By Bria Manning
I’d been a lifelong Raiders fan. My family was divided: Raiders and Rams. My mom was a Rams fan and my Nina, her sister and one of my favorite people in the world, was a Raiders fan. I’d also been a lifelong traviesa, rebellious and stubborn, so I chose to chug along the Raiders road; little did I know.
Side note: Anyone who is a football fan knows this has meant accepting a life of negatives—poor defense; advancing to the playoffs less than a handful of times; many, many embarrassing preseason and regular season losses; a stigma of Raider Nation being ghetto. Prior to this season, the last time I remember something wonderful happening to the Raiders was during the 2017 season when Marshawn Lynch emerged from a season-long retirement to play for the Oakland Raiders, his hometown’s team, before they relocated to Las Vegas.
I’d always loved football and the weekly rituals on Sunday with menudo and mimosas in the morning for the 10 a.m. games, and carne asada and Modelos in the afternoon. You would catch me every Sunday at my cousins’ house, all of us decked in black and silver jerseys, their house draped with Raiders flags. When my Nina, my cousins’ mother, passed away from brain cancer in 2017, my love for football took a more fervent turn. I channeled my grief through sports and the almost hysterical need for my family to stay connected through sports, one of the few things keeping us going and allowing for that momentary but much-needed pause. None of us liked to acknowledge our feelings, so we did so by not acknowledging them and instead poured any frustrations we had into Fantasy Football and hating the Patriots.
This season looks a lot different for the Raiders. For the first time in franchise history, they have a home that isn’t in California. When I first got wind that the Raiders were moving to Vegas, I began mapping out my life that would eventually lead me to retire there. After the city organized their first professional hockey team, I became a Golden Knights fan simply for the fact that I was looking forward to being a Vegas fan—save baseball and soccer—and supporting my football and hockey teams. I spent many winters and summers growing up in Vegas, a glistening oasis in the desert just down the 15 from my native Los Angeles. And, for all my professed love of professional football, I’d still never been to a game. I'd never know what its like to go to a game at the Coliseum, but I was still looking forward to seeing a shiny, menacing-looking new stadium for my team set beautifully on the Strip. Maybe we'd do decently this season.
If the Raiders uprooting themselves from California for Nevada and building a sleek, Roomba-esque stadium situated on the left side of the freeway that serves as the gateway for Las Vegas wasn’t enough change for the team this season, then adding a global pandemic might do it. Of course, it is just the Raiders’ fitting luck that the first season the team gets to play in a beautiful new stadium with thousands of enthusiastic, die hard fans anxiously waiting, that those fans are forced to be removed from the equation for the 2020 season. For it’s first year, Allegiant Stadium will host no fans; its seats will not be broken into, no peanuts and empty beer cans will adorn the ground, and—as my Raider-hating friends like to dotingly remind me—no fights will break out in the parking lots.
Sports aren’t everything, and between the coronavirus, battles for civil liberties, an election year, and my state burning, I’d say sports are low on the list for anyone paying too much attention to the current climate in the United States. Some might argue that perhaps they shouldn’t even be as high on my own list as they are. But there is one thing that sports is, this one thing that, despite all of the other things, brings me solace: community. If you know and love sports then you understand the emotion behind this fusion of sports commentary and personal essay. Thinking of an empty Allegiant Stadium—and indeed, empty stadiums of all sports across the country (save places like Dallas and Miami)—I am reminded of my own emptiness: room going silent as soon as I leave my Zoom class; trails near Mammoth I wanted to hike now scorched; refusing to play a red and blue Checkers game of American politics; becoming severely estranged from my cousins. Allegiant Stadium should be filled to the brim with screaming fans and full of happiness, excitement, hope that the Raiders might actually have a decent season. Instead it stands alone and largely unused, with that clean new stadium smell still wafting through the air, not to be replaced until—maybe—next season.
On Monday, September 21, the Raiders took to the fresh field of their stadium to take on New Orleans for their first home game of the season. I watched the windows of the stadium slide slowly up like a lair, revealing the tips of the casino-dotted skyline of Las Vegas from the outside. As I watched Derek Carr and the Raiders put on a surprisingly impressive game against Drew Brees and his Saints, I was reminded that there is one last anchor for desperate grasps for escapism during a time when gender reveal parties took away the outdoors, general disillusionment has chipped away at faith in this country, and my family—as well as other across the country—has shrunk in size. We are all going through the same thing, the same consequences of COVID, climate change, politics, family strains, and loneliness. Sports has looked a lot different for every team this year, not just the Raiders, and we are all still scrambling to adapt. But in a time where watching my favorite teams play the sport they love is the only corridor out of reality I can walk through, I will gladly take my time strolling through it, telling myself there is still unity in adversity and we are all there.