Appetizers from the East Bay

From Oakland, California

An afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum can be quite an experience. After first coming here in 1981, and now for the last 16 years with the Raiders return to the East Bay, nothing much changes.

Except for the stadium’s name; that seems to change all the time – Network Associates Coliseum, MacAfee Coliseum, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – that’s why the building will be referred to here as simply the Oakland Coliseum. The official name right now is the O.co Coliseum. That’s for the website Overstock.com.

No matter the name, it remains the same pit it’s always been. The facilities are inadequate compared to today’s 21st Century buildings that house NFL teams. Opened in 1966, it underwent major renovations back in 1995-96. It didn’t help. The locker rooms and infrastructure under the stadium is 45 years behind the times.

But that doesn’t stop the Raiders fans from showing up when the team is playing well. They sold enough non-premium seats to life the local TV blackout this week, giving the Raiders four straight TV sellouts. Much like the Chiefs and Arrowhead, they have plenty of premium, club and luxury suites tickets available, but those do not count towards lifting the blackout.

Two years ago, I parked a good half-mile from the stadium in a paved parking lot. As I walked into the building, I was stunned by the number of people I passed who were tailgating and enjoying the California morning, just like they do at the Truman Sports Complex. In fact, I was surprised by the number of kids that were there, throwing the football around. It was a real family atmosphere, with none of the stereotypical behavior we’ve come to expect at the Coliseum.

But I’ve seen that side as well. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, the buses carrying the Chiefs rolled off the Nimitz Freeway and into the entrance road to the stadium. As they turned into the parking lot area, fans rushed to the street to shake their fist and provide one finger salutes. Screaming ephetats were loud and unrepeatable here.

At one point I looked through the bus window and there was an elderly lady sitting in a wheel chair right up against the road. Her head was down, chin in her chest and she appeared out of it, or asleep. But as the bus stopped in front of her, Grandma Raider raised her head and flipped the one-finger bird to the Chiefs.

That’s what I’ll always remember about the Oakland Coliseum.

THE AL DAVIS FLAME

Last week, the Raiders held special ceremonies to honor the late Al Davis. Part of that included introducing what was described as an eternal flame in the stadium to Davis’ memory.

It’s situated in the southeast corner of the stadium, with a group of flag poles that were previously there. It was lit at half-time of last Sunday’s game against Cleveland by former Raiders head coach John Madden.

Whether it stayed lit or not, remains a mystery. As with anything tied to Davis, the definition of “eternal” may be a bit different than what’s found in Webster’s Dictionary. With the Raiders lease at the Coliseum about to run out, that flame could have wheels on it and will be traveling somewhere else.

On extra comment on Davis from an unusual source, baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who grew up in Oakland:

“I know he could be stubborn and difficult,” Morgan said. He spent time watching the Raiders and Patriots on October 2 at the Coliseum. “I knew Al Davis for more than 40 years. He taught me everything I knew about football. But I don’t think he ever changed his persona, his ego. I’m sure he drove some people crazy, but he was brilliant. I never met anyone who covered the spectrum of personalities like he did.”

CONNECTIONS FROM SOUTHERN CAL

There was plenty of talk this week of the connection between Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer, a couple of guys that shared a house while they were both at Southern Cal.

Not mentioned has been the fact that Chiefs WR Keary Colbert was also a resident of that house, as was current Pittsburgh S Troy Polamalu. Much was made of Oakland head coach Hue Jackson had his connections with Palmer going all the way back to USC.

But that same connection is there with Cassel.

“This guy ran down on kickoffs,” Jackson said of Cassel. “He was willing to play defense or anything to get on the field, and now this guy is a starting quarterback in the National Football League after he didn’t play much in college. It goes to show you that if you work, good things happen to you. He is a really good player. But I won’t like him on Sunday.”

Jackson helped recruit Cassel to USC and was the quarterbacks coach when Cassel was a redshirt freshman.

I was still trying to learn my X’s and O’s when I came in my redshirt freshman year and kept my mouth shut,” Cassel said. “I learned a lot from him and he since has moved on and had a lot of success. He’s a good man. He’s doing a good job up there.”

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