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Return to Storied Coliseum Marks Monumental Moment for Raiders

Return to Storied Coliseum Marks Monumental Moment for Raiders

The Oakland Raiders return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is garnering much attention heading into this weekend’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. But the team’s history is just a part of the overall history of the stadium that has been home to so many memorable and historic events.

From Bo Jackson to Marcus Allen — with Todd Marinovich in between — the Raiders return Saturday to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum rekindles memories of historic proportions throughout the National Football League.

bo jackson los angeles memorial coliseum

Bo Jackson’s football career began – and ended – inside the LA Coliseum

For the first time since leaving the majestic sporting cathedral constructed in the early 1920s as a living and lasting monument to all who served in the First World War, the Raiders will play a game that matters little but is meaningful just the same.

“We have a lot of history — the Raiders do — in L.A.,” Coach Jon Gruden said. “That’s a pretty cool place.”

When the Los Angeles Rams lock horns with Oakland in the Exposition Park neighborhood of South L.A., it will mark much more than just a pro football dress rehearsal. Barely six hours driving distance, two notoriously nomadic NFL franchises will share a storied playground that transcends sports as a historical welcoming mat.

Standing tall like Michelangelo’s massive marble sculpture of David, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has towered mightily over time as site for everything from two Super Bowls to President Kennedy’s 1960 acceptance speech.

Standing tall like Michelangelo’s massive marble biblical sculpture of David, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has towered mightily over time as site for everything from two Super Bowls to President Kennedy’s 1960 acceptance speech. In 2028, following a $270 million restoration, the mammoth monument will serve as the venue for a record third Summer Olympic Games.

Besides the Raiders playing their home games there during their 1983 Super Bowl XVIII championship season, much has occurred since a measly 12,836 watched tiny Pomona College take on mighty USC on Oct. 6, 1923, in the 75,144-seat structure’s inaugural event.

evel knievel los angeles memorial coliseum

Legendary daredevil Evil Knievel jumped 50 crushed cars at the Coliseum in 1973.

In 1973, six years after his infamous Caesars Palace fountain motorcycle stunt in Las Vegas, Evel Knievel used the entire distance of the stadium to jump 50 stacked automobiles. In 1972, Wattstax, the “Black-Woodstock,” drew 100,000 people on behalf of African-American pride.

Less than a decade before, in September 1963, nearly 135,000 Christians gathered for a Billy Graham crusade. Some 20 years later, powerhouse musical acts such as Bruce Springsteen and U2 raucously packed the joint, as did the Rolling Stones, whose 1981 “Tattoo You” tour introduced the world to Prince.

From mega-motocross and mixed martial arts extravaganzas to the Special Olympics and the debut of the Los Angeles Temptation of the Lingerie Football League, the Coliseum has served as much more than a backdrop to Hollywood some seven miles to the north.

The Brooklyn Dodgers played there from 1958 until Dodger Stadium was completed in time for the 1962 season, including three games of the 1959 World Series that drew more than 92,000 fans each. A regular-season sellout crowd of 115,300 established a record for baseball attendance, breaking the mark set at a 1956 Summer Olympics demonstration game.

los angeles memorial coliseum john kennedy

Then-candidate for president John Kennedy gave his famous “New Frontier” speech in accepting the Democratic nomination in 1960 at the Coliseum.

Of course, for 13 seasons from 1982 through 1994, football and the Raiders ruled, supplanting even the host USC Trojans as the site’s main proprietor and attraction. While the cross-town UCLA Bruins played their home games at the Coliseum before moving to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl just prior the Raiders’ 1982 Tinseltown debut, the USFL’s Los Angeles Express shared the field for three seasons from 1983 to 1985.

Site of JFK’s memorable “New Frontier” nomination address at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, the Raiders embarked on their own spirited revival in Los Angeles by playing their first home game against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 22, 1982, 19 years to the day of the 35th president’s assassination.

los angeles raiders los angeles memorial coliseumThe Raiders went 118-82 (64-36 at home) with eight winning seasons and two .500 campaigns during their Coliseum residency, which featured the play of perennial Pro Bowlers Jim Plunkett and Howie Long under fellow Hall of Famers Al Davis and Art Shell, the first African-American head coach in the NFL’s modern era.

