The Oakland Raiders have been a thorn in the NFL’s side for decades. From pugnacious owner Al Davis to the team’s raucously rowdy fans and years of mediocrity, the Raiders reveled in being the league’s black sheep. And on the rare occasion when the team was competitive, like during the late 1970s and early ’80s when the franchise won three Super Bowls, the Silver and Black still seemed to thumb its collective nose at the league’s Brooks Brothers-outfitted executives on NYC’s Park Avenue.
Well, those execs enacted their own form of revenge: thanks to a league vote this week, the Raiders will leave the Bay Area for Las Vegas. Much like the neutering of Cleveland’s Dawg Pound (when the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore in the late 1990s), the vote was put to the NFL owners, and only one—the Miami Dolphins—voted against the move, marking the third team in the past 14 months to relocate. While the Raiders’ new stadium won’t be ready until 2019 (at the earliest), the Raiders will have a two-year memorial for the city that loved them like no other.
It’s worth revisiting when the Raiders were weird and good. In 1973, Rolling Stone sent Hunter S. Thompson to embed with the AFC West team. Thompson was deep into gonzo journalism by this point, and as an avid football fan, he desperately wanted to chronicle a season with what was arguably the NFL’s strangest team. Trouble was, Davis didn’t entirely trust Thompson, and neither did the Raider players, who the Rolling Stone writer plied with cocaine in order for them to open up (according to Robert Draper’s history of the groundbreaking magazine, Thompson then tried to write the coke off as a business expense).
What follows is Thompson’s first interaction with Davis as reported in Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl: No Rest for the Wretched:
…the other was a small wiry man in a tan golf jacket with a greasy duck-tail haircut who paced along the sidelines of both fields with a speedy kind of intensity that I never really noticed until he suddenly appeared very close to me and I heard him ask a sportswriter from the San Francisco Chronicle who I was and I was doing there…
The conversation took place within 10 yards of me, and I heard most of it.
“Who’s the big guy over there with the ball in his hand?” asked the man with the DA.
“His name’s Thompson,” replied Chronicle sportswriter Jack Smith. “He’s a writer for Rolling Stone.”
“The Rolling Stones? Jesus Christ! What’s he doing here? Did you bring him?”
“No, he’s writing a big article. Rolling Stone is a magazine, Al. It’s different from the Rolling Stones; they’re a rock music group… Thompson’s a buddy of George Plimpton’s, I think… and he’s also a friend of Dave Burgin’s-you remember Burgin?”
“Holy shit! Burgin! We ran him out of here with a cattle prod!”
I saw Smith laugh at this point, then he was talking again: “Don’t worry, Al. Thompson’s okay. He wrote a good book about Las Vegas.”
Good god! I thought. That’s it… If they read that book I’m finished. By this time I’d realized that this strange-looking bugger named “Al,” who looked like a pimp or a track-tout, was in fact the infamous Al Davis-general manager and de facto owner (pending settlement of a nasty lawsuit scheduled for court-action early this year) of the whole Oakland Raider operation.
Davis glanced over his shoulder at me, then spoke back to Smith: “Get the bastard out of here. I don’t trust him.”