to stay with the team and been afforded the chance, I would have relished the opportunity to work with Libby Schaaf," Trask said. "She brings a level of business sophistication and clear communication and hard work that Jean Quan did not."

Instead, Schaaf and a group fronted by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott (who spent two seasons toward the end of his career with the Raiders) put together a proposal that Mark Davis and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell deemed insufficient, and Davis' partners voted to approve the Vegas move. It's unfortunate, given this assessment by one knowledgeable source: "If Mark Davis would offer a minority interest in the team with a path to ownership -- even far down the road -- to buyers who'd then be charged with securing a privately funded stadium in Oakland, there'd be a line out the door of people who could pull it off."

The reality, however, is that you can't make someone sell a team, and Davis clearly does not want to relinquish control of the Raiders. Given that state of affairs -- and given what awaits him in Las Vegas -- getting approval from his fellow owners, all of whom will receive a cut of the hefty relocation fee he'll be forced to pay, was not going to be difficult for Davis.

Losing the Raiders for a second time? That will be very, very difficult for Oakland. The city already is facing the impending loss of the NBA's Warriors, who are planning to move across the Bay to San Francisco for the 2019-20 season. And the Raiders' exit also will be a long goodbye: Awkwardly, they are scheduled to play in Oakland in each of the next two seasons, though they could theoretically get out of that deal a year early and make other arrangements for 2018. In either scenario, it's unclear where they'll play in 2019, with the new stadium in Las Vegas scheduled to be ready in time for the 2020 campaign.

Now officially lame ducks, the Raiders might still attract big crowds in 2017. They're coming off their first winning season and playoff appearance in 14 years and have a pair of young stars in quarterback Derek Carr and pass rusher Khalil Mack, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And hometown hero Marshawn Lynch is toying with the idea of coming out of retirement, with Oakland his targeted destination.

So yes, there still will be a Raider Roar in the Oakland Coliseum this fall, and the complicated emotional bond between city and team will remain intact, at least for now.

But after Monday's vote, it will never, ever be the same.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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