– ESPN NFL Nation reporter Paul Gutierrez on returning to the Raiders beat this season
ESPN NFL Nation reporter Paul Gutierrez is in Mexico City today to cover the historic Houston Texans-Oakland Raiders game at Estadio Azteca (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN Deportes), the first NFL game in Mexico since 2005.
Gutierrez, who covered the 49ers the past two years, is back on the Raiders beat this season, a team he has followed for the better part of the last decade. In fact, he knows the franchise so well, he wrote a book in 2014 entitled 100 Things Raiders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.
Gutierrez could not have picked a more exciting time to return to the Raiders. With the Raiders’ best team in years, a budding superstar in quarterback Derek Carr and sitting atop first-place in the AFC West, the Silver and Black is back. If that wasn’t enough, the Raiders very well could be relocating to Las Vegas, a city Gutierrez knows quite well, having attended college at UNLV and worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal early in his career.
A Barstow, Calif., native, Gutierrez discusses his job, the Raiders and more with Front Row.
What’s it like covering the Raiders again this season?
Remember that scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca came aboard the Millennium Falcon and Han smiled knowingly and said, “Chewie, we’re home”? It felt kind of like that. But not in a fanboy kind of way. I had covered the Raiders in one capacity or another for nine years in the Bay Area and even as a junior college student when the Raiders called Los Angeles home in the late 80’s and early 90’s. So, you could say my journalistic roots run deep here and, from a reporter’s perspective, years of contacts were made and fostered in Oakland. It’s comfortable with just enough anxiety to keep me on my toes.
How different has this season been?
This is different. Being in the Bay Area since 2005 and covering the NFL since then, this is the first time I have covered a winning NFL team. I would say there is more of a focus and attention on the beat, which is always exhilarating.
What compelled you to write the book about the Raiders?
It was a true labor of love. It was 100 short stories on the history of the franchise that enabled me to truly embed myself with the team. Raiders owner Mark Davis was a great source as were [former Raiders head coach]Tom Flores and [former Raiders quarterback] Jim Plunkett [both profiled in ESPN Films’ Versus series documentary “Guys Like Us“], who wrote the foreword for me.
And I was able to tell the story of [former Raiders owner] Al Davis ripping me in a media conference, which, many reporters on the beat would tell you, is a badge of honor. The Raiders like to say there are 31 teams in the NFL and then there are the Oakland Raiders. The journey of writing the book shined a light on that claim, and their fans are the most loyal in the league.
What’s your perspective on the Raiders’ potential move to Las Vegas?
I feel like I do have a unique perspective on the goings-on there and Mark Davis’ pledge to turn the Silver State into the Silver and Black State. As far as the Raiders are concerned, it’s a done deal; they just need to get league approval for the move. The NFL in Las Vegas is more than intriguing, especially with the NHL landing in Sin City next year and, as I’ve always said, nobody does events like Las Vegas, and there is no one-day sporting event like an NFL game. And yet, Oakland has provided a formidable home-field advantage with those loyal fans as well. It’s a tough situation.
What are your expectations for the Mexico City game?
I expect a raucous atmosphere in which the Raiders, who gave up a home game in Oakland to be the home team in Mexico City, are the unquestioned crowd favorites over the much-closer [geographically] Houston Texans. Raiders linebacker Malcom Smith told me on one of the team’s visits to the Mexican capital to promote the game this offseason, he got the sense that the local Club America futbol fans had turned in their jerseys for Raiders gear. As Mark Davis told me, playing south of the border not only extends the NFL’s shield but the Raider Nation’s brand into international waters.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the video below, SportsCenter:AM contributor Sarina Morales provides plenty of insights about the Monday Night Football game played outside of the United States. SOMOS ESPN, an Employee Resource Group, produced the video.