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Graney: Raiders count on local sports fans to join party

Cities are often defined by sports moments. The good, bad and ugly of them. Las Vegas is no different. It has had quite a few.

Like, well, Evel Knievel jumping the fountain at Caesars Palace and crashing.

But this Raiders-Chargers game Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium is different. It’s not a contrived stunt. It’s big for all sorts of reasons.

The winner clinches a playoff berth. And even if they lose, the Raiders would still have an opportunity to make the postseason if some highly unlikely results occur across the league earlier in the day.

It’s just much better to earn a victory and not count on the benevolence of underdogs.

“We’re going to be playing the game in front of Raider Nation, so hopefully there will be a black-out crowd,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “We’re excited about it.”

One of 32

There is something to be said for being one of 32. Having an NFL team often defines how you are identified globally.

Las Vegas was a sports town long before the Raiders relocated from Oakland and Allegiant Stadium was born. But the arrival of both raised its perception as a major-league destination.

K.J. Wright began to feel the emotion during the Dec. 26 home game against Denver. That’s when, the Raiders linebacker said, you finally got the feeling local excitement for the team had sunk in. That fans began to sense the Raiders had a real chance. He expects Sunday to be even crazier.

“This is what you live for,” Wright said.

Here’s the thing: The Raiders will always be viewed differently than the Golden Knights, whose expansion arrival for the 2017-18 season coincided with a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival.

A faithful connection between Las Vegas and the team was born. A franchise of which the majority of players and staff had no ties to Southern Nevada became a path by which the city could begin its long and arduous road to recovery.

The Knights will forever hold a special place in the hearts of sports fans here, perhaps even those who don’t follow hockey. They played that significant a part in the healing process.

Here’s another thing: It’s OK for the Raiders to be different. It certainly doesn’t diminish the level of impact an NFL team can have.

Biggest moment yet

Las Vegas will soon host a Pro Bowl, NFL draft and the Super Bowl, the latter arriving in 2024. Such is what an NFL team can do for one’s city. All eyes on us.

The Raiders in time can be embraced in their own unique manner. There will always be a section of folks who vehemently disagreed with approving $750 million in taxpayer revenue toward the construction of Allegiant Stadium. Always those who will hold that against the Raiders and not adopt them as their own.

But for those who have, there is really nothing like having a city’s NFL team to follow — no matter how transient Las Vegas is and how many Raiders fans exist elsewhere. As we know, it’s a massive number.

Elimination games to decide playoff berths are hardly the most important of a given season. But this particular one signifies the biggest moment yet for the Raiders in Las Vegas. It’s another chance for the team to intertwine its product within the fabric of a community.

“It’s going to be exciting and loud,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “It’s basically our playoff game for our fans. What an exciting time — for our last game of the (regular season) to mean so much for our city and organization.

“Las Vegas, we need ya.”

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.