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Way Back When: The Raiders mystique moves to Vegas

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Those die-hard Denver Broncos fans and followers of this site in general know that I love the history of pro football and the American Football League.

So when we are preparing to play the Raiders, I cannot help but think of the early history of that team and the mystique that was built — more like inadvertently created — along the way.

The AFL was a stepchild league, and the Raiders were the last team selected, the runts of the litter. They did not even play a game in Oakland until their third season, and they spent their first several days as the "Señors" as opposed to the Raiders. A 1960 Oakland Tribune article announcing the name change noted there was widespread public disapproval of the original name, and a sports writer for the Tribune said that their headline type did not have a tilde for the n in Señors. So they had a second naming contest, and the Raiders were born.

In their first year of play, there was no stadium available in Oakland, so they played in San Francisco at Kezar Stadium. In Year 2, there still was no stadium in Oakland — the Raiders were stepchildren not only in pro football but in their own city, so they again played in San Francisco, this time in Candlestick Park.

But Oakland was trying to get a baseball team, so the civic officials developed the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum to hopefully house both teams. While it was being constructed, the Raiders played at Frank Youell Field from 1962 through 1965. Sparing no expense (I am being facetious here), Frank Youell Field seated about 22,000 and was named for a local undertaker (who was also a city councilman).

By then, Al Davis had taken over as head coach and eventually managing general partner. He was a tough guy who enjoyed being an underdog, so this situation was tailor-made for future Raiders success.

Davis had unique philosophies in personnel and coaching. He liked the fastest wide receivers he could get, offensive and defensive linemen who were huge and played hard. Davis did not mind if the rest of pro football looked down on the Raiders as "misfits."

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Many organizations annually spend thousands of dollars on consulting firms to help design a mission statement. A lot of times, this is baloney, in my humble opinion. Pat Bowlen famously told me, "I want us to be number one in everything."

There is your mission statement for a pro football team.

And Al? Just about everybody knows he said, "Just win, baby."

Davis and the Raiders moved into the Coliseum in the mid-1960s and dominated the AFL, along with Kansas City.

Once asked his opinion of taking what the defense gives you, offensively, Davis responded, "We take what we want."

The Raiders played in the second Super Bowl and adjusted to life in the Coliseum. Rodents were a constant problem, including one that had found its way into the press box beverage station. The stadium was built under the water table in Oakland, so the field was soggy a lot.

But the Raiders were tough.

Former Bronco defensive end Lyle Alzado, a good friend, once called out to me as their practice was beginning. He was getting ready to lift, not practice, and I inquired as to why he was not practicing.

"My deal with Al is to practice on defense day, and play like hell on Sunday. Otherwise, I can lift, do whatever I want to get ready."

In other words: "Just win, baby!"

They moved to Los Angeles ahead of the 1982 season, playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 13 seasons before moving back to Oakland beginning in 1995.

They stayed at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, widely regarded as the worst stadium in football (and now regarded as one of the two worst stadiums in baseball, along with Tampa Bay), until they made their deal to go to Las Vegas.

And that, of course, is where the Broncos will play them this week, at the fabulous Allegiant Stadium.

They have played at the most home venues of any franchise in the AFC West, and I think it is overdue that the Raiders have their own first-class stadium.

And no team may be more perfectly suited for a city than the Raiders and Las Vegas.

There will not be any fans in attendance this weekend, so we will not be able to judge the full crowd noise until next year. But I have already had a lot of Broncos season tickets holders tell me they cannot wait until they can watch the Broncos play the Raiders in Vegas.

The Broncos and Raiders have done battle since 1960, in one of the most intense rivalries in pro football, and this will be the first time we face our legendary adversaries, now known as the Las Vegas Raiders, continuing unique mystique.

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