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Retiring a relic: Raiders from past and present reflect on the Coliseum

OAKLAND — An era comes to an end Sunday with the Oakland Raiders playing their final game in the Oakland Coliseum, which has served as the team’s home from 1966 through 1981 and again since 1995. The stadium, the last remaining dual-use stadium by both the NFL and MLB, has seen its share of highs and lows when it comes to the Raiders, who are moving to Las Vegas in 2020 (the team does have a lease option to return to Oakland next year should the $1.9 billion dome stadium off the Las Vegas Strip not be ready in time).

Entering Sunday’s home finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Raiders are 192-131-3 all-time in the Coliseum, including the postseason. They were 98-26-3 in their first run, 94-105 since returning from Los Angeles. ESPN.com caught up with several Raiders figures from both eras to get their respective takes on playing in the Coliseum.


Tom Flores

Quarterback, 1960-66, receivers coach 1972-78, head coach 1979-87, radio announcer 1997-2017

On opening the Coliseum as a player and coaching a Super Bowl winner:

“I was there Day 1 of the existence of the Raiders, when we played at Kezar [Stadium], and then we played at Candlestick [Park] and then we played at Frank Youell [Field] while we waited for the Coliseum to be built. This was a bright shining moment for us, a state-of-the-art stadium in 1966, it was exciting. It was a sign of a dream come true for us, and we were little Oakland, a town that was barely recognized. Especially across the Bay. They didn’t even recognize us. So Oakland embraced the underdog, they embraced the team and it became family — this is our team, and we can get mad at them if we want, but you don’t come into our house and get mad at them.

“My first year winning the Super Bowl, right before we ended up moving [to Los Angeles], that was a memorable year because of the way we won it. We resurrected Plunkett, and we brought in guys like Bobby Chandler and Burgess Owens and Cedrick Hardman and [Gene] Upshaw and [Art] Shell still had another year to give us. So it was a pretty remarkable year for us and for me as a head coach. The other one may sound kind of goofy, but the other memorable moment was when I was with the Chiefs and we beat the Raiders to go to the Super Bowl (in January 1970). I don’t know that I should mention that one, but I hope the people would remember that and forgive me for that, but I did get my first [Super Bowl] ring that way.

“My thing is, I never stopped loving the Raiders. Even when I was with the Chiefs and the Bills and the Seahawks, they were always my team. They were always my team. It never left me, and I’m like the old Brooklyn Dodger fans — they still think the Dodgers belong to Brooklyn. And I’ll be like that forever with Oakland.”

Jim Otto

Center, 1960-74; Inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980

From opening the Coliseum to Heidi to Sea of Hands to calling it a career:

“I’ve got so many memories there. Unbelievable. I watched them put the shovel in the ground to build the stadium. You go out there to beat the opponent, and we did a lot of that. We were kind of an outlaw-type group of guys that they called us in town in the early years and we went out there to beat anybody that would take us on. The Heidi Game was a great game. We walked around like we won the Super Bowl. And the Sea of Hands Game was a great game.

“The next week [the AFC title loss to the Steelers at the Coliseum] was my last game. I knew it was my last game. Nobody in the stands knew it was. Even my wife didn’t really know I was going to retire after that game. But the Sea of Hands was just a great way to go [as a winner]. We played hard, we won and I felt real good about it. I had some tears in my eyes as well. That whole season was an emotional season for everybody on our squad, so there was a group of us guys that knew we were going to play the last games of our careers. I felt very good about it. I had always done my best for the Raiders playing center, and it was a very good feeling to know I had accomplished that.”


Phil Villapiano

Linebacker, 1971-79

On fighting the Chiefs and sealing the Sea of Hands Game in 1974 by picking off Bob Griese:

“The bleachers were like 10 yards from the sidelines, the visitors bench. I remember one fight I had, against the Chiefs, they threw me under the bench. I think there was more spectators fighting [alongside] me down there than there were football players. It was nutty. Guys would just dive over the bench. Security? There was no security. It was just fun. But somebody had to stop those Dolphins. They were on a run having gone to three straight Super Bowls and winning two of them and they came to Oakland.

