OAKLAND — Some 40 minutes before a bright orange military helicopter ripped over the Coliseum and fireworks launched from a tarped Mt. Davis — punctuating the singing of the national anthem — Jerry Jones and Mark Davis, the owners of the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders, respectively, talked along the home sideline at midfield.
The last time Jones and his Cowboys had met Davis and the Raiders, the future was a bright and promising place for both teams.
It was Aug. 26 — Week 3 of the preseason. The site was AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys’ 80,000-seat football palace.
The Cowboys were fresh off a 13-3 finish, quarterbacked by Dak Prescott, who had delivered such a stunning debut season that he forced Tony Romo into early retirement.
The Raiders were returning from a 12-4 campaign, curtailed only by Derek Carr’s broken fibula on Christmas Eve.
By that August evening, Carr had a healthy spring and summer of practice under his belt, he was two months removed from scoring a then-NFL record $125-million deal.
As Jones and Davis chatted before the Raiders’ season-deflating 20-17 loss on Sunday night, the giant video screens, perched atop opposite ends of the bowl, flashed images of Raiders luminaries like Tim Brown. Andre Ward, the local boxing legend, lit the Al Davis torch.
When the schedules were originally drawn up, this was supposed to be a late-season matchup between a pair of Super Bowl contenders. Instead, it proved to be a battle between the league’s two most disappointing teams.
“[It was a] heck of a game,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after the loss, which dropped his team to 6-8 and pushed the Cowboys to 8-6. “I thought it was a gritty effort back and forth. I really, really believed that we were going to pull it out and I was going to be sitting up here with a big smile.”
After Del Rio spent the week imploring his Raiders to “let it rip,” the team was shut out in the opening half — for the third time this season.
Carr threw for four yards in the first quarter. The Raiders didn’t secure a first down until the 12:25 mark of the second when Carr, improbably, scrambled for one.
Giorgio Tavecchio whiffed a 39-yard kick as the clock expired, prompting one Raider staffer to blurt out: “Pack it up.”
Prescott, who rivals Carr for one of the most underachieving quarterbacks of 2017, came to let it rip — for better and worse.
Prescott dared the Raiders’ secondary throughout the night, repeatedly throwing into danger — resulting in a pair of interceptions for cornerback Sean Smith.
His bold approach was also rewarded in a bizarre fourth-quarter scene. Prescott took off from his own 39-yard line on a fourth-and-short keeper. The first-down measurement was so close that the referees pulled out a piece of paper to place between the chain and the ball.
“I don’t want to get fined,” Del Rio said. “I’m not happy with the way things were done in a lot of different situations throughout the night.”
In the second half, Carr and the Raiders finally let loose, rallying for 17 points — including a pair of touchdown strikes to Michael Crabtree.
Ultimately, it was Carr’s decision to play without abandon that did the Raiders in. With 39 seconds to go, Carr took off from the 8-yard line. As he approached the goal line, Carr soared toward the pylon, fumbling out
of the end zone, leading to a touchback.
“I left it all out there — just trying to win for my teammates,” Carr said. “No excuse. I’ve got to hold onto the ball, but the fight our team played with, that was familiar.”