The location might have been different, but commute aside, everything else was essentially the same for the five Oakland Raiders who spent part of their Wednesday morning at Gene Ward Elementary School in Las Vegas.
Bruce Irvin, along with Rodney Hudson, Lee Smith, Karl Joseph, and Shilique Calhoun, handed out stickers, answered questions – and even hit a few Milly Rocks – with the assembled third graders who displayed their Raiders-themed artwork for their special guests, before being surprised with the news that they would all be in attendance at the upcoming opening of an exhibit at the Discovery Children’s Museum.
“I've been to a lot of schools throughout my career — you know, I have four kids myself — and kiddos kind of have my heart,” said Smith. “I don't know that I've ever seen a group of kids as excited as I saw these kids today.”
Excitement was certainly the theme of the morning, and Gene Ward Assistant Principal Jeannine Anderson was quick to acknowledge the importance of the Silver and Black’s visit to both students and teachers.
“It is just seeing gentlemen that they can look up to as role models, and again, that they’re taking time out of their busy schedules to come and see the kids, and thank them, thank the teachers, [it] is really a neat experience,” Anderson explained.
She continued, “right now it feels like, okay, our community can really get behind the team because we’re like, ‘oh my gosh, they want to be a part of the community.’ They’re here, so, yes, we’re ready to embrace them. We’re very excited that they chose us to share this experience with.”
From the “Welcome Raiders” signs hung in the hallways, to the Raiders hats and jerseys on full display, Irvin, Hudson, and Co., no doubt walked into a building that was happy to see them up close and personal, and that feeling was mutual.
“This is going to be our home in a few years,” Joseph explained. “We want to be able to come out here and show our support, just like we do in Oakland.”
“Listen, there's only 32 cities in the world that's got us big, ugly jokers running around,” added Smith. “It's exciting to see how fired up they are. If it changes their life, then all this was worth it.”
The Silver and Black aren’t slated to officially arrive in Southern Nevada until 2020, but even though the team remains based in Northern California, events like Wednesday’s give locals a taste of what’s to come down the road.
“We have a lot of students who are transients from other states, other countries, so obviously they have their home teams they’re rooting for, but now, them being in Las Vegas they can truly have their own home team to root for,” Anderson said. “It’s a very exciting thing.”
“I think it’s pretty cool, and just to see the looks on the kid’s faces, some of them don’t even watch football, just the fact that they know we’re Raiders, it gets them excited,” Joseph added. “It’s just fun to be out here.”