OAKLAND, Calif. — The happiest Carlos Souza ever saw his father was when the Raiders came back to Oakland in 1995.
On the eve of the team’s departure for Las Vegas, Souza — who has been watching football in Oakland since 1978 — says he hopes his two teenaged sons will someday be able to say the same thing about him.
Fans have been here before: The team moved to Los Angeles to start the 1982 season after then-owner Al Davis attempted, unsuccessfully, to make improvements to the Oakland-Alameda Country Coliseum. After an embattled stint at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Davis brought the team back to its original home.
Nearly a quarter-century later, the Raiders find themselves in an identical situation, this time orchestrated by Mark Davis, son of Al, and this time, with a brand new stadium in the works for next season.
“It breaks my heart to have [my father] watch them leave again,” Souza told Yahoo Sports. “I’m heartbroken. I really am — and especially to another state.”
At his usual tailgate ahead of Sunday’s contest, the penultimate one in Oakland, Souza added he “has that silver and black in [his] veins.”
His plans for the final home game next weekend?
“Cry,” Souza said.
Oakland Raiders fandom like a ‘dysfunctional relationship’
Fremont native Denise Jacinto, likewise, felt betrayed when the team left for LA. Despite having been a Raiders fan since she was five years old, that move led her to raise her children, born in Cleveland, as Browns fans instead.
“We were born in a culture of ‘the Bay Area against LA’ -- that was just the way it was,” she said. “For us, to go to LA was the last thing we would do.”
When the team came back, so, too, did Jacinto’s love for it. But the move to Nevada is too much — while she knows other fans that will make the trip on game days, she won’t be going.
“It’s like a dysfunctional relationship, where, like, how long do you accept somebody that keeps leaving you for their own reasons?” Jacinto said. “I don’t want to be a fan anymore. This is my part in Oakland, and they’re gone. ... So it’s a very hard transition.”
The transition, she fears, will mean losing the “family” she built around tailgating over the past 15 years.
“We’ve already been talking about it all day. Because we’re in the same spot [every game], we see the same people come by, and we all feel like ‘Oh no, our family is going to be ripped apart.’”
Jacinto’s crew would even pay to tailgate in the Coliseum parking lot and watch games on the stadium’s big screens, she said, just so that the group could stay together.
“I think it’s so foolish of the Raiders to give up on us,” she added.
But some fans who went through the LA saga feel differently.
The fans who will follow
Andy Coronado, owner of the popular AC12 Raider Nation Bus, is taking the move in stride. Based in Stockton, and an original season ticket holder, Coronado is used to commuting for games and did so when the team was in LA.
Surrounded by handmade Raiders upholstery, trying to describe the way he feels about the team leaving again, he struggled to get in a word. Complete strangers continually boarded his bus just to introduce themselves — some in town for their first games. “We’ll be in Vegas, too,” Coronado reminded visitors as they left.
He’ll start a new fan club in Las Vegas, leave the bus parked there for the duration of the season, and fly down for every home game.
“Pretty melancholy feeling — we’re sad,” Coronado said. “In the same breath, we’re not gonna switch teams, and we love the Raiders. I did Oakland, LA, and back to Oakland, and now they’re going to Vegas. So we’re going to Vegas. They go, we go, our bus goes.”
For Larry Mastin, who says he was the team’s first ballboy in 1959, following the Raiders wherever they go is similarly part of his identity as a fan.
“I listened to them on AFM radio station while I was stationed in the Philippines,” he said. “Then when we were stationed in England, I watched them over there. I’ve watched them around the world. I watched them when they moved to LA — I was stationed in Arizona.”
Mastin’s wife Yolaria, who is from the Philippines, now also considers herself a diehard fan.
“It’s a butterfly feeling,” she said of the final home games. “Cannot believe it, after 20 years, they’re going to leave us.”
“I’ve been a fan since I was five years old. I converted her, my children, my grandchildren, and now my great-grandchildren,” Larry added. “It’s meant a lot.”
Priced out of Vegas
Others, however, can’t afford to follow.
Wayne Mabry, also known as “The Violator,” has held season tickets in 1987. He wears makeup and a costume that take him two hours to put on before every home game, and says he comes for “therapy.” Doing so in Las Vegas won’t be an option.
“I got priced out of my own neighborhood,” he said. “I can’t invest like I’ve been doing.”
Personal seat licenses for the new stadium, which give licensees the right to purchase season tickets and playoff tickets for 30 years, ranged from $3,900 to $75,000 in their initial release, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Without knowing what his future holds with the team, Mabry is just trying to enjoy the moment at hand.
“Show up and show out: that’s all I can do,” he said. “Everything else is beyond our control.”
Jon Gruden, who himself took an eight-year detour from Oakland before returning for a second stint as head coach last year, also took a succinct approach: “I get emotional about it — so do a lot of people. But now’s not the time to really address all of that,” he said after Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans.
A week from now, surely, everyone will have more to say.
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