“Don Shinnick, who was my linebacker coach, he would explain to me that they need a whole lot of yards; they’re not going to throw for 10. So I always got a little deeper in those situations, and then they had Paul Warfield lined up on the other side and I just could feel him coming across the middle. I go up and get that ball, and I felt like my biggest contribution to the Raiders, to win that game and ice it. I got that ball and I knew how much John Madden wanted to beat Don Shula, and I went and gave coach the ball and he loved it. He actually said, ‘That should be your ball, you made that interception.’ I said, ‘Nope, coach, nobody wanted that more than you and that’s your ball.’ I loved that. That was great. Kenny [Stabler] had just thrown that crazy pass into the end zone for us to take the lead? Oh my God, we couldn’t lose it. We had to do it.”


Jim Plunkett

Quarterback, 1979-86, Super Bowl XV MVP

A resurrection and unlikely Super Bowl run:

“The fans are a different breed, without question. Blue-collar workers coming to a game for a team that they love. It was a lot of fun playing there. Mr. Davis gave me an opportunity to finish my career on a high note after those struggles in both New England and San Francisco. That 1980 run to the Super Bowl, didn’t start the season, then [Dan] Pastorini gets hurt, I take over and everything just seems to fall into place.

“For me, for our football team, we were averaging almost 26 points a game after I took over, and I felt good about myself for the first time in a long time. We were getting killed by Kansas City. I came in there and didn’t play well. I was very depressed after that game. The following week were we playing the Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers team and we scored 38 points, I had a big game, and as the season went on I felt better about myself after so many struggles and we were winning games. Mr. Davis told me it didn’t matter how well I played, it mattered if we won. I love the fans in the Coliseum. They were tremendous, they were loyal, and no matter what, they were behind the Raider football team there.”

Lester Hayes

Cornerback, 1977-86

On breaking Houston’s heart in an AFC Wild Card game in 1980:

“I’m thinking back to our playoff game versus my hometown team, the Houston Oilers. It was the Super Bowl XV season, and it was vs. Kenny Stabler and during that week. I got like 75 phone calls from my Houston friends, my Texas A&M friends, my family. Because they loved the Oilers. Wow. To be successful in beating your hometown team. … Texas is a very fascinating state. The populace of Texas is very loyal to Texas. It’s a Texas thing. To break my family’s heart? To break my friends’ hearts? That is on a pedestal in my hippocampus. That’s deep. I broke some hearts. I broke some hearts. People were pissed off at me, because I told people that Kenny Stabler and Earl Campbell, they cannot beat us. They cannot beat us. And I was right. The final score was 27-7. It was a glorious day in Silver and Black.”


Jon Gruden

Raiders coach, 1998-2001, 2018-present

On making friends in the Black Hole:

“I guess in a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean? It’s the beginning of my NFL coaching career in a lot of ways, at least head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I kind of have a lot of history here, and some of my friends, a lot of my friends, are in the Black Hole. A lot of my only friends are here. I don’t have a lot of friends except the guys in the Black Hole. I get emotional talking about it. One day we were playing and it was pregame warm-ups, and I looked over there and I saw my mom in the Black Hole. I said, ‘Somebody go get my mom.’ My favorite memory, though, was really when Al Davis would come out and I would see him down in there in the Black Hole with the fans. That was really cool for me. I enjoyed that a lot.”


Langston Walker

Offensive lineman, 2002-06, 2009-10, Oakland native

On shutting out Chiefs 24-0 in 2002 finale to clinch the No. 1 and homefield advantage for the postseason:

“It was pouring rain all day, the field was terrible and we went into halftime up 14-0. I was a rookie and we had all kinds of greats on that team — Rich Gannon, Lincoln Kennedy, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, C-Wood, Rod Woodson. The coaches stayed in their locker room and didn’t even present any type of halftime adjustments. No halftime coaching. At all. I think Linc, Rich and Rod stood up and just laid into the whole team. I swear the Chiefs could probably hear us. By the time they were done, every member of the team was literally about to run through a wall.

