BY Art Thiel 03:37PM 03/27/2017

Thiel: Vegas Raiders; Seattle’s turn in fortunes

NFL owners voted 31-1 to let Raiders relocate to Las Vegas from Oakland, the third city in two years to be gashed by the NFL. By comparison, Seattle and NBA aren’t looking so bad. 

The proposed Raiders stadium in Las Vegas. / Manica Architecture

After a long, slow disentanglement, NFL owners, including the Seahawks’ Paul Allen, voted 31-1 Monday to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas in a couple of seasons, making Oakland the third U.S. city in two years that the pro football colossus has told to drop dead.

Following examples in St. Louis and San Diego, Oakland politicians and taxpayers have sufficiently resisted attempts to get massive public money to fund new stadiums, and paid the sports price. The news was little surprise, given Oakland’s persistent financial problems, but it did officially signal the NFL’s intentions that it will follow the money and not the face paint.

The deal is not quite done, given the fact that Las Vegas does not have a football stadium sufficient for an NFL team.

Raiders owner Mark Davis does, however, have a promise from from various people in Nevada for a $1.9 billion domed building holding 65,000 seats, which won’t be ready until 2020 at the earliest. The team does have a pair of one-year options to continue leasing the decrepit Coliseum, which still has occasional problems with the flush-toilet thing.

In a statement, Davis tried to make nice with Oakland fans, who are asked to indulge at least two, and possibly three, lame-duck seasons before he decamps to a place that has mastered the art of swindling the innocents, a skill the NFL admires greatly.

“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA,” Davis wrote in a public statement released Monday. “We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”

Indeed, the Raiders, after ending a 14-year playoff drought in 2016 with a 12-4 season that included a playoff game, are a decent shot, behind a healthy QB Derek Carr in 2017, to win it all. That would produce perhaps the all-time moment of sports awkwardness, presenting the Lombardi Trophy to a team supported by a handful of drunks in Halloween costumes who have not been disarmed of sharp objects.

The moment would be even more intense if former Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch, the ultimate anti-authority figure and Oakland homie, returns to play for the Raiders and accepts the MVP Trophy from Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Lynch may have words to share.

But let’s not let giddiness get the best of us.

One of the first things the city of Oakland has to figure out is what to do with $95 million in debt that city and Alameda County taxpayers hold from the 1995 remodel of the Coliseum that brought the Raiders back from Los Angeles. It is one thing to insult Raiders fans; it is another to rob them.

Since the Raiders have committed to spending $500 million on the new stadium, Davis is unlikely to want to clean up any mess he is leaving behind in Oakland. Once again, a U.S. municipality is, after a decades-long affair with pro sports, left with a bag of rocks.

The scenario is worthy of consideration in Seattle, where almost nine years ago a similar situation occurred with the Sonics and the NBA. In the passage of time, things don’t look quite as bad.

You may recall that the city, faced with a team owned by Oklahoma City scalawags who wanted to relocate despite two years remaining on the lease at KeyArena, agreed to accept $45 million to settle a lawsuit in order for the soon-to-be Thunder to get to OKC for the 2008-09 NBA season.

The settlement paid off the remaining debt on a $100 million remodel, also done in 1995, plus some change for potted plants. To this day, the Key is running a modest revenue surplus.

The sports community pilloried Mayor Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council, as well it should, because they folded on a winning hand. Nevertheless, the passage of time has revealed no discernible cracks in the foundation of the Soviet of Seattle due to the absence of the NBA. Sure, having Kevin Durant around would have been a hoot, but he’s already left Oklahoma City, so here we are anyway.

The passage of time has also caused a change in Seattle and the pro sports marketplace. The burg has come out of the recession in prosperous fashion, so much so that in the last six months the requirement to offer public subsidy to broker a return of the NBA, or the arrival of the NHL, has vanished.

Would-be Sodo arena builder Chris Hansen has dropped his request for up to $200 million in construction loans, needing only a street vacation from the city, for which he would pay as much as $20 million. Independent of that, Mayor Ed Murray has two experienced takers on his notion to again retrofit KeyArena, this time on the nickel of the private developers.

