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Coronavirus puts damper on Raiders fever in Las Vegas

Updated September 10, 2020 - 4:20 pm

As the Raiders prepare to play their first game as the Las Vegas Raiders, I am reminded of the Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, who upon becoming the fourth person to walk on the moon was led to wonder “Is that all there is?”

With the first kickoff in Las Vegas’ NFL history just a couple of days away, you would think Raiders fever would be gripping the city. On Thursday, the Statue of Liberty at New York-New York suited out in her Refrigerator Perry-sized Raiders jersey. But were it not for the spectacular weather, it still felt like just another Thursday.

Mark off another 15 yards on the pandemic. First down and a vaccine to go.

Opening on the road may have something to do with it, too.

But after waiting three long seasons for it to finally arrive, it doesn’t seem any more like pro football around here than it feels like Christmas, the 80-degree temperatures notwithstanding.

Derek Carr may be getting his game face on, but The Violator isn’t. The Black Hole hasn’t been heard from in months. It has gone underground or caught the last train for the coast.

Actually, Cisco Ortega, the president of the Black Hole’s Las Vegas chapter, says he’s just driving there this weekend to watch the Raiders play the Carolina Panthers on TV with his son.

Stretching the rules

“We had activities ready to go,” said Ortega, who, like Carr, moved from Oakland to the desert along with the job — only his is selling products and services to property management companies. “Because of the pandemic, everything has been shifted a bit, especially with Vegas at half-capacity. We’re finding venues (i.e., bars) that are kind of stretching the (social distance) rules, but we don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”

No card-carrying member of the Black Hole in good standing (or still standing) would ever think of stretching the rules or throwing nachos at a big-screen TV when Carr checks off to a secondary receiver. So gathering at a bar to witness the Raiders’ Las Vegas debut, even on the down low, is mostly/somewhat being frowned upon.

Besides, said Ortega, “The Black Hole is used to doing things at a big capacity. We can’t say come check out the Black Hole party when you can let only 50 people in, if that.”

Ortega said if there’s a silver lining to the pandemic and the no-fan edict at Allegiant Stadium, it’s that perhaps he might be able to refer to the team as the Las Vegas Raiders by the time it is legal to high-five the guy in face paint sitting next to him.

For now, he just calls them Raiders without the Las Vegas — like the old ABA’s Floridians who began in Minnesota and proceeded to bounce among Miami, Tampa-St. Pete, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach.

It’s in the can

Most of the Raiders bars, hangouts and bail bond joints I called for this story were closed or did not pick up. A Facebook picture taken at Legends Sports Bar & Grill on Boulder Highway showed a guy in a hardhat drilling a new foundation footing, so you can probably scratch them from Sunday’s lid-lifter, too.

Ditto for the Stage Door Casino just off the Strip, although director of operations and Las Vegas Black Hole vice president John Vizcarra said 20 commemorative cases of Modelo Especial with the Raiders shield on the front of the tallboy can arrived Wednesday — and exited in less than 10 minutes. Reinforcements were expected Thursday and Friday.

Based on those cases of Modelo leaving the package store in the manner that Elvis left the International Hotel, Vizcarra expects a lot of football fans will be celebrating the first game in Las Vegas Raiders history in intimate, well-lubricated gatherings at home.

Which, suggested the man on the moon, is not such a bad thing either.

“ … when you go through any endeavor, any journey, whether across town or to the moon and back, all that matters is that you share the experience with people you love,” said Bean, or at least the actor who portrayed him in HBO’s miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”

“That’s what makes life special. Because ultimately, that’s all there is. That’s really all there is.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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