by Jordy McElroy
Coach Jon Gruden’s storybook ending to the Raiders’ time in Oakland culminated into a fourth straight loss and playoff elimination. There were tears, appreciation and downright anger as the Raiders exited RingCentral Coliseum for a final time. Gruden will be the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in two weeks, leaving behind one of the NFL’s most loyal and disrespected fan-bases.
A graceful exit wasn’t on the menu on Sunday as food and boos rained down on the field. The hallowed ground that stood beneath the feet of legends like Gene Upshaw and Tim Brown was instantly turned into a landfill of condiments symbolizing the heartbreak and frustrations from fans that felt abandoned.
“I’d like to say we could have sent the Raiders fans off with a lot better finish than that,” Gruden said after Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, via NBC Sports.
There wasn’t a soul in attendance that would have disagreed with Gruden’s assessment.
The Raiders stunk to the high heavens. And it was the slow-building sort of stench—the kind that doesn’t fully hit you until the first layer of cologne has worn off. It took an entire half for the Raiders’ cologne to wear off. They were up 16-3 when entering the locker room, only to emerge and fall in a 17-0 second-half shutout.
That performance will sadly stand the test of time as the lasting memory of the Raiders in Oakland, along with the bowl of nacho cheese splattered in the end zone. Yes, some fan was hot-headed enough to waste a $10 bowl of nachos.
What else is new from a franchise that has only competed in one playoff game in the last 16 years?
Gruden did what he could to give Raiders fans that homely feeling, even though everyone knew the two sides were on the brink of a divorce. So began the season-long cohabitating arrangement that kept the Raiders in town while the finishing touches were being put on their new and more expensive home in Las Vegas.
Some wondered if fans would even show up to the games. There was always the possibility they’d leave the Raiders to play in an empty stadium as a response for having their franchise taken from them. But those loyal fans piled in by the thousands, openly willing to take more punishment expected of a longtime Raiders supporter.
Rain, sleet, and snow—it didn’t matter. As long as the Raiders resided in Oakland, the fans were always going to show up and support them. It didn’t matter if they were terrible, which was often the case, or had some semblance of hope for the future. The fans never abandoned the Raiders.
Not like the Raiders abandoned them.
“I think, most importantly, before we talk about the game, I’d like to thank the fans,” said Gruden. “I’d like to thank the city of Oakland for supporting the Raiders and being faithful in all kinds of seasons. I’ll miss them. I love them and I’m sorry about the outcome today, but I think that’s something that needs to be said. An exclamation point. I really apologize that we weren’t able to deliver a victory.”
Gruden apologized because he gets it.
He has coached with his heart on his sleeve in a full-on effort to make the Raiders instant contenders, while also rebuilding for the future. The decision to go out and trade for Antonio Brown, along with signing former Los Angeles Charger Tyrell Williams to a $44 million contract, were moves made by a coach that was all in to win right away.
Even when Brown forced his way out of Oakland with unpredictably churlish antics, Gruden rallied the team and somehow gave the fans something to cheer about. Before there were ruined nachos between the E and R letters in the end zone, there was an overachieving football team with a fan-base that had hope of the swan song being a potential playoff berth.
That hope turned to disappointment, and the song predictably became a chorus of boos.
Not all stories have happy endings. Yet, Gruden and the players penned the best anecdote possible given the circumstances. It really comes down to the heart of each individual fan. Through good and bad times, signature moments over a lifetime will tug at the nostalgic heartstrings of when the Raiders played in Oakland’s backyard.
A part of the Raiders lives on now in the emptied south section of RingCentral Coliseum—an iconic landmark of a special place that turned chance encounters into lifelong relationships and a commonality with a thousand other beating hearts into a cherished memory. Nothing really ever leaves a black hole.