Whether the privates can create a world-class concert hall/sports arena that still makes money in the increasingly choked urban village of lower Queen Anne will begin to be known April 12, when bids are due. The city will decide by June 30 whether to accept a bid for the Key, or try to make it work with Hansen.

But in light of events in Oakland, preceded by the abandonment of St. Louis by the Rams, and the abandonment of San Diego by the Chargers, the Seattle situation no longer seems as acute.

In 2008, Seattle said hell no to the pro sports industrial complex, getting a golf clap from the town progressives and contempt from the sports community. The monopolists, led by the Voldemort-ish David Stern, extracted their pound of flesh.

Yet here we are, a green-and-gold scar still visible but offering no impediment to daily function that has helped see the return of the marketplace to Seattle, with a shift in leverage toward the city.

It is no time to gloat over the heartbreaks in Oakland, which followed those in St. Louis and San Diego. But it is worthy to take a moment to reflect on whatever combination of good fortune and hard work has allowed the city to acquire prizes under-appreciated and even more rarely seen, when it comes to civic battle with the sports monopolists:

Options.

 


YourThoughts

  • WestCoastBias79

    I understand the city’s desire to protect KeyArena, but calling it a viable option, when the monorail(!) is being trotted out as part of the transportation solution to 82 more dates (NHL&NBA), is being generous.

    The Raiders in Vegas will probably work, even if half the stadium is opposing fans on drunken holiday. The Chargers in LA is the real oncoming debacle.

    • SeaRaays

      It will work for that reason and Nevada does not have a major professional sport.

      • art thiel

        No major sport? What do call shaking down the innocents?

      • Kirkland

        The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights begin play in October.

        • SeaRaays

          Ok .. That is good. For the NHL owner to start before the NFL shows up.

          • art thiel

            The NHL is even more a risk because the U.S. fan base for the sport is so much smaller.

          • Justin Van Eaton

            I don’t see the NHL lasting there. Hockey, even more than basketball, needs a solid base of fans to make it work long term. Vegas is so transient, I think they will struggle to develop that base.

          • art thiel

            They can always do what is done when all else fails: Play naked.

    • art thiel

      True about the Chargers, and I remain skeptical about the the problems surrounding the Key. But I’m willing to listen to someone smarter than me and you.

  • Steed

    There isn’t going to be NBA or NHL at the Key Arena. And nobody is going to put up the money to completely redo the site so it’s NBA and NHL ready, especially if the roof is going to be declared historic. The NBA and the NHL aren’t going to give Seattle teams if the Key Arena is the permanent solution. There isn’t going to be NBA or NHL at the Key Arena.

    I hope the city can stop thinking it has to be either/or and just let Hansen build his building. Their conflict of interest in the matter isn’t benefiting anybody.

    • SeaRaays

      A private firm has already agreed to pay for the Seattle Colosseum to be renovated for the cost of running it and getting the profits. To make it NBA and NHL feasible.

      • Pixdawg13

        dream on. There will not be major-league pro sports in the Lower QA area ever again. There’s this minor matter of getting in and out for the fans and corporate bigwigs.

        • art thiel

          Well, let’s just see April 12. Chris Hansen can wait, and will still be around.

        • SeaRaays

          Dream on? For whom? I watched my last NBA game in 2007. Just a deal can be done for very little or no public dollars to refurbish the Colosseum. If that truly can be done and initially be paid by concerts. It is better to allow a group take it over and do it …then have a pile of rocks and debt in a decade. Either that or the city sells the property and it becomes more buildings and just as crowded.

      • Justin Van Eaton

        Lots of hurdles to that idea. Can you outfit it within that space with the necessary suites, restaurants and other amenities that today’s arenas need to succeed? How about parking (most has been eaten up by new housing infrastructure)? How about getting people to and from the arena? If you have been to the arena for a concert or other event, you know it is a small space. The concourses are narrow; almost claustrophobic. To fix those things under that historic, landmark roof will require some pretty out of the box engineering and thinking, and it still might not work. I’ll be interested to see how AEG and Oak View Group think they can do it. I saw somewhere that even if you blew it up and started clean without the historic roof, it would still be the smallest venue in the NBA in terms of square feet by about 150,000. That is a lot of real estate to give up. Beyond all that, I still see traffic being the largest problem. How they realistically tackle that issue will make or break the deal for me.

