Mark Davis would stand at what now marks the 50-yard line, the clock having struck and passed midnight, and stare upwards. No light illuminated through a transparent roof. No dome covered a then-unfinished Allegiant Stadium.
Just a man and his dreams under a moonlit desert sky.
“It seems like we have been waiting 60 years for this,” Davis said Saturday. “We’re finally home.”
The Raiders welcomed fans to a game at the $2 billion, 65,000-seat stadium for the first time. As team owner, Davis led a ceremonial ribbon cutting before doors swung open and thousands rushed forward in an ocean of curiosity and joy.
Davis made those late-night stops during various times of stadium construction, unaware his team’s first season in Las Vegas would be void of fans in the wake of a pandemic.
He then vowed not to attend a home game until they could.
It finally occurred by the way of an oversized pair of scissors.
“It was like a playoff game for me,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden. “Getting back to the real Raiders atmosphere. It’s hard to replicate. It’s hard to describe.”
Cranking up noise
Each soul in attendance of a sold-out stadium — there were 50,101 in the house — did their best to crank up a video board decibel meter. It sure was different than being able to clearly hear Gruden scream his, um, displeasure with officials last season.
“Wherever the Raiders go, I go,” said fan Hugo Moran of Whittier, Calif. “I’ve followed them for 45-50 years. I know (late Raiders owner Al Davis) is looking down right now and saying, ‘Good job.’ You might want to record this — the Raiders are winning this year’s Super Bowl.”
Crazy. Moran had just entered the stadium and not yet enjoyed a cold beverage.
Or not. “Trust me,” he said. “I have.”
Folks partied in the Wynn Field Club along the north end zone because what would an NFL game in Las Vegas be without a nightclub just feet from where touchdowns are scored?
Front-line and stadium workers were honored alongside military members and those from the medical field. Marie Osmond sang the national anthem and Carlos Santana performed at halftime.
There was again the majestic voice of Judith Hill singing “Rise Up,” as she did for the stadium groundbreaking in 2017. That, as the song goes, we’ll rise like the waves, we’ll rise up, in spite of the ache. That all we need is hope, and for that we have each other. What appropriate lyrics given the past year.
Fans were required to wear masks and let’s just say the mandate wasn’t embraced unanimously. But it’s tough to police tens of thousands spread across such a vast venue. Impossible, really.
“Health and safety will always be No. 1,” Davis said. “If 100 percent of people are wearing masks, we’re on to something. If not, we might have to take a little tougher approach. It might not be a popular one, but it’s one I’m willing to take if I have to. What we don’t want is to get back to (limited) attendance capacities. We want to be full capacity at all times.
“But that’s not for tonight. I want to enjoy this.”
It was three hours before kickoff when Davis stood at an outside podium just beyond the stadium’s main entrance, feet from the base of his father’s memorial torch and those massive lanai doors. He was joined by his mother, Carol, and various politicians and dignitaries.
“Welcome to Allegiant Stadium — AKA The Death Star — where opponents’ dreams come to die,” Davis told a silver and black sea of fans looking up at him from ground level. “I just want to say … Raider Nation … Welcome home!”
With that, a ribbon was cut and confetti shot into the air and a roar the size of Richie Incognito bellowed from below.
And fans who waited far longer than anyone could have imagined sprinted up a stairwell and into the place from which they will cheer their team with the same unapologetic devotion and loyalty as always.
Oh, yeah. The Raiders played Seattle on Saturday.
They beat the Seahawks 20-7.
The fans loved it.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.