Davis’ widow lights torch to christen stadium

  • Covered Oakland Raiders for CSNBayArea.com and Sacramento Bee for eight years
  • Member of Pro Football Writers Association
  • Previously worked at Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sports Illustrated

LAS VEGAS — Carol Davis, mother of Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis and widow of the team’s late iconoclast owner, lit the memorial Al Davis Torch to christen $2 billion Allegiant Stadium before Monday night’s home opener against the New Orleans Saints.

It is the first regular-season NFL game played in Las Vegas and the first time the 95-foot tall torch, the largest 3D-printed structure in the world, has been lit.

“There’s only one person that can possibly light it, and she’s agreed to do it, that’s the first lady of the Raider Nation — my mom,” Mark Davis told ESPN of his 89-year-old mother, who made the trip to Southern Nevada from her Bay Area home. She also attended the stadium’s groundbreaking event in 2017.

“I get chills thinking about it. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Probably tears thinking about it. But there’s nobody that could have lit it other than her. Because it’s really a tough time in the country, but also here in Nevada, we don’t want to seem that we’re celebrating or anything of that nature. But to have my mom light that torch means so much, and I think it will mean a lot for everybody in this valley, so I’m excited.”

Davis reiterated that he will not attend home games as a show of solidarity with fans, who are not allowed into 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium during the coronavirus pandemic.

He made his decision after NFL owners voted 32-1 (Davis being the dissenter) to tarp off the first eight rows of seats from the field to use for advertising during games.

“I couldn’t do it,” Davis said. “I believe it’s all or none. There’s just no way to tell a guy who’s sitting in the first eight rows, ‘You can’t go.’ But the guy sitting one row behind, ‘You can go.’ There’s just no way to choose in that [scenario].

“We’ll just wait for next year and have Inaugural Season 2.0, and everybody can enjoy it.”

Davis, who did travel with the team to Carolina last week, is watching the game while hosting a socially distanced viewing party at the team’s facility in suburban Henderson, some 11 miles south of Allegiant Stadium with “a number of people who helped us get here.” Davis said the team will be honoring those individuals and making charitable contributions in their names.

The torch has been a Raiders pregame tradition since Al Davis died at age 82 on Oct. 8, 2011, with lighters ranging from former coaches such as John Madden and Tom Flores to former players such as Cliff Branch, Howie Long, Jim Plunkett and Lester Hayes, to Oakland baseball Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Reggie Jackson, to actress and family friend Ann-Margret — whose “Viva Las Vegas” movie poster is framed and hanging opposite Mark Davis’ vacant suite at Allegiant. It is part of an art gallery, of sorts, that recognizes the histories of the city and the franchise converging at the stadium, which is at the corner of Dean Martin Drive and Al Davis Way.

“It’s really important, and everything we do is trying to pay homage to Las Vegas,” Davis said, “let them know that we don’t think we’re just coming in here and you’ve got to love us, but we’re coming in here and we want to prove and earn any respect we get.”

Also, even before the spate of injuries to star players in Sunday’s games, Davis restated why he insisted on a natural playing surface (it slides in on a tray, similar to the process at the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium).

“The mandate that there be a grass field was also an important component of this,” Davis said. “There was no way I was going to have an AstroTurf field.

“I think football, No. 1, should be played on grass. But No. 2, it’s safety. It’s a safety issue. And the players really prefer it. It’s funny that the [artificial turf] teams are usually built to be really quick, fast and all of that stuff. But our field is really fast. Our grass is really a fast track. [Artificial turf] would have been a deal breaker.”

The Raiders had called the Oakland Coliseum home from 1966 through 1981, and again since 1995, after playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from 1982 through 1994.

In fact, the L.A. Coliseum’s peristyle end and Olympic torch atop it were inspirations for the northern end of domed Allegiant Stadium, which has a translucent roof and sliding lanai doors that open to the Las Vegas Strip. Davis has taken to referring to the Raiders’ new home as the “Death Star” from “Star Wars” fame.

“It’s a name,” Davis said, “that at least gives [players] the feeling of coming out and kicking someone’s ass.”

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