BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas, Raiders! As of Monday, March 27, 2017, Vegas is officially a professional sports town: the National Football League has joined the National Hockey League in choosing it as a host city. “Who doesn’t want to play in Vegas?!” exclaimed Jason McCourty. He immediately added a reservation about the desert heat, though: “…As long as it’s not summertime.” When I told him the new stadium will have a dome, he animatedly added: “Then all the better: sign me up!”
Thankfully, the stigma of gambling alongside professional sports has been lifted and the desensitization of the term is complete. After all, sports gambling is widespread. Have you ever played a daily fantasy game, managed a fantasy team through a season, created a March Madness bracket, or played in a Super Bowl box pool? Yes? Then you have gambled on sports.
Excitement around the league has reached a fever pitch not just among the fans, coaches, and owners, but among the players, as well. Friday night, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, and Mohamed Sanu hosted me at their annual event to raise money for the Embrace Kids Foundation. This year’s event, Super Rally at the Alley, featured the opportunity to bowl alongside the McCourtys, Sanu, Julio Jones and the entire Rutgers Football family.
I asked Sanu and the McCourtys about playing their away games in Las Vegas. Veterans of the league, I knew they would offer great insight. Jason McCourty, defensive captain, has played for the Tennessee Titans for the past 8 seasons. Two-time Super Bowl winning defensive captain Devin McCourty has spent the last 8 seasons with the New England Patriots. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, has been behind the relocation of the Raiders to Las Vegas from the outset. Mohamed Sanu is entering his 6th NFL season, having played for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons.
All three are excited about playing professional football in Las Vegas. Mohamed Sanu told me earlier in our interview: “I love to dance. I love to entertain people”. He, with one of the NFL’s loudest personalities, surprisingly, was most cautious about playing in the city of Las Vegas. “It’s going to be something, especially [for] the guys that like to gamble…. I think it’ll be different. I’ve never played in Las Vegas: the only time I’ve gone [there] is to go to the casino…. It’ll be interesting.”
Keep in Mind: Las Vegas’ Gain is Oakland’s Loss
Parting with a beloved franchise is tough. Fans in and around St. Louis know the feeling all-too-well after the Rams packed up and moved to Los Angeles. Its fans created GoFundMe accounts to raise enough money to keep them there. Jason McCourty empathizes: “I think what sucks the most about teams moving, in general, is the fans in that city. The Oakland fans losing the Raiders, a [historical] team that has been there for years. You remember the Al Davis years and everything that has gone on there: the Black Hole and what it’s all about…. I only played in Oakland once and I still remember how the fans greeted us when we got there so I think those type of traditions get lost when teams move and that’s the worst part of the whole thing….” It will be interesting to see how well “Oakland” traditions travel to the Raiders’ new home.
There are clearly some details to iron out from a team management point of view. Both Jason and Devin McCourty cited the fact that they would enjoy being the visiting team, not the home team. “It’s great for an opposing team, you won’t have enough time there and even if you do you won’t get in that [much trouble]. It’s bad for the home team” explained Devin. Jason McCourty and his wife just welcomed their third child into the world on February 28th, 2017. He told me about a concern he has for home team’s family structure: “I don’t know how the wives of the players would feel with the guys being in Vegas.” Devin is already anticipating a strict no-gambling policy: “We, [the Patriots], would be the team to go in [and] ‘you can’t gamble’ so, that won’t be a big deal for players.” It would be interesting to see if issues arising from player gambling will be determined and enforced by the league or by the individual teams.
It would be smart for the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, to set the tone immediately for all teams so that the rules (and penalties) are consistent. In terms of distractions, as I have explained on my radio show 60 Minute Overtime, playing in Las Vegas is not unlike playing in cities like New York and Miami. Some players ‘make it’ in those cities and others get burnt by the spotlight. Devin agreed. With a laugh, he told me: “It’s tough to be successful in Vegas. I always said: ‘I think Miami is a tough place too’. Those cities that, any day of the week you can go do something… for young guys, that’s tough.” Just like the players in Miami and in New York, a prototypical “Las Vegas” player will be borne.
Although millions of people are now jumping on the Raiders-to-Las-Vegas bandwagon, I have been excited about and on board with the idea of Raiders’ relocation since its inception. I even published a research-intensive piece about it at the beginning of November. An insider to the relocation complimented my article on Twitter, saying it was as if a Las Vegas native had written it: comprehensive and well-executed. I reside in New Jersey. (After searching for 15 minutes, I discovered the tweet has since been deleted, so, there is no need to give him free advertising on my site.)
All in all, the three players that I spoke with are ready for the Raiders’ relocation to Sin City. Jason told me: “To play against them sounds exciting- to get a chance to go to Vegas.” Devin echoed his sentiments: “I think it would be cool to have a team in Vegas. Being there, for some guys, all year round. [As the] opposing team coming in, [there are] places to eat, things to do. I think it would be exciting.” With a grin, he added: “I would love it because we, [the Patriots], would probably go in on Friday. You can’t beat that!” When I suggested he move next year’s fundraiser to the infamous Vegas pool parties, McCourty replied, with a laugh: “Yeah, I know!”
— Pat Capra (@LunarSports) December 15, 2016
I discussed this topic, in-depth, on my sports radio show, 60 Minute Overtime (#60MinOT), on Sunday March 27, 2017 (90.3FM-WRPR).
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