HOUSTON --Not since the breakup of the Soviet Union has a map been rearranged so quickly and thoroughly as the AFC West's could be in the coming years.
The Chargers are off to Los Angeles to eventually play at the new stadium under construction in Inglewood, and the Raiders filed for relocation to Las Vegas, Nev. last month, although that proposal could be in jeopardy, according to reports regarding the financing of a potential stadium there.
In both cases, their long-term homes aren't anywhere close to ready for 2017. But the Chargers opted for a two-year stint at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. That isn't what the Raiders plan to do.
"Their situation is somewhat tenuous," said Broncos President/CEO Joe Ellis. "If their move is approved, they're going to try to play their games in Oakland for a couple of years."
And if that happens, the question for the Raiders would be clear: How would they avoid a recurrence of the attendance woes that beset the Houston Oilers in 1996 after they announced their relocation to Tennessee?
"That will be a question for discussion when the stadium and finance committees discuss the relocation of those teams and the recommendation they'll put forth to the membership. I feel fortunate to be a part of those meetings," said Ellis, whom the league named to the stadium committee last summer.
The Oilers' Astrodome crowds in 1996 were so meager that they accelerated the timetable for their relocation, playing their 1997 games in Memphis and their 1998 games in Nashville on the campus of Vanderbilt University before moving to their current home in 1999. The Oilers had a home-field disadvantage, going 6-2 on the road and 2-6 at home in 1996. The 1996 Oilers' 6-2 road record remains the best in league history for a team that finished .500 or worse.
"I'll be interested to see how the Raiders view what you are talking about, which is whether the Raiders can sustain a level of enthusiasm in Oakland while having announced a move to Las Vegas," Ellis said when the subject of the 1996 Oilers arose in an interview Thursday. "That's a legitimate question, because I think it's still subject to some private discussions that owners will have. I'm interested to have it vetted and hear their feelings about it."
Ellis knows the Raiders' situation -- and fan base -- is different than those of most teams. Although the Raiders have historically been the No. 2 team in the San Francisco Bay Area, the scope and fervor of their national following is well-documented -- along with the faith many of their Northern California fans kept with the club while it played 13 seasons in Los Angeles before returning to Oakland in 1995.
The Raiders have a fan base unique in its passion and perspective on the team. But does that mean their East Bay fans would continue to turn out for two lame-duck seasons before relocation?
"It's tricky to ask them to continue to support you when you're no longer going to be playing games there after a couple of years," Ellis said. "But [Raiders owner] Mark Davis made a presentation and he was fairly confident that he could pull that off, so we'll be open to that, and listen to it, and we'll see where it goes."
No matter what happens, the Raiders will play a home game in Mexico City for a second consecutive year this fall. Ellis had hoped to see the Broncos selected for the matchup, but the league opted for the Patriots.
"Clearly the league had a desire to put the Patriots on foreign soil, so they got the game against the Raiders -- and I understand the league's position on that," Ellis said. "But I'd like us to be a part of that, no question."