The Oakland Raiders’ philosophical Commitment to Excellence has become a Commitment to Las Vegas.
While all the legal paperwork is still months away from being signed, the Raiders moved the chains of public perception Monday with a dazzling groundbreaking event attended by about 600 invited guests at the planned Las Vegas stadium site at Interstate 15 and Russell Road.
The historic ceremonial event after sunset, which included a tribute to the 58 people who died in the Oct. 1 mass shooting, was the team’s most visual display of committing to building a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed football stadium and bringing the NFL to Southern Nevada, an idea most believed impossible just two years ago.
There’s still plenty of legal work to be done to make the team’s relocation to Las Vegas a reality, but Monday was all about owner Mark Davis’ desire to turn the Silver State into the Silver-and-Black State.
On a gorgeous fall evening, team executives, government leaders from the city, county and state, labor leaders, representatives of the resorts and a handful of Strip entertainers gathered to watch the Strip lights come up behind the ceremonial turning of dirt-filled shovels with Raider logos.
The Raiders purposely set up the groundbreaking venue at the exact angle the stadium will sit so attendees could enjoy the view through the retractable wall at the northeast end of the stadium once the venue is completed.
When the stadium opens in July 2020, fans will see that same vista looking out toward resorts on the Strip.
Before festivities began, Davis paid tribute to the 58 people who died in the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival with the illumination of 58 spotlights pointed skyward.
After receiving a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd and a chorus of “Rai-ders! Rai-ders!” from the house, Davis began his poignant message with his mother, Carol, in the crowd.
“For the Raiders to be successful and ultimately win, it takes teamwork,” he said. “Nowhere has the notion of teamwork been better displayed and more evident than in Las Vegas on the evening of Oct. 1, 2017, when, with the world watching, Mayor Carolyn Goodman, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, Rep. Dina Titus, Sheriff Joe Lombardo, their staffs, all the first responders, emergency health care workers and local citizenry seamlessly worked together to bring a sense of safety and security to a situation that without teamwork could have resulted in chaos. The Raiders are honored and proud to be joining such a special team.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Gov. Brian Sandoval were the top dignitaries on hand.
“Only in Vegas can you turn a groundbreaking ceremony into a show,” Goodell said after being introduced by the event’s master of ceremonies, comedian George Lopez. “The Raiders hold a special place in the hearts of football fans around the world, and we appreciate how they’ve been embraced by the state of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas.”
Sandoval, who signed the legislation approved in a special session in October 2016 establishing the $750 million in public financing, officially welcomed the team to city.
“Well … now it’s real, right?” Sandoval said. “This is one of the most transformative moments in the history of Las Vegas.”
Before thanking the Raiders and the people responsible for getting the stadium effort to where it is, Sandoval thanked Lombardo and the first responders who answered the Oct. 1 call.
Then, it was back to the celebration.
Welcome to the family
“Mark, welcome to the Nevada family,” Sandoval said. “The Raider Nation is now part of the Nevada family.”
Goodman added some levity by sharing a story about her first meeting with Al and Carol Davis “and their annoying son” when they came to the old Desert Inn to celebrate a birthday for Al, who died in 2011.
More than a dozen of the franchise’s best players over the years, who regularly showed up for Al Davis’ birthday parties, attended the Monday event. No players on the current roster were present. They were off during the team’s bye week, and this week they begin preparing to play the New England Patriots on Sunday in Mexico City.
Among the former Raiders in the crowd were former quarterbacks Jim Plunkett, Jay Schroeder, Daryle Lamonica, and David Humm, receivers Fred Biletnikoff, and Cliff Branch, and linemen and linebackers Howie Long, Ted Hendricks and Lincoln Kennedy.
While the event was a celebration for the Raiders, several UNLV dignitaries, including president Len Jessup and athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, were on hand. The Rebel football team also will play in the stadium, and the Raiders and UNLV are continuing to work on a joint-use agreement, one of the remaining negotiations to complete the stadium deal.
Major concerts and other world-class sporting events also are targeted for the venue.
Ironically, pop star Taylor Swift on Monday announced her 27-date “Reputation” stadium tour next year. Las Vegas isn’t one of the tour stops, but concerts like that would be once the stadium is in operation.
Entertainers also were a part of Monday’s event. In addition to Lopez, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Judith Hill, who has backed up Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Josh Groban, opened and closed the event with some neo-soul. The crowd also included Carlos Santana and Wayne Newton.
Raiders president Marc Badain and Las Vegas Stadium Authority chairman Steve Hill are scheduled to fly to Houston on Tuesday for the second qualifying meetings for the stadium to host one or more FIFA World Cup soccer matches in 2026 if North America wins the bid to host the world’s largest soccer showcase, which occurs every four years.
The 64-match tournament is scheduled at 12 venues in 11 cities in Russia next year and at eight venues in six cities in Qatar in 2022.