ALAMEDA, Calif. — Coaching the Raiders means something to Jon Gruden.
That much was evident again Monday.
Gruden was visibly moved when discussing what could be on Christmas Eve. The Raiders will host the Denver Broncos in the final game under their expiring lease at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Team officials have not ruled out a return to the venue in 2019, but given the local political landscape, there appears a real chance the Raiders won’t play in Oakland again.
This “Monday Night Football” game could be it.
“I get emotional about it,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, we get it all resolved to where we can continue to play here.”
The Raiders have played at the Coliseum in 40 of their 59 years, including all 24 seasons since their 1995 return from Los Angeles. The chance of a 25th season took a blow last week when the city of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and all 32 of its clubs for the Raiders’ 2020 relocation to Las Vegas.
In response, the team rescinded its lease extension proposal.
On Dec. 9, the Raiders won their most recent home game, a 24-21 upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Never mind that the opposing kicker, Chris Boswell, slipped when missing the game-tying field goal as time expired or that the opposing quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, publicly chastised the stadium’s X-ray machine as outdated. And cast aside that the Raiders play on baseball dirt every September because they share the venue with the Oakland Athletics.
To Gruden, it’s home.
“It’s a real football stadium,” Gruden said. “It’s dirt, grass. It’s got tradition. It’s where some of the best games in the history of football have been played. It’s where some of the best players in the history of the world played football games at. You’re walking around before the Steelers game. You see Franco Harris and Lester Hayes, and you think about some of the battles they had at that place. Reggie Jackson lighting the (Al Davis Memorial Torch before the game).
“There are a lot of things that happened in that stadium.”
Gruden paused for a couple seconds. His eyes glistened when he spoke.
“Next question,” he finally said. “I get excited — oh, you know, gonna start crying about a stadium.”
Gruden laughed, but his sincerity was clear. He often exhibits reverance to Oakland. He understands the organization is bound for Las Vegas — “I like the traditional joints (stadiums) to be honest with you; I’m also excited about the future of the Raiders,” he said Monday — but out of respect for Oakland and its status as the organization’s current whereabouts, he has mentioned the Nevada city just once in a news conference all year.
That was during his Jan. 9 introductory news conference when asked specifically about Las Vegas.
“I’ll let Mark talk about Vegas,” Gruden said then, referring to owner Mark Davis. “I am a real short-term, goal-oriented coach. Big reason why I’m here is the passion I have for the city of Oakland and this franchise. People in the Black Hole, if you are listening, I can’t wait to see you guys. I really can’t, and I would like to fill that place with Raider fans at least seven or eight more times. That is all I care about right now.”
Monday should be an emotional game.
Gruden plans to address the stadium situation with players this week, he said. Only so much time can be devoted to the topic, he added, as the Raiders (3-11) prepare to finish a disappointing season.
Cornerback Gareon Conley is in the concussion protocol. Protection issues continue to plague the offense, as quarterback Derek Carr was sacked five times Sunday in a 30-16 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. Neither left guard Kelechi Osemele (toe) nor right guard Gabe Jackson (elbow) played.
“We have to deal with the day-to-day aspect of preparing for the game,” Gruden said. “Maybe the night before the game we’ll sauce up a video for the guys to get them a true respect of where they’re playing again.”
— Raiders players will be given an extra rest day this week in advance of the upcoming Monday game. Rather than Wednesday to Friday, they’ll practice Thursday through Saturday, coach Jon Gruden said.
— Right tackle Donald Penn (groin) has practiced in recent weeks and remains on injured reserve. Gruden said “there is a chance” he could be active against the Denver Broncos.
— Gruden called quarterback Derek Carr’s production this season “astonishing.” With two games to go, Carr has thrown for 3,697 yards with a career-high 68.3 completion percentage. While being sacked a career-high 47 times, he’s totaled 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Carr hasn’t thrown a pick in a franchise-record nine straight games. “The guy is a hell of a player,” Gruden said. “The guy is a great quarterback. We are very pleased and proud of what he has done. We know we got to get better around him, and that we will.”
Michael Gehlken Review-Journal