PHOENIX -- **They're not the Las Vegas Raiders. Not yet, anyway.
But at some point in the next three years, the Raiders will move to southern Nevada and depart Oakland, their home for 42 of their last 55 seasons since their hardscrabble beginnings in a pair of San Francisco stadiums in 1960 and 1961.
NFL owners and representatives of owners not on hand approved the Raiders' relocation Monday morning. The team still plans to play the 2017 and 2018 seasons in Oakland, going on a year-to-year basis via a pair of one-year leases and options with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis, who serves on the NFL's Stadium Committee, acknowledged the difficulty of making the decision when he met with media shortly after Commissioner Roger Goodell and Raiders owner Mark Davis announced the relocation, along with Texans owner Bob McNair and Steelers president Art Rooney II.
"It's a tough day for the National Football League — and especially the fans of Oakland," Ellis said. "We've now had three teams move in the last 16 months, so any time a team relocates, it's difficult on their fan base [and] their community."
"We'll miss Oakland," added Executive Vice President and General Manager John Elway, who led the Broncos into Oakland for the last four seasons of his playing career.
Ellis noted that the Raiders had already sold more tickets for the 2017 season than at any point since their 1995 return to Oakland. Davis said Monday that he would offer a refund to any fans who asked for it, which could lead to scenes reminiscent of the ones at the Astrodome in 1995 and 1996, when the Oilers played in front of sparse crowds as their relocation to Tennessee became a reality.
"That's never easy — having been in the situation when we played in Houston when they were moving to Tennessee," Elway said, recalling a Nov. 26, 1995 Broncos-Oilers game played in front of 36,113 fans in the 59,969-seat Astrodome.
"It was a unique situation. It's tough for the people in Oakland to see their team leaving, but maybe they'll take advantage of the last couple of years that they have and support them while they're there."
While the immediate future is murky, the end game is clear: By 2020, the Raiders will move to a new stadium near the south end of the Las Vegas strip.
The presence of legalized gambling on sporting events — long a concern in regards to the Las Vegas market — isn't the obstruction it once was. Ellis noted that "attitudes have softened a little bit," with a greater emphasis on the quality and potential of the market.
"There's just a lot of upside there that everybody sees, and they've put together a great presentation to build a stadium and welcome the Raiders. And I think it will be great for Denver Broncos fans. That's a short trip, and it's a fun trip," Ellis said. "So I think our fans will enjoy that."
But in some ways, it won't be the same.
"To not go to the Black Hole anymore after two more years will be difficult, just because our players, our fans, our organization — we have great respect for the Raiders and we love the rivalry," Ellis said. "But it will continue in Las Vegas."
And few people love the rivalry more than Owner Pat Bowlen. He bought the Broncos in 1984, when the Raiders were at their apex; they were the defending champions heading into their third season of a 13-year stint in Los Angeles. A dramatic sweep of the Raiders that season powered the Broncos to their first division title in six years.
Eleven years later, the Raiders returned to Oakland, where the hostile environment added more fuel to a fiery rivalry that continued to burn brightly through the Raiders' 13 seasons in Los Angeles.
As Ellis noted, the rivalry "will endure." But the Black Hole — the sections in the south end of the Coliseum in which the Raiders' most passionate denizens reside — is unique to Oakland, and Bowlen relished it.
"He'd be disappointed that he couldn't go to the Black Hole anymore," Ellis said. "He liked walking across the south end zone there and getting harassed. That was one of his more enjoyable moments each season."