NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Floyd Reese kept things fairly simple in 1997, listening to the passionate and at times despondent pleas of NFL fans desperate not to lose their team to another city and the promise of a state-of-the-art stadium and all its customary bells and whistles and trinkets of luxury.
He was as empathetic to their suffering as he was understanding of how it could be overcome.
“Every time someone came up with what they thought was a solution, I had just one question for them,” said Reese, the former general manager of the Oilers/Titans. “I said, ‘Do you want the NFL?’ If the answer is yes, then you will do whatever it takes. If the answer is no, there will be a long and distinguished line of people who will say yes. That’s just the way it works.
“These franchises are so big and so important, even though it might seem outlandish with some of the things owners ask for, someone is always going to give it to them.”
Turns out, Las Vegas became a someone.
For the third straight year, the Raiders have traveled to this town of honky tonks and juke joints, of tempting barbecue and two-for-one boot shops, but do so this time with an entirely different future in their hands.
The league in March approved relocation of the team from Oakland to Southern Nevada, and a season opener against the Titans on Sunday will mark the first regular-season game for the Raiders since that 31-1 vote.
“It may not have been accidental (scheduling),” said a smiling Reese, who now does sports talk radio in Nashville.
The reason: Sunday’s matchup for the Raiders ironically comes against a franchise that knows well the reality of pulling up stakes for new beginnings, the Titans having arrived in Tennessee from Houston in 1997, with Reese as the longtime general manager and the final year in Texas a forgettable time of bad feelings and empty seats.
But the relocation of the Raiders will be unlike any such move in NFL history, given the team isn’t expected to arrive in Las Vegas until beginning play in its domed stadium off Russell Road for the 2020 season.
If that timeline holds true, we’re talking 48 regular-season games from now, along with any other playoff matchups the Raiders might earn.
Maybe even a Super Bowl run or two.
We’re talking a long while yet.
Reese, 69, grew up a Raiders fan in the East Bay of Oakland, an expert on all things Daryle Lamonica. He was general manager of the Oilers/Titans from 1994 to 2006, is still a resident of Nashville and senses that given the youth and talent and promise this current Raiders team has, one of the league’s most passionate fan bases won’t turn on the silver and black like so many who loved the Oilers did for what they defined as management’s greed.
It meant the team playing a season in Memphis (a logistical nightmare) and another at Vanderbilt Stadium (at least in Nashville) before moving into what is now Nissan Stadium, which sits on the east bank of the Cumberland River and directly across from downtown and all those honky tonks.
“In the end, we had to leave Houston right away because it just wasn’t a good situation for anyone,” Reese said. “I remember our last season there, we’d only have 20,000 or so for home games in the (Astrodome). I would be up in my box and have to call down to the coaches and tell them our quarterback needed to be quieter when calling out huddle signals because I could hear them, which meant so could the other team.
“This Raiders team is very good, which will definitely help things (in Oakland) the next few years, and their fans are as loyal as any in the NFL. I would expect that to continue.”
The delicate balance by which the Raiders navigate these next three seasons will be something to watch, a team trying to give Oakland another championship before it leaves again and embraces its future and new desert home.
There are no more exciting games in the NFL than season openers and the playoffs, and six months after league owners in near-unanimous fashion voted for Las Vegas to become a someone, the Raiders play a regular-season game.
Which means the NFL is here for Southern Nevada and it’s not.
It’s reality in a very marginal way and yet also a long while off.
“I don’t think there is any doubt the NFL will work in Las Vegas,” Reese said. “It is, without a doubt, the greatest sport in our country.”
If the clock hasn’t begun ticking, it sure gets going Sunday.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.