BLACK HOLE, Calif. — The plan has always been to have his ashes spread here, across the surface that played host to so many memorable moments in Raiders history, a sort of permanent ode to his silver and black faith.
Not to mention his skull spiked shoulder pads and fierce skeleton helmet.
“That’s what I have always told my son to do,” said James Godley, a two-time cancer survivor. “But then he would say, ‘The Raiders are always talking about leaving Oakland, so what would we do then?’
“I told him, ‘I’m going to be like the Autumn Wind and blow with them.’”
Blustering in from the sea and a swirling Christmas Eve storm is right, came so many impassioned Raiders fans on Monday evening, perhaps their final opportunity to pay homage as only they can to their beloved team at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Raiders and Broncos engaged in a Monday Night Football contest between AFC West sides with no playoff plans, but there was a far more significant narrative inside the rickety structure that produced the Heidi game and the Sea of Hands playoff victory and many other unforgettable results since first hosting games in 1966.
The Raiders head to Las Vegas in 2020, where a state-of-the-art domed stadium will welcome them to a new chapter of the franchise’s journey.
But first comes the 2019 season, and where the team will play home games remains a bigger mystery than who coach Jon Gruden might fire or cut next.
The city of Oakland recently sued the Raiders in federal court, contending the team’s relocation to Las Vegas is illegal while asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
The team responded by pulling a proposed lease deal for the Coliseum in 2019 off the table.
Hence, the conundrum about where to host regular-season games next year.
None of that mattered Monday night to those fans most invested in all things Raiders, those who have always embraced an underdog and outlaw image, dressed in intimidating and eccentric costumes, alter egos created among the characters who exist among the end zone seating known as the Black Hole.
“It’s sad,” said Tony Lopez, a 24-year-old season-ticket holder from Manteca, California. “If this is the last game (in Oakland), this might it for me. I can’t afford Vegas. I will always follow the Raiders, but this chapter of Raider Nation is over.”
The heavens opened
It seemed as though even a higher being might have felt a tad despondent at the idea of the Raiders never again emerging from those dark and aged tunnels, as the skies opened before kickoff, from which fell heavy showers made even more blustery by strong winds.
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake is right, again, the weather being no deterrent from those who traveled near and far to witness what is thought a final performance by the Raiders here.
“I’ve been a fan since 1965 and yet this is my first game in Oakland,” said Ro Glasco, who drove with his son 2,700 miles from their home in Fries, Virginia. “I’ve seen some of their games on the East Coast, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. My heart is with the people of Oakland, but I will follow the team wherever it is.”
An hour before injured running back Marshawn Lynch became perhaps the final person to light the Al Davis “flame that burns brightest” torch in Oakland, James Godley stood in the Black Hole and scanned the field where he had instructed his son to one day spread his ashes.
Godley was dressed, as he has the past 17 years, in a menacing costume complete with skull heads adorning each shoulder.
“I used to paint my face, but my wife said she wouldn’t go to games with me because I looked like I was on crack,” said Godley, 55 and a resident of New Bern, North Carolina. “That’s when I went with a helmet. I was 7 years old when we moved into a new house in North Carolina and the people next door had left an Oakland A’s batting helmet and Oakland Raiders helmet in their sand box.
“I thought that was the coolest damn thing I had ever seen … I have been hooked ever since.”
On this Christmas Eve, the Autumn Wind really was a pirate, his face weather beaten from the pouring rain and his words pained by the thought of this rickety structure playing host to the Raiders one final time.
There would be no pillaging just for fun this night.
Too many broken hearts.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.