There’s been a lot of talk lately about building a new stadium in Las Vegas and the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League moving here to play in it. You’ll hear plenty about whether to build it, how to finance it, and the NFL’s views on gambling and betting. But believe it or not, there’s already some history involving Las Vegas and the Raiders.
Las Vegas has been home to the XFL, a short-lived experiment connected to the World Wrestling Federation, and the Arena Football League. In 1994, when the Canadian Football League tried expanding to the United States, the Las Vegas Posse were one of that league’s least successful franchises, on the field and in its attendance figures.
To date, only one game involving NFL teams has been played in Las Vegas—a pre-season game on August 29, 1964. One of the teams was, yes, the Raiders. And it wasn’t an NFL game. You heard that right.
In 1960, a group of businesspeople formed the American Football League to compete with the older NFL. Bay Area businessmen led by homebuilder Wayne Valley ran the Oakland Raiders, but not very well. The team was bad for its first three seasons. Then, Valley brought in a new head coach and general manager, Al Davis, previously an assistant coach at USC and with the San Diego Chargers. Davis built the team into a powerful franchise, winning ten of fourteen games his first year. He also was a risk-taker, including hiring the NFL’s first African American head coach and daring to move the Raiders to Los Angeles against the league’s will.
After a successful 1963 season, Davis and his wife Carol visited Las Vegas in February 1964. He had lunch with Review-Journal sports editor Ron Amos. Davis suggested playing a pre-season game against the Houston Oilers—as he put it, “if the guarantee was right,” meaning there would be enough money to assure that the Raiders wouldn’t lose anything on the deal. Sure enough, the game happened.
It took place at 8:30 p.m. on August 29, 1964, at Cashman Field, then the home to some local sporting events and the annual Elks Helldorado. Las Vegas Mayor Oran Gragson proclaimed it Professional Football Day in Las Vegas. The ticket prices were between three-fifty and ten dollars, with the money going to Wilbur Clark’s Cavalcade of Charities, including the Catholic Youth Organization, Spring Mountain Youth Camp, the Las Vegas Swim Club, and the Good Shepherd Home. It made sense that Clark was involved—he was one of the most popular people in Las Vegas. In fact, the Oilers stayed at the Stardust and the Raiders at the Desert Inn. Clark was a part-owner of both hotels at the time, although Moe Dalitz and his partners ran them.
Several local businesses and businesspeople teamed to advertise the game. There were hotels—the Showboat, Castaways, New Frontier, and Elwell. Some Las Vegas pioneers: Assemblyman Joe McNamee, from a pioneer legal family, and Ronzone’s Department Store. Other sponsors included Southern Nevada Telephone, Las Vegas Laundry and Cleaners, Young and Rue Moving and Storage, County Clerk Helen Scott Reed, Justice of the Peace candidate Jim Brennan, local judge David Zenoff, and West Las Vegas casino owner Z Louie. The headquarters for game tickets was the Tropics Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard South, near the site of the present-day Stratosphere.
As for the game and its meaning … more on that next time.
Nevada Yesterdays is written by Associate Professor Michael Green of UNLV, and narrated by former Senator Richard Bryan. Supported by Nevada Humanities
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