In stirring Las Vegas groundbreaking ceremony, Raiders rise up for those lost

In the darkness shone 58 rays of light pointed toward the heavens, the backdrop a stunning portrait of a city slowly moving forward but never forgetting, a beautiful voice reminding all those watching that when you’re broken and tired, when it’s getting hard to breathe and you feel like dying, you have the power to rise up and move mountains.

That, as the song goes, all we need is hope, and for that we have each other.

The stadium in which the Raiders will call home here won’t be completed until 2020, and yet already the NFL team has merged with Las Vegas in a way no one could have imagined.

That, as the song goes, we’ll rise like the waves, we’ll rise up, in spite of the ache.

The team in a most elegant and respectful manner on Monday fused the most tragic of moments in the town’s history with what is one of its most celebrated and significant, honoring those 58 killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival while also officially breaking ground on its 65,000-seat domed stadium.

Behind a stage where singer-songwriter Judith Hill so majestically sang “Rise Up” to open the ceremony, where such notables as team owner Mark Davis and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval spoke, where shovels of dirt were held aloft by politicians and other folks wearing silver hard hats, were those rays of light shooting from the earth.

“I wasn’t aware that was going to happen, but it shows you the class of the organization to honor those victims,” Sandoval said. “I’ve said it before, (the response to the shootings) was unlike anything I’ve seen before — the heroes among us. I think it was appropriate for (the Raiders) to do this and it really showed they care about this community.

“I think it spoke to how they’re sensitive to what happened here. This was an amazing first step to them being here and being part of the Nevada family.”

I suppose only in Las Vegas would you find a groundbreaking ceremony that blended the likes of Sandoval and Goodell with master of ceremonies George Lopez and guests like Wayne Newton and Carlos Santana and one of those kids from the Backstreet Boys, who isn’t a kid any more.

But it more than worked, specifically the part about the Raiders grasping the importance of what occurred just across the highway on the evening of Oct. 1, when another kind of celebration turned into the most violent and devastating of events amid the frightening sounds of massive gunfire.

Monday was eerie in a way, really, with many commenting about the spectacular backdrop that will radiate from the stadium once it is built and open for business, especially at night.

It’s impossible to believe many NFL stadiums offer such an unmistakable and dazzling setting than staring into the distance of the Las Vegas Strip, its many hotels and casinos brightening the landscape.

But your eyes need only move a shade south to see those golden towers of Mandalay Bay, to once again envision the horror that appeared from one high above.

“Transformative means to substantially change for the better and this project will immediately and permanently enhance this community,” Raiders president Marc Badain told assembled guests. “We have learned this is a remarkable community, a community that evolves and continues to evolve.

“We have seen what kind of community this is with the tragic event. It showed the world. The world watched. The world grieved with you. And the world was inspired by your courage, your compassion, your actions.

“In addition to using the word transformative to describe this project, we also look at it as an evolution of a remarkable place.”

It began just as the sun fell into the horizon, first responders from the shooting among those honored with a walk through the tented area, yet another moment in a journey that included lawmakers approving $750 million in public financing for the project and NFL owners agreeing to relocation.

It began with darkness and 58 rays of light pointed toward the heavens and a beautiful voice reminding all those watching that, as the song goes, we will rise up, we’ll rise unafraid.

And that we’ll do it a thousands times again.

In one of their greatest hours as a franchise, the Raiders on Monday fused tragedy and celebration in the most memorable and classy of ways.

They rose up, is right.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at 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.

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