“I forgot who actually broke the door to the locker room. We came back out and started clicking from the jump. The Raiderettes, who usually stayed inside if it rained, came out, no hats, no jackets. By the end, they were soaked. The crowd just surged. It was like more people came into the stadium, which was already full. Outside of Arrowhead Stadium, which I hate to admit, it was the loudest stadium I had ever been in. After we won, it [was] like this huge release of energy. It took about an hour to get out of the parking lot because people were jumping in puddles, dancing, impromptu sideshows. The fans were just so happy and excited. It felt good to be a part of that and bring so much joy to so many people.”

Rich Gannon

Quarterback, 1999-2004, 2002 NFL MVP

On beating the Titans, 41-24, to go to Super Bowl XXXVII:

“The AFC Championship Game against Tennessee. We got a lot of wins during my first four years there, but I just think that was the culmination of a lot of hard work. I’m not sure it was our best team that I was a part of when I was there, but certainly, winning that game was kind of a special night. It was really kind of a crazy game plan. We were calling like three plays in the huddle and just about every play was an audible at the line of scrimmage because of the different looks they were giving us. They brought a lot of pressures, a lot of heavy fronts, it was a very aggressive game plan from a defensive perspective that we saw that night. So it really forced us to really have a lot of flexibility at the line of scrimmage to be able to get in and out of runs and passes and protections and so forth.”


Kirk Morrison

Linebacker, 2005-09; Oakland native

On running out of the Coliseum tunnel for the first time as a Raider:

“The first game that I ran out of the tunnel as a rookie, a preseason game. And I was cool. I was good. I was fine, right? And then fricken Norv Turner comes up and slaps me on the butt and says, ‘I know you’ve been dreaming about this your whole life.’ I paused and then it just hit me — I’m a fricken Oakland Raider and I’m about to run out the fricken tunnel to ‘Hell’s Bells.’ And I literally lost it. A preseason game, here I am losing it, tears are streaming and Warren Sapp and Randy Moss and Charles Woodson, all these dudes are just killing me. Warren was giving it to me the worst. ‘Nobody cries over a preseason game!’

“But growing up in Oakland, and going to all those games with my dad, it hit me all at once. But I ended up starting every game but one in my time with the Raiders. I’m playing for something bigger than a team; I’m playing for a city. A year later, we only went 2-14, but we beat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. We intercepted Ben Roethlisberger four times, and I had one of them. The positive I took from those years was the fans, always showing up. Being a Raider and being a Raider fan is not about sports; it’s a lifestyle. One that says, ‘We don’t take nobody’s s—.”


Quarterback, 2014-present; franchise’s all-time passing yardage leader

Breaking a bone and feeling the love:

“It’s our fans. Our fans make it that way. The Black Hole. You don’t go to any other stadium and see something like that. People have tried to imitate it. People have tried to steal their team’s name and people behind it, but there’s only one — it’s Raider Nation. There’s that mystique about the Raiders. When rookies or people are starting to come play here and I’ll talk to them after the game like, ‘Man, it’s so cool to play here.’ It’s something that is like an experience for them, not just a football game. Whether we’ve been 0-10 or we’ve been trying to get a playoff spot, our fans are selling that place out and they’re always here.

“My favorite moment, I’ve said this before, it’s funny, was when I broke my ankle. I broke my ankle and you could just feel the air go out of the stadium and I remember sitting there, and as I was driving away, just the applause and the cheers. It was like, for whatever reason in that moment, I felt the love back and that’s something I’ll always remember, because I gave everything I have for our team and you give so much, it’s always nice to hear it back.”

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