To your average person, it was just another unsuspecting Sunday morning in Las Vegas. But, if you’re a Raiders fan, it was a day that will forever go down in history.
September 13 marked the first official NFL game for the Raiders since moving to Las Vegas. They were set to play against the Carolina Panthers to kick off the season.
Tommy Rocker’s behind the Strip is a local hotspot for service industry workers. It’s also one of the most prominent Raider bars in town. It was the setting of one of the many Raiders watch parties scattered around town that morning. The venue was at full capacity by 8:00 A.M. – two hours before the games 10:00 A.M. start time.
Raiders fanatics filled the bar. Many donned face paint, silver wigs, elaborate makeup, bandanas, and costumes to commemorate the first game of the season. Raiders fans, also dubbed, the “Raider Nation” are unlike any other sports fandom in the country.
M.J. Acosta is a sports journalist who specializes in covering the NFL, “I have never seen a fanbase in the 10 years I’ve reported for this league that is as intense, travels as well, or as hardcore as the Raider Nation,” she told Vice News.
“Because of the proximity that we have to Mexico, the Latin community here is so powerful, I love how infused it is into the game,“ she said.
The Raiders were founded in 1961 in Oakland, California. Between 1982 and 1994 the team relocated to Los Angeles, before moving back to Oakland in 1995. It was announced in 2017 that they would move once again to Las Vegas. The deal included the teams first ever home stadium.
Three years later, the plan has finally come into fruition.
By the virtue of playing in the West Coast, the Raiders have always had close ties with Chicano culture. Tom Flores, who played for the Raiders in the 1960’s was the NFL’s first Mexican American quarterback. In 1980, Jim Plunkett became the first minority quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl win. He remains the only Latino to be named Super Bowl MVP.
It’s clear that those roots resonated with generations of young latinos. Although the Raiders move to Las Vegas was bittersweet to some fans, many revel that it’s still within close proximity to California. Las Vegas also has its own vast and thriving Latinx community.
Lifelong Raiders fan Anthony Herrera aka “Raiders Jester” has donned his black & grey clown costume for over three years. He is a celebrity within the Raider Nation.
Despite games being closed to the public, Herrera recently moved to Las Vegas from Inglewood to follow the team. It was an impulsive decision. Within one month, Herrera and his fiance both quit their jobs and hit the road to Vegas. “We had no expectation about what was going to happen out here,” he told Vegas News.
Last season, Herrera drove from L.A. to Oakland to attend six Raiders games. “We would drive up to the game, turn around and drive back.We just loved it,” he said.
His fandom began in 1982, he was at a game at the L.A. Coliseum, “all I remember is silver and black,” he said. “It was an automatic attraction. It began with the colors, then I grew a love for it, getting a knowledge of the game, learning the players, and the team’s history.”
For him, being a member of the Raider Nation is more than just the game. “To me, I do this for the love of the nation, and for the kids, and for the next generation.”
Back inside Tommy Rockers, the Raiders made their first touchdown in the game’s first quarter. Everyone in the room jumped out of their chairs, chanted, and cheered.
“Never in my life did I ever think Las Vegas would ever score a touchdown,” said Chris, a Vegas native and watch party spectator.
The Raiders won the game after a close match, with a final score of 34 to 30. Strangers were hi-fiving, hugging, and dancing. For just a few minutes, we all lived in a shared moment of bliss.