The Autumn Wind is an owner
Shopping his NFL team
To Las Vegas, San Antonio
And any city with a dream
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His father was an iconoclast
Audacious, Brilliant, Bold
He relished going against the grain
Welcoming castoffs into the fold
Three Super Bowls saw Silver and Black
Raise that trophy high
“Commitment to Excellence” on the tongue
A black patch over one eye
The Autumn Wind is a Raider
A legacy in ebony and chrome
No move would prove more visionary
Than to call the Valley home
Upon first hearing the original “Autumn Wind” from NFL Films in 1974, Al Davis said “it epitomized everything that the Raiders stood for.” What does this historically proud, resilient, and often rebellious franchise stand for in the 21st century? Will Mark Davis demonstrate as much chutzpah as his legendarily headstrong father?
If the Raiders’ owner really wants to carve out his own legacy and blaze a new NFL trail, the perfect opportunity may be hiding in plain sight. If Davis were to take a long look out the window of that private jet on the way to Texas or Sin City, what appears at first glance to be flyover country might come into focus as the Golden State’s next football frontier.
San Antonio has the Alamo, the Spurs and the River Walk. Vegas dazzles with the bright lights of the Strip. But the San Joaquin Valley can deliver something no other location can: the most loyal legion of fans this franchise has ever known. Many Bay Area fans wrote off the Raiders when they left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982. With the return to the East Bay in 1995, SoCal Silver & Black stock took a tumble.
Valley support has never dried up, perennially pouring into the Black Hole through a giant funnel stretching from Bakersfield to Modesto and beyond.
This Central California corridor boasts 3.5 million people, easily outpacing metro San Antonio (2.3 million) and Las Vegas (2 million). Fresno is the state’s fifth-largest city, and the only one in the top 40 that is more than 120 miles removed from a major-league professional franchise. This area is as ripe for the picking as a summer peach dangling from a branch in Clovis or Sanger. Mr. Davis would find stadiums in those two locales named for two of his franchise’s most legendary leaders, Daryle Lamonica and Tom Flores. Why partner with UNLV on a stadium overshadowed by the Strip, when he could team up with the university that gave him Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr?
Imagine a stadium that hosts the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturdays, the Raiders on Sundays, and would become the ideal central location for the California high school championships. Picture the Goodyear blimp beaming down aerial vistas of Yosemite Valley, lush vineyards, or expansive orange groves as national television audiences get a whole new perspective on what makes Central California unique.
The Golden State has been awfully kind to the Raiders for 55 years. If Mr. Davis decides he has to leave Oakland, the San Joaquin Valley provides an option that makes financial and geographic sense. Beyond business, it presents the chance to register a greater impact.
It’s hard to imagine San Antonio or Las Vegas being more significantly transformed by the addition of an NFL franchise than the Central Valley would. The economic ripples would be fast and furious for a region waiting for a reason to build bigger, better hotels and expand airline options. Pockets of poverty and unemployment could shrink as construction and maintenance of the stadium develop. The collective consciousness of this blue-collar breadbasket includes a Half Dome-sized chip on the shoulder with respect to its bigger city brethren to the north and the south. The Knights of the Shield would need no extra convincing to bring their holy war passion every NFL Sunday.
A true visionary sees what others cannot, driving beyond the obvious and ready-made to discover bold and unique possibilities. The greatest successes of Al Davis reflected that kind of daring and determination. Here’s hoping his successor finds a way to make his mark in the oft-overlooked and much-maligned middle of our most marvelous state.
Paul Loeffler is the play-by-play announcer of Fresno State athletics on KFIG 940 AM and founder/vice president of Central Valley Honor Flight.