        • SeaRaays

          Before you blabber at me talk to the private companies in line to build a new one at no cost to the taxpayer … whatever is going to be built in any area in Seattle will add to congestion. The only way you can dictate anything is off the city of Seattle a better deal to keep the area sealed off to fall down and sprout weeds.

          • Justin Van Eaton

            They have carefully worded their presentations to say “very little cost” not no cost. Perhaps they can do it for no cost. Great. Traffic in SODO is significantly less difficult than LQA. I’m not saying they can’t do this. But traffic solutions that include drones and the monorail like Oak view has presented is laughable. I’m guessing they have a more concrete plan they will actually present the city, but I’m skeptical they can make it work. I’m happy to be surprised, however.

          • SeaRaays

            I luckily will now take a ferry on a weekend if I have the need for a sports venue. I used to live on capital hill and either bussed it or took a cab or uber. Things are going through growing pains …They either will have to move into suburb cities around Seattle or eventually get a subway or light rail systems that has been needed to be built since the 80s. Property owners have my option of selling or dealing with it.

          • art thiel

            Skepticism warranted. But I’m not an engineer, architect or urban planner. So we must wait.

        • art thiel

          You have summarized all the problems that both bidders fully understand, with traffic/parking the largest problems. Please read my two stories on the interview with Tim Leiweke of OVG.

    • art thiel

      I have shared that belief. But until we see what happens April 12, none of us can know. It may be that neither OVG or AEG can do it, but it costs no one to listen to presentations.

      • Jeffrey J Ellis

        Wondering why the declaration of the landmark status for the 7 buildings if they want to demolished then

        • art thiel

          It is curious; I will find out.

  • Tian Biao

    Nice column, Art: amusing and insightful, as always. I wish I could share a little more deeply in your sense of measured perspective, and I agree that it is nice to have options, but something about this whole U.S. sports dynamic – extorting taxpayer dollars by threatening to move the team – annoys the hell out of me. Little wonder that the vote to move the Raiders was 31-1: all the other owners, in their stony little hearts, wish to reserve the right to perform similar extortions. It’s the business model. So yes, in that sense it was kind of nice that Seattle refused to pony up for the Sonics, but the end result was, we no longer have a team. Having suffered that loss, I feel even worse for the fans in St. Louis, San Diego, and now Oakland. Oakland fans have been putting up with this civic extortion crap for what? forty years? more? And now, they’re being asked, pretty please, to support the team for just a couple more years while it prepares to abandon them? I tell ya, the whole thing sucks.

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    • art thiel

      You’re right. Civic extortion does suck. And most of Seattle, its council and mayor agreed in 08, which is why the Sonics left. Many who listen to sports radio don’t realize that pro sports is not a civic right but a pleasure and a luxury. If pushed hard enough, pro sports will pay the freight, which is why SF’s playpens are mostly privately funded.

  • Tman

    Rule #1. Cities own the professional sports teams bearing the cities name, i.e the Franchise belongs to the people of Seattle, not one guy like, say,Ken Behring.

    Rule #2. We should reject Mob Rule..

    Question, Who owns Las Vegas? The Mob? Disney?
    Whoever conned Raider owners into moving to Vegas must be very wise guys..

    Hey, Wise Guys conned all America into accepting their 3 million vote loser as the winner. See CNN’s Donald Trump and the Mob, http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/31/politics/trump-mob-mafia:
    see: http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/early-voting-results-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-polls-targetsmart-wrong-skewed-florida/

    What to do? See Rule #2

    • 1coolguy

      Give it a rest, Just look forward to your sadness when he wins a second term.

      • Pixdawg13

        What makes you think he’ll still be in office to try for a second term?

