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If Raiders committed to Las Vegas, quick move would be prudent

For the sake of this discussion, let's assume shovels will be placed in the ground at the $1 billion domed arena site on the edge of UNLV's campus. And that the NFL rescinds its leather-helmet view of legal and highly monitored gambling on pro football. Or, a more likely scenario, injunctions and lawsuits are again filed, and a judge or jury again rules in the Raiders' favor, clearing the way for Oakland (or some other team not happy with its stadium deal) to move to Las Vegas.

And that somebody has the foresight to put up a big parking lot, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, and all the other things that must happen, happen.

(It also would be a gesture of good faith if NFL headquarters would allow us to start referring to the Super Bowl, instead of having to call it The Big Game.)

Then what?

Depending on the timing of all of the above falling into place, and peace guiding the planets, there would be an interim period during which the Raiders (or some other team not happy with its stadium deal) would have to find a temporary place to play.

That could be a huge stumbling block. We don't have access to a Sun Devil Stadium in the suburbs.

It was for the old Houston Oilers before they became the new Tennessee Titans.

It was after the 1996 season when the old Oilers announced they would become the new Titans. The stumbling block was that Nissan Stadium, first known as Adelphia Coliseum, wouldn't be ready until 1999.

Three provisional options were considered: Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville; the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Neyland, with room for 102,000 spectators, was considered too big; Vanderbilt, capacity, 41,000, too small. The Liberty Bowl held 62,000. Oilers owner Bud Adams thought it to be like baby bear's porridge — just right to serve as the team's temporary home for two seasons.

But when the Oilers kicked off at the Liberty Bowl, nobody was sleeping in Bud Adams' temporary bed, or watching pro football in his temporary seats. Not even Goldilocks bought a season ticket.

Adams apparently did not consider that people in Memphis generally do not like people from Nashville.

People in Memphis were not interested in supporting a displaced NFL team that in two seasons would leave Beale Street for Opryland.

People in Nashville were not interested in driving three hours to watch the so-called home team play away from home.

This was reflected at the turnstiles.

The Tennessee Oilers averaged only 28,095 paying customers during the 1997 season.

Turnouts were so sparse the NFL waived a rule stating its temporary stadiums have a minimum seating capacity of 50,000. The dispensation allowed the team to play in Nashville at Vanderbilt Stadium the next season.

Attendance was a little better close to home. The Oilers averaged 37,444 during 1998, as fans in Nashville gradually warmed to football played with two feet inbounds.

Mike Organ, a longtime sports writer at the Nashville Tennessean, was covering Vanderbilt during the Oilers' transitional period. He said it was a deplorable situation in Memphis, only a little less so at Vanderbilt.

"The parking was terrible," Organ said Thursday. "It was a novelty then. It was better (than Memphis) but certainly not an NFL-type of environment."

And that was at a Southeastern Conference Stadium, albeit a tiny SEC stadium.

Unless an NFL team in transition is willing to play two-hand touch football in Sunset Park, Sam Boyd Stadium is the only football option in Las Vegas. Sam Boyd is not an SEC stadium. It makes Vanderbilt Stadium look like a Roman coliseum.

After two rows of seats were torn out last year to accommodate soccer and rugby events, the distant facility near the swamps of Henderson seats only 35,500 for football — slightly more when Utah and Brigham Young play a Holy War here and end zone tents are added.

Sam Boyd Stadium cost $3.5 million to build in 1971. It has few modern amenities. The last time I was inside the locker rooms, UNLV players hung their Dockers on metal hooks.

Some of these NFL players wear designer suits to games. They would not be comfortable hanging Armani jackets and Brooks Brothers trousers on metal hooks.

Would people here still go? You better believe they would.

But it would be better if we had access to a Sun Devil Stadium in the suburbs.

Without a suitable surrogate home, a team such as the Raiders would have to continue negotiating one-year leases to play in Oakland, or move into temporary digs in another city, or call dibs on the football field at Citrus State Prison after the Mean Machine vs. Prison Guards game.

None of these is ideal. On the bright side, neither were the Liberty Bowl and Vanderbilt Stadium, and yet the old Oilers managed to survive.

And now all Titans games are sellouts, even though the team stinks.

But if the Raiders do wind up playing at Citrus State Prison until the $1 billion domed stadium is ready, and Derek Carr walks over to retrieve the football afterward, let's hope Eddie Albert doesn't order him to be shot. We're probably gonna need Carr when the Chiefs come to town.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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