Photographer Jeff Bennett shares his perspective of the 2023 season as he breaks down five of his favorite photos.
Make A Wish
Cruz looked back smiling at his parents as his favorite player, Josh Jacobs, bent down and signed the back of his jersey. At the age of six, Cruz had been diagnosed with leukemia. His wish was to attend a Raiders game and meet some of the players he looks up to. Little did he and three other Make-A-Wish children know, they would have a weekend to remember.
The Raiders hosted two Make-A-Wish weekends this year, with two families visiting each weekend. They all got to tour Intermountain Health Performance Center, and the next day before the game, stood on the sidelines as the Raiders warmed up. These visits were a chance for the Raiders help make dreams come true and partner with Make-A-Wish to help fulfill their mission statement – "Together, we created life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses."
Spreading holiday cheer
The faces of the kids lit up as they entered the Raiders locker room at Allegiant Stadium and saw it filled with toys. Raiders players and Raiderettes helped navigate the maze of toys as the bright eyed kids selected the perfect gifts to take home.
There are a few events the Raiders put on every year that I look forward to shooting, and the Youth Holiday Party is one of them. The Silver and Black invited 200 kids to the stadium this year for a night of games, crafts, ice staking and a trip to the locker room to pick out a special holiday present bought with donations from the players. Some of the kids, in attendance with various community groups, have endured a lot in their young lives, but as soon as they entered the stadium they seemed able to forget everything and be carefree kids again.
Friday Night Lights
The game was tied 27-27 in overtime and Arbor View kicker Jeau Vintier lined up for a PAT that would give Arbor View a victory over Desert Pines in a highly emotional game. Seconds later as the ball sailed through the uprights, the Arbor View sideline emptied onto the field and Vintier was a hero, being congratulated by teammates as he yelled with excitement.
The Arbor View and Desert Pines game was just one of 10 games the Raiders showcased through the youth football program this year, each with their own highlights and moments of nostalgia taking me back to my high school days. While being on the NFL sideline is a blast, there is something special about spending a Friday night under the lights with the band and cheerleaders performing as players celebrate a victory.
Campers vs. Crosby
The campers lined up at the goal line next to Maxx Crosby and for a brief second, thought they might be able to beat him in a 40-yard dash. As soon as the horn sounded, those thoughts vanished as Crosby easily took the lead leaving them battling for second.
This was just one of many chances youth players got to compete and learn from Raiders players and coaches at different youth football camps throughout the year, which is always fun to watch. The younger players tend to be a bit overwhelmed by everything going on, while the older campers intently listen as they learn skills and techniques they hope will one day have them sharing a field with the pro players they're learning from.
Tricks and Treats
Taking a break from working on Halloween crafts, a young boy stood up only to be eaten by a dinosaur ridden by AJ Cole. The boy wouldn't be the only child attacked by the dinosaur as Cole rode round the room at the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, spreading laughs among the young kids.
Fans tend to look at players as gladiators, cheering their name when they give them fantasy points and cursing their names when something doesn't go right. These community events, though, are a chance to showcase who the players are off the field and give fans a reason to connect with players on a personal level.