Justifiably unnoted by Comrade Anantharaman in her comprehensive Las Vegas Aces championship wrap-up was the presence of team owner Mark Davis, because when you’re talking championship clincher vs. second game of the season, there is nothing to discuss. If nothing else, one has champagne.
But as an added bonus, the other game had the rich frothy bile that only comes with a gutpunch loss to an allegedly inferior team that only reminds you that Vegas is an Aces/Golden Knights town until the Raiders stop doing stuff like they did Sunday.
So the question here is, what did Mark Davis actually know about this weekend, and how much of his choice was based on knowing about his football team’s psychological frailties? Spoiler alert: the question is rhetorical.
Still, the Raiders crapped out in such spectacular fashion against the Arizona Cardinals that one has to ask the tinfoil hat question anyway, even allowing for the fact that the obvious answer is Mark Davis didn’t have a clue that one way lay glory and the other unutterable shame. He did the right thing. He just didn’t know how right a thing it was.
The Raiders took a predictable 20-0 halftime lead on the Cardinals, who are well on their way to another year of ashes-and-marmalade sandwiches, with the seeming capper being Daniel Carlson’s 55-yard field goal at the break. The Aces’ WNBA Finals clincher over Connecticut could be shown on the giant scoreboard, and everyone would be happy that a second Vegas-based team had reached the final level in its sport, and one had completed the task.
But then there was the third team, which took that 20-0 lead and turned it into table-games-level hilarity. First, the Raiders gave up more yards to the Cardinals after halftime than they gained in their entire game. Second, they gave up two eight-point touchdowns in the final eight minutes, the first because Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray scrambled 84.9 yards (NFL NextGen Stats estimate) to keep the conversion alive.
The second conversion came about after Murray, who had scored from three yards out as time and his pocket were expiring, took a delay-of-game call on the conversion because of substitution confusion and still found A.J. Green with the game-tying deuce.
But that was nothing compared to how the Raiders set themselves up for the finale—by having a Derek Carr-to-Hunter Renfrow pass in overtime turned into a strip by Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons and a recovery and touchdown by Byron Murphy Jr. To add groin punch to throat kick, Murphy flipped the ball gleefully out of his hands at the goal line and it took a lengthy review by the replay closet to decide that it was a touchdown and not actually one final colossal screwup en route to the most disgraceful tie in NFL history.
And Davis missed all that madcap fun for a championship and the soul-cleansing sense that there is something he owns that works well. This isn’t his story—all he really did was buy a growing concern and not get in its way, but he inherited the Raiders more than decade ago and doesn’t get in their way, either, unless you call hiring Jon Gruden and letting him run wild an example of getting in the way.
The point is, he had a choice to make Sunday and decided not to do as most owners would have done. He played the percentages, made the obvious choice irrespective of gender biases, and showed up in the correct place at the proper time, rather than give in to the unstated peer pressure of the-NFL-is-king. If he deserves credit for anything, it’s ignoring Holly Rowe’s softball question to kick off the trophy ceremony about investing in women, and choosing to pass the microphone quickly rather than engage in any self-aggrandizing. Somewhere his father is shrieking damnations, which is proof if proof were needed that this time, Mark Davis did the right thing. The only thing to wonder is, was it the right thing based on the right instincts, or did he know something about the football team that made him want to be even closer to the basketball team? As Toots Hibbert sang back in the day, “It’s a perfect ponder.”