    • Justin Van Eaton

      Both parties have benefited from the Electoral College over the years. Without it, only citizens of CA, NY, TX and IL need bother voting; the rest of us peons don’t matter.

  • 1coolguy

    The Oakland Coliseum has been a serious DUMP for many, many years and they are lucky the Raiders ever returned there. What is a shame, after many years of terrible play, they are finally winning and are a strong team under Del Rio, the first real HC they have had in many, many years. It is surprising, with the wealth that surrounds Oakland, that they couldn’t make it there.
    Surprised to see $2 billion can only buy 65,000 seats these days. Jones paid less for 80,000 seats, with a record crowd of 105,000 in 2009. It will be a roaring success in Vegas, where there is no sports competition.

    • art thiel

      The market is one-quarter the size of the Bay Area and full of people with loyalties to their hometown teams. As with most things in Vegas, once the novelty wears off, what do you do in the second hour?

      • tedsfrozenhead

        I don’t know. Vegas sports fans, and I am one, just bought 16000 season tickets for a hockey team. I think an area of 2.5 million people with 250-400,000 visitors every weekend will have no problem filling the stadium . We know that some Raiders fans will cut ties with the team, but we also know that other Raider fans travel easily. Out of town sports fans will make a weekend out of Vegas when their teams come to town….selling tickets won’t be an issue.
        While the novelty may very well fade with hockey, football is a whole different ballgame and the Raiders are one of the major sports brands out there. I don’t see a problem.

        • LarryLurex70

          I find it curious that Mark Davis wasn’t keen to move into Sam Boyd Stadium for the 2 years it’ll take to build the new Vegas stadium. You didn’t see any hesitation from STL and SD ownership in moving into temporary digs in the L.A. market while their new shared home is built. Interesting comparison.

          • tedsfrozenhead

            I believe it possible that Davis was trying to soften the blow to Raider fans in Oakland. The NFL has done an assessment of Sam Boyd and find it needs modest improvements to be acceptable for the NFL. Bigger locker rooms, Security issues and moving some seats back off of the field….Sam Boyd can be ready for the 2018 season.

    • Kirkland

      That Raiders move back also ruined it as a baseball stadium. The view of the landscape beyond the outfield was fantastic. Then the “Mount Davis” section of seats and suites blocked the view and affected the outfield dimensions. Niehaus rightly called it a monstrosity.

    • tedsfrozenhead

      It is a dump. I just put $20 down on the over that there will be more than 3 plumbing backups in the dugout in O.C. this summer

  • ClashCityRocker

    Art, I would value your opinion on a comparison of the American pro sports/civic stadium funding model, and that of English (EPL) soccer. While no expert, I would find it unfathomable that team owners of clubs like Liverpool FC or Chelsea FC would ever think to relocate over a stadium impasse. Thank you.

    • Kirkland

      The only move I can remember was a little over a decade ago, when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes. IIRC that was more about MK building a new stadium and advertising for a team than Wimbledon demanding improvements.

      That said, Wimbledon was a lower-division team, so the move didn’t affect big club stadium plans. And the spurned fans simply formed their owned amateur team, AFC Wimbledon, which started play in about the sixth division, a couple steps below the pros.

      • art thiel

        I’ll defer to Kirkland on specifics, but generally, European soccer teams have a city tradition that supersedes the leagues. The town team notion came first, then the leagues as a convenience. So most teams in most countries are ingrained to the local culture in ways U.S. teams are not.

        In the U.S., the early ubiquity of television sets and signals made it imperative for teams to gather as one to bargain for rights fees with the young networks eager to fill with live programming. Owners quickly realized there were more cities wanting teams than had teams, so expansion and relocation became coins of the realm to enrich owners, not cities.

        • ClashCityRocker

          Good point re team/city v. leagues. In fact, outside of the MLS, most pro soccer teams at bottom of the league table at season’s end face relegation (banishment?) to the next lower league. Conversely, there is promotion from lower leagues to higher ones for those few teams who finish at top of the table. But generally one (league or other club/team owners) could never separate, e.g., United from Manchester.