Largely recognized by then by the moniker “Silver and Black,” the team played its final game at the Coliseum on Dec. 24, 1994, against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Christmas Eve defeat nearly a quarter century ago eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs.

The Raiders made seven playoff appearances, won four AFC West titles and had two AFC Championship showings while posting a 5-2 home playoff record at the Coliseum. Their 38-9 victory over the Redskins following their second season there in 1983 made them the only L.A.-based NFL world championship team. Long before that, in 1946, the Cleveland (Los Angeles) Rams, gave way to the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference, before merging with their NFL cousins to help formulate the league as we know it today. In addition to World Cup soccer qualifying, the Los Angeles Xtreme lined up on the Coliseum gridiron en route to winning the short-lived XFL’s only championship in the spring of 2001.

los angeles memorial coliseum al davis

The late Hall of Fame owner of the then Los Angeles Raiders, Al Davis, walks through the LA Coliseum.

For all its storied past, the Raiders looked to move out of the cavernous Coliseum as early as 1986. In addition to renovation delays and foiled stadium proposals, the NFL scheduled the team’s Monday Night Football appearances on the road to avoid having the league’s second-largest market blacked out by empty seats.

The Raiders return to Oakland following the 1994 season left the Coliseum without a pro football tenant for the first time since the end of World War II. Largely recognized by then by the moniker “Silver and Black,” the team played its final game at the Coliseum on Dec. 24, 1994, against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Christmas Eve defeat nearly a quarter century ago eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs.

Left behind, however, was a cultural revolution on the city and franchise that has forever branded Angelenos as the birth parents — and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the birthplace — of Raider Nation.

View Last Minutes of the existence of the Los Angeles Raiders.

Former longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal Sports Editor Jim Fossum brings nearly 40 years of award-winning experience covering virtually every facet of print and digital journalism to Las Vegas Raiders Report. Fossum is the site's senior columnist and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus. Recently retired, the 1980 Northern Arizona University graduate began his 25-year Review-Journal career in January 1981 as tennis, golf and football beat writer. He was lead writer for the annual Alan King/Caesars Palace Tennis Classic, featuring Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg; all three of Las Vegas’ major professional golf tour stops as a longtime member of the Golf Writers Association of America; and the celebrated “Randall Cunningham Era” of UNLV football. Also a copy editor and page designer who became R-J sports editor at age 33 shortly after covering UNLV in the 1991 Final Four, Fossum was named Nevada Sportswriter of the Year in 1998 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Winner of numerous writing awards from the Nevada Press Association, his reporting experience includes ringside coverage of several of boxing’s most anticipated world championship prize fights, including the highlight of his career -- the September 1981 world welterweight title bout between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesars Palace. Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Larry Bird are among the many superstars he has interviewed, in addition to helping document the careers of Las Vegans Andre Agassi and Greg Maddux. Honored with numerous community service awards from local charitable organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Cancer Society, Fossum was cited in the late 1990s by the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions to local athletics. A longtime member of the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), he helped oversee the organization’s annual West Regional Convention for several years at various Las Vegas Strip resorts. He helped recruit APSE’s national convention to the MGM Grand in 2006 after annually attending weeklong seminars at many of the country’s largest and most respected major dailies. In 2005, he was honored with Lake Havasu High School’s Distinguished Alumni Award and delivered his alma mater’s Class of 2006 commencement speech 30 years after graduating. Review-Journal sports editor for 16 years, Fossum retired to the Oregon Coast at age 48 in January 2006. Most recently, he was founder/publisher/editor of OregonCoastSports.com (previously SportsLincolnCounty.com), an independent website dedicated to area youth. He also worked at two weekly community newspapers (Newport News-Times and Lincoln City News Guard) as section editor, reporter, photographer and page designer.

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