ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders locker room was a minefield of overstuffed duffel bags and laundry Friday as players finished packing for a 10-day road trip that would take them to Indianapolis to face the Colts and then to London, where they’ll play host to the Chicago Bears.
In one corner, safety Dallin Leavitt struggled to get a sweatshirt in his carry-on. In another, linebacker Tahir Whitehead made sure his music was with him, saying, “Can’t go across the pond without my tunes.”
It was a far different scene from a year earlier, when the Raiders did not arrive in London for a Sunday night game against the Seattle Seahawks until late Friday afternoon and departed immediately after the final whistle of a 27-3 blowout loss.
Why the change in travel itinerary?
“It’s an eight-hour flight, I believe, from Indianapolis to London (so it) didn’t make sense flying five hours back to California and then 14 hours to London,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “That had a lot to do with it. And obviously, what we did last year didn’t work out on the scoreboard and it didn’t give me any reason to not try something else.
“So, we’re going to go over there and have a great time and prepare our hearts out to hopefully play a good game in London.”
One other difference: the Raiders played at the Los Angeles Chargers the week before the London game last year. Since Los Angeles is not on the way between Oakland and the United Kingdom, the Raiders came back to Oakland for practice early in the week.
Of players on the current 53-man roster, only quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson were on that trip, one that saw the Raiders thumped by the Dolphins 38-14. Coach Dennis Allen was fired upon the team’s return to Oakland.
So the Raiders have tried London both ways — an extended stay and a quick in-and-out — and have been outscored by a combined 65-17 at Wembley Stadium. Talk about a poor exchange rate in taking a couple of British pound … ings.
This go-around, the Raiders arrived late Monday afternoon in London, basking in the afterglow of a 31-24 defeat of the Colts, but seething at the NFL for its season-long suspension of middle linebacker and team captain Vontaze Burfict. They are staying and practicing at a luxury resort outside of the city before encountering a familiar face in Khalil Mack and the Bears on Sunday at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London.
“The hardest part is just being away from your family for that long,” safety Karl Joseph said. “Most of us got families and kids and wives at home so I think the most important thing, the biggest part, is being away from your family for so long.”
As a team in the process of relocation — the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020 — the Raiders are playing host to an international game for the fourth straight season, having played in Mexico City in 2016 and 2017.
Safety Lamarcus Joyner, who twice played at London’s Twickenham Stadium with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016 and 2017, said the team began preparing “mentally” for the schedule as far back as the offseason training program.
And running back DeAndre Washington said this trip is similar to when the Raiders spent a week practicing at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, between games in 2016 (at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay) and 2017 (at Buffalo and Miami).
“We’ve got (nine) games on the road, though, and we knew that coming into the season,” Washington said, referencing the Raiders technically being the home team in London.
“It gives us a time to really kind of come together as a unit, come together even more. We’re going into unknown territory in London, so we’re all we got. It’s not like we can leave the building and guys go to their families. We’re going to be together for a whole week so I think it’s going to be great for us — more chemistry, more team bonding and just bring us together that much more.”
Think training camp, but instead of wine and cheese in Napa, tea and crumpets in England.
“We’re in one setting, all day,” Washington said. “Nobody on the team is from London so nobody knows that much about London so it gives us some time to go out and explore and you might be kicking it with guys that you might not kick it with as much (back home).”