        • Kirkland

          Also, with so many teams in each European country, there’s almost nowhere to move to. England has 92 pro teams in a country about the size of Washington, Londom alone has about a dozen. In that crowded a country, new stadiums tend to go up across the street instead of another market, by necessity.

  • woofer

    If any team had to land in Vegas, it’s appropriate that it was the Raiders. Their renegade image is a good fit. Al Davis and his sleazy son were made for The Strip. The angry ghost of Lyle Alzado haunting the back alleys looking for a steroid fix. The legend goes on.

    • art thiel

      The strip anymore is corporate, slick, much more a Gordon Gekko world than the Raiders’ gang persona. I don’t see much of a fit, on multiple levels.

      • woofer

        Ah, where have the good old days gone?

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      • tedsfrozenhead

        You are correct that the strip is a corporate entity. Not many citizens go there. But the Raiders are a major brand and Vegas is also a major brand, I see an excellent fit. Vegas has long wanted pro sports and has shown the ability to make it happen. The NHL made some fairly outrageous demands to be considered for an expansion team and the city blew right past them. 16,000 season tickets sold already and all this for a non big three major pro sport. The demand for Raider tickets will be strong from residents, corporate entities and tourists who will make a Vegas weekend when their team comes to town.
        Its a pretty exciting time and I think most people are not looking too deeply at what’s happening here.

  • technoreaper

    Vegas got swindled real good.

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    • art thiel

      A self-swindle; $750 million from the state while it’s closing schools.

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      • tedsfrozenhead

        I believe the deal is set up so that public schools receive tax dollars from a sales at the stadium, including tickets, concessions, parking, etc. This is not a bad deal for public schools. The school closures here are mostly private schools, I don’t see public school closures going on here at an alarming rate. There have been some consolidations but teacher to student ratios are consistent.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    While there is no doubt the fans always get the short end of deals like.this there is no denying that the Raiders.tried for decades to get a new stadium deal done. Every time they addressed it with the city they got turned away by whoever the government leaders were at the time. The fact is that the landscape of professional sports stadiums is that the public, for nearly the last 100 years, almost always picks up the majority of the tab for a new stadium, that’s just the way it is. If a city wants to get indignant about that they know that the cost of that righteousness is the loss of a franchise. Las Vegas saw an opportunity, got aggressive and won themselves a team when Oakland chose to ignore the reality. The $750M public financing will come from out of town visitors in the form of a hotel tax. Nevada schools will benefit from the profits the stadium generates….this is how smart leadership’s get it done. (San Diego voted down a similar tax that would have likely saved the Chargers). Sports team owners need stadiums that produce revenues that allow their franchises to maximize capital to have the finances to operate at the top levels of their industry, that is the reality. Mark Davis found that when he couldn’t work with Oakland officials who wouldn’t work with him that there were other cities that would. He took the only option Oakland gave him. This is on the city, not the Raiders.

    • bomberboy

      boy. you really sucked up the NFL BS! The citizens of LV and Nevada wanted no part of this. Rewmember the STUPID Raiders left L.A. for Oakland!!! You want to blame cities for not puking up hundreds of millions? Guess what, IT IS NEVER ENOUGH!!! I really love sports but remember one thing that never changes:

      Pro leagues AND the NCAA are scumbags. Period. They care as much about fans as politicians care about the good of the American people. The City of XXXX could build a brand new BILLION dollar facility for team ZZZZ and within 10 years that city would be stuck paying for upgrades, fans would be paying rapidly increasing ticket prices. AND about a third of the cost of building the facility would be driven by bells and whistles like luxury boxes and private clubs that the average fan and tax payer NEVER uses.

      I like sports, love the games….but play them on the moon for all I care. One thing has changed that has leagues and team owners starting to worry: The ESPN’s are losing ground AND the % of citizen suckers out here is dropping/.

