As the announcers repeated many times, it could have been the final Raider game played in the Coliseum that opened back in 1966. The team had submitted an offer and was negotiating to play the 2019 season in Oakland, but withdrew that offer when the city filed an antitrust law suit against the team and the National Football League. So where the team will play next fall is an open question (AT&T in San Francisco is the best local possibility).
When the Raiders launched in the Coliseum, I was a young, fledgling sports writer. As I advanced to the local sports editor position with the Tri-Valley Herald (now defunct and part of the lowest common denominator publication, the East Bay Times), with that position came working press passes to the Raider and 49er games.
The Raiders, of that time, were truly connected to the community. Offensive line stalwarts and Hall-of-Famers, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, both lived in Pleasanton as did Coach John Madden (he still does) and defensive lineman Ben Davidson.
They were a championship caliber team once Al Davis established himself as the managing partner and brought in lots of talent. There were epic battles with division rivals Kansas City and Denver, as well as a bitter rivalry with the Pittsburg Steelers.
I have memories of those great Raider teams. Wide receivers Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff (another Pleasanton resident), quarterbacks Daryle Lamonica and Ken Stabler, and characters such as Otis Sistrunk and John Matuzak.
Those memories include some amazing games—the sea of hands catch by Clarence Davis in the north end zone; Ray Guy’s amazing punts when the Raiders ended the unbeaten Miami Dolphins’ winning streak in the only pro game played at Cal’s Memorial Stadium and the battles with the Steelers.
I will readily confess that I never forgave Al Davis for moving the team to Southern California. That move may have added to the “Raider Nation,” but left many long time fans with a bitter taste in their mouths.
The return to Oakland, with the fiasco with seat license sales and the original agreement that made the independent marketing association responsible for selling tickets while the Raiders controlled the product and the price was notable for the fact that responsible adults signed off on it.
The tenor of the Coliseum changed when they returned. The earlier Raider games had a true family atmosphere where dads could take their sons and enjoy the ball game. Not so, after the return. When I was given tickets by a friend to take my two daughters, I mandated what colors they could wear and we were consistently on alert walking through the stands.
All that said, it was good to see the Raiders put up a win in what could be the finale in the venerable stadium.