Thursday night in Oakland the NFL held its third and final relocation town hall meeting. The first meeting took place in St Louis Tuesday and the second in San Diego Wednesday. In each instance, the fans got up and asked questions of NFL executives headed up by NFL Vice President Eric Grubman. But in the first two cases, there was something missing - team ownership.
Mark Davis not only attended the meeting in Oakland, but he gave an opening statement. Then he sat in his seat with the fans and watched and listened to the fans as they each approached the podium one by one to plead to keep their beloved team in Oakland.
At one point, Davis had a question posed to him which he was compelled to answer. He didn't have to answer anything. As we found out in the first two meetings this week, he didn't even have to be there. But since he was there, he got up and stood at one podium to answer a question that was posed by a fan at the other podium.
The fan told a story about two years ago during the draft, the fans gathered outside of Raiders headquarters to support the team and Mark Davis came out and made an appearance. He said Davis told the fans that day what he has said many times about wanting to keep the team in Oakland, but that he needed the fans to have his back. And with the stadium selling out regularly since then, the fan was confused as to what more they could have done to help keep the team in Oakland. To which Davis responded;
"I don't know what to show you than what I've already shown you before. We have not been negotiating in the papers and I don't believe we should, but we've been operating as much as we possibly can. We need help from the community as well to get something that our fans, the Raider players, and the NFL can be proud of. We don't have that right now and we want it. And it can be done in Oakland if everybody pulls together to get it done. And that's what I'm trying to tell you, ok?"
"Listen, I love you guys to death. And there's nothing better than the Raider Nation. We've talked to three mega-developers to get this going. But what I don't want to do is I don't want to get involved in negotiations tonight on things that we've been doing, but I want you to know that we've been trying for at least the past six years, every day, hundreds of hours in the organization trying to get something done here in Oakland."
Mark Davis has had this stance from the beginning. And he does things like greet fans outside the facility and at owners meetings, and town hall meetings as a means of expressing that.
Fans throughout the night thanked Davis for attending along with Mayor Libby Schaff. The fans realize Davis' attendance was an effort and a gesture which Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos didn't make. Even though many times those thanks were followed up by some stern words to Davis about his intentions to move the Raiders to Los Angeles.
The fans had a lot to say Thursday night. Most began with a heartfelt story about how they became a fan and how the Raiders touched their lives and the Oakland community. Many of those same sentiments ended with that passion turning to a frustrated plea to not take the team that has been such a big part of their lives away from them.
One woman talked of how most people will be at home on Christmas Eve sitting by the tree, while the dedicated fans who sold out O.co Coliseum will be at the game cheering on the Raiders as they face the Chargers in prime time.
One man spoke of getting a gift from his uncle back in 1960 and that gift was tickets to the first ever Raiders game at Kezar Stadium. He was one of a few fans who got choked up and emotional in the telling of their love for this team.
Another fan told a very touching story about attending the community day in Napa in 2002 (an event I also attended as it so happens) and being invited to have dinner with the players and Raider Legends and how much that day meant to him and his family who had been season ticket holders since the team returned to Oakland in 1995.
After he was done speaking, Davis got up from his seat and personally shook the man's hand and embraced him.
In a particularly memorable speech, a fan said right to Davis, that he had watched Davis throughout the night nodding as fans spoke at the podiums. But said he didn't think it was because Davis agreed with everything the fans were saying, but because he was one of them. That Davis was born into this life as Al's son. That it's weird "And you're a weird owner." To which the crowd cheered and Mark pumped his fist in the air.
What it came down to on Thursday night was a display of passion. It was on display for the NFL as a way to put faces on their business decisions. So they can see there are real people who are affected by their decisions.
Will it make a difference? Hard to say. Most will tell you it probably won't. That these things are merely ways for the fans to vent and feel like they have a voice. But with three teams all vying for a market that will only take two teams, if the fans were not there, passionately expressing their love for their team and fighting to keep it, the decision would be an easy one. All the fans can do is not make this decision easy.
It's not easy for Mark Davis. And some fans may have given him a bit more to think about Thursday night in Oakland.