      • tedsfrozenhead

        Where to start…..first I would like to congratulate your special ed teachers, they seem to have done a fine job teaching you words and spelling as well as your way around a keyboard. Although they have fallen short on cognitive understanding that most likely lies with you and not them. All in all, good job on their part, they deserve a raise. Please forward my comment to their administrators as a reference and commendation.
        Now. You really don’t make much sense in your reply. Where do you get the impression that Las Vegas residents “wanted nothing to do with this”? As a Las Vegas resident I can assure that there was zero tangible opposition to this. The populace was expertly informed on the dynamics of the proposed move by both Ben Gotz and Ed Grany of the Las Vegas Review Journal as well as 1100 ESPN Radio, especially Mike Pritchard and Mitch Moss. You claim has no grounding in reality.
        The Raiders first moved to L.A. because Al Davis could make no headway with the city of Oakland in making improvements to the Coliseum, when he tried he was rebuffed at every turn. Stadiums need to be profit centers which allow the teams ownership to compete, it is as simple as that. When L.A. offered an financially attractive deal Davis quickly left. When Oakland offered to renovate with luxury boxes, improved football friendly seating and lease concessions that were more attractive than L.A. he moved the team back. It was always about the money.
        You imply that I am ok with cities paying for stadiums or stadium improvements. This is false. I simple say I understand that for nearly 100 years the landscape of modern sports stadium funding nearly always falls with the public picking up the tab. I do not endorse it but I do recognize this as a truth. I do not mind an informed debate but your position is most definitely uninformed, filled with hyperbole and lacking in substance.

        • art thiel

          Since you’re there, Ted, what’s the situation there regarding school closings and funding for public services?

          • tedsfrozenhead

            As I understand it the state of public schools in The Clark County School District is pretty sound. As mentioned any public school closures are to consolidate while 5 new schools are scheduled to be built. Student to teacher ratios are consistent to pre closure levels. The most notable public school closures are 3 Behavioral Schools due to lower student admissions to these schools. The closure of these schools frees up $2.5 million to be distributed to other public schools.
            https://m.lasvegassun.com/news/2016/apr/28/ccsd-considering-closure-of-three-behavioral-schoo/
            Additionally the state is revoking funding to 2 Charter schools. One for a 40% graduation rate as opposed to a state mandated 60% . Another is being closed for low proficiency and another is under investigation for inappropriate management.
            http://m.reviewjournal.com/news/education/2-nevada-charter-schools-face-possible-closure
            There are a number of private school closures occurring at this time and of equal concern is a lack of teachers due to high standards of CCSD. The stadium deal will provide through tax revenue s generated at the stadiums funding for the CCSD to increase teacher salaries and finance new schools.

            However I have only a limited awareness as my child is not of school age and I only have a general civic interest. I do know that the dynamics of public schools has changed dramatically since my glory days at Renton High.

      • art thiel

        ESPN will adapt, as most viruses do. And the sucker percentage remains high, and will soon be re-gathered with VR.

    • art thiel

      Actually, sports owners used to build their own stadiums prior to WWII. But the postwar prosperity and the fad of multi-purpose stadiums used by many beyond the teams made civic participation trendy. But as cities began running out of money to solve myriad problems, the faucet of public cash slowed, especially in liberal CAL. SF, LA, SD and now OAK told the owners to drop dead. SAC was too desperate for relevance and did not, and the billionaires coaxed almost $300M from taxpayers.

      I’m sorry for Raiders fans in OAK, and you’re right, the Coliseum is a dump. But there’s plenty of private wealth in the Bay Area to solve the problem. The richies chose not to, or Davis didn’t ask for partners.

  • jb bartron

    I don’t care where the Raiders play. I just want Mark Davis to get an adult haircut.

    • art thiel

      Put your haircut in the avatar first.

      • jb bartron

        The men in my family die of boredom, usually, but we die with all out hair.
        Don’t be jealous, Art.

  • bomberboy

    Ted,
    Sorry if you really thought my view and all my comments were about you. And apparently articles and papers I read early in this process were incorrect. I understand casino owners etc are ecstatic…but I had read that a pretty significant majority of general citizenry / tax payers were NOT excited about participating in