Talk about a tortured fan base.
Here comes the game local fans have been waiting for and they’re playing it in another country – Patriots vs. Raiders in Mexico City.
Last season the feeling within the Raiders facility was that they wouldn’t be going back to Mexico City, and that if so it certainly wouldn’t be against the New England Patriots.
Then came Feb. 1, and the announcement that the Raiders would indeed be giving away the home date their fans have been waiting for against the franchise they most want to beat – and that includes their AFC West rivals and the 49ers.
The following month – surprise! – owners voted to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas.
Feel free to speculate that Mark Davis was willing to serve up the Patriots game to the NFL as a way of currying favor with power brokers such as New England owner Robert Kraft and Dallas’ Jerry Jones.
It used to be Raiders fans reveled in being the renegades, taking a cue from their owner Al Davis. Davis went against the grain, was decidedly non-establishment.
The Patriots, despite being corporate and pro-establishment, are now the lawbreakers, courtesy of Spygate and Deflategate.
That doesn’t even include the Raiders’ bitterness over the “Tuck Rule,” which set in motion a series of events which sent Jon Gruden out of town and New England to the top of the football world.
The Raiders retreated into an abyss from which they emerged only last season. New England, with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as the only constants, have won five Super Bowls.
Davis ended up with three-quarters of a billion in taxpayer money, so he’s fine with sacrificing the home game that meant the most to a local fan base. The Raiders broke ground on the Vegas facility Monday night in a lavish production sure to rub salt into the wounds of the most die-hard local fans.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio will go along with losing home games for the time being because there’s nothing else they can do.
“I don’t want to lose (the home games),” McKenzie said. “The Raiders are a part of the NFL and it’s their decision to do certain things. We would love to play our home games here in Oakland. But that has not happened . . . we make our statements to the league, wishing to stay here in Oakland. It’s about the league, not about the Raiders.”
Funny, you don’t see the Patriots or Cowboys giving up home dates to play internationally.
On the football side, no one can be too happy with how the Raiders third international “home” game in four years has turned out, considering the opponent and the circumstances.
(In 2014, the Raiders lost 38-14 to Miami in Dennis Allen’s final game as head coach).
The league threw the Raiders a bone in that they’ll head to Mexico City coming off a bye week, and granted their request for holding back-to-back East Coast games in Weeks 8 and 9 in order to remain in Florida to practice.
But it was the Patriots who got the upper hand. Since they are coming off a 41-16 road win in Denver, they’ll practice at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
It will be a week of preparation at an elevation of 7,258 feet to get ready for a game where the altitude will be 7,382 feet.
Such fortuitous scheduling doesn’t happen by accident.
The Raiders, meanwhile, won’t leave until Saturday, with their own research indicating that the best way to avoid the effects of the altitude is to get in and get out before their bodies take notice.
It worked well enough last year, when the Raiders outscored the Houston Texans 14-3 in the fourth quarter en route to a 27-20 win.
But there is no denying the sacrifice the Raiders made is huge and it’s happening in a game they desperately need to win against a Patriots team playing its best football.
It’s also a sacrifice they may be making each year until their stadium in Las Vegas is ready to go. At least that’s what Del Rio implied before the bye.
“It’s a competitive disadvantage, in my opinion,” Del Rio said. “One that we’ve faced the last couple of years and will face the next few years.”
If that’s the case, the early favorite to be shipped out of the states next season would be a home date against Pittsburgh, a team that happens to be hugely popular in Mexico.
And as luck would have it, the Steelers also have an away game in Denver, potentially setting up Pittsburgh for the Colorado Springs prep week.
By the time the Raiders return home to host Denver on Nov. 26, they’ll have been away over a month, their 31-30 win over Kansas City on Oct. 19 a distant memory.
The reception the Raiders get will depend on whether they’re 5-5 with some hope or 4-6 and trying to avoid extinction following the game their Coliseum fans most wanted to see.