LAS VEGAS — A year ago, Mark Davis stood at the northern end of Allegiant Stadium in the shadow of the massive Al Davis Torch and welcomed the Las Vegas Raiders players to their new home. The team owner called it the Death Star, “Where our opponents’ dreams come to die.”
Alas, the Raiders went 2-6 in their new digs and Davis, in a show of solidarity with fans — who were not allowed into the venue for games last season with the COVID-19 pandemic raging and no vaccine available yet — stayed away from home games.
“This is Inaugural Season 2.0,” Davis said courtside at a recent Las Vegas Aces WNBA game, where he cheered on the other professional sports team in town that he owns. And it’s a season when the Raiders are looking forward to completely unleashing NFL football, Vegas-style, starting with their opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, ABC/ESPN).
With fans in the stands for the first time in the Raiders’ preseason opener on Aug. 14, it got off to a grand start worthy of any show to headline the Strip. Miriam Adelson, widow of Sheldon Adelson, whose initial backing made the Raiders’ move from Oakland possible, lit the Torch.
“That meant a lot to me,” Davis said.
Marie Osmond — “She’s my friend,” Davis gushed — performed the national anthem.
And Carlos Santana put on a halftime concert while rocking a black Raiders No. 21 jersey with SANTANA emblazoned across the back.
There was a fan-involved light show with bracelets for the 50,101 in attendance. And the oh-so-plush night club in the northern end zone was rocking throughout.
“It felt like we were playing in the Super Bowl,” defensive end Maxx Crosby said, “and the game didn’t even count.
“Damn, we really miss our fans.”
Added running back Josh Jacobs: “It was crazy. A lot of energy, a lot of juice.”
“This,” Davis said, “is Las Vegas.”
Yes, this was all for a preseason game. An exhibition against the Seattle Seahawks‘ second- and third-stringers. How do the Raiders, who also sat their starters that night, top that for a full house against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens?
“Winning a football game would be No. 1,” Davis said with a wink.
And there it is. Because for all the pomp and circumstance befitting Sin City that will coagulate at the corner of Al Davis Way and Dean Martin Drive, football is the driving force. And winning games is, of course, the goal.
As such, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had some sage advice for the NFL’s newest home crowd.
“When we’re on offense, let’s try and be quiet,” Carr said with a smile. “Let’s be as quiet as we can. You can clap for first downs. You don’t have to go crazy, but hopefully stay quiet on offense and save all our energy for, hopefully, when we score and when we’re on defense.”
Hey, it’s Inaugural 2.0, after all, and the town, which has hosted UNLV football, the Canadian Football League’s Posse, the XFL’s Outlaws, the Arena League’s Sting, Gladiators and Outlaws, and the UFL’s Locomotives, is taking notice.
The Sphinx at the Luxor Hotel and Casino is sporting a Raiders eye patch on its right eye, a year after Lady Liberty wore a very large Raiders jersey in front of New York-New York Hotel and Casino at the corner of Tropicana Boulevard and the Strip.
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) September 10, 2021
And while 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium is expected to be at or near capacity for the Ravens game, it will be with a vaccinated crowd. The Raiders implemented a policy after the exhibition opener stating that fans must provide proof of vaccination through the Clear app before being admitted. Fully vaccinated fans will not have to wear a mask, while fans who have taken one shot or who are less than two weeks removed from their second shot will have to wear a mask inside the stadium. The Raiders are also providing vaccinations on site.
In fact, in announcing the policy, the Raiders gave unvaccinated season-ticket holders a choice should they choose not to take the shot — they could have either rolled their tickets over to the 2022 season or canceled for 2021 with a refund.
According to Davis and interim president Dan Ventrelle, 700 fans with 1,800 tickets took advantage, with 200 tickets refunded and 1,600 rolled over.
What will the vibe be Monday night?
“It’s going to feel like the first game in that stadium because without the fans last year … we had to rely on each other to get hyped and you could hear every word we’d say,” Jacobs said. “You could hear a pin drop at times. So I know with the fans, it’s going to be crazy.”
Per Vivid Seats, the Raiders-Ravens average ticket price of $865 for 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium is the 14th-highest average ticket price for a sporting event in Las Vegas since May 2, 2015, when the average price for a ticket to the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight at the 16,800-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena was $3,935.
Has it really been three-plus decades since the heyday of Jerry Tarkanian and Gucci Row at UNLV Runnin’ Rebels games? According to a former longtime UNLV athletics department employee, it cost the gold-plated denizens of Gucci Row about $125 a ticket to sit courtside to watch Armon Gilliam, Freddie Banks and Mark Wade run their way to the 1987 Final Four with Tark the Shark.
“And that was an outrageous price back then,” the former employee said. Adjusted for inflation, that courtside seat would cost $300 today.
Coach Jon Gruden, it should be noted, was a ballboy in the late 1970s for Bobby Knight at Indiana. The Raiders coach is as old-school as it gets when it comes to college hoops and, yes, a West Coast offense attack based on smashmouth football.
So no, growing up in Sandusky, Ohio — a fan of the Cleveland Browns in general, running back Leroy Kelly in particular — Gruden never thought twice about the NFL ever settling in Sin City, let alone him coaching that franchise.
“No way,” he said. “I still sometimes pinch myself. You’re out there looking at the mountains, Las Vegas, and you see the Strip down there and you’re getting ready to play pro football here. It’s really a credit to Mark Davis and a lot of people in this city that made this happen. Vegas is an exciting place.
“I hope we give them a show that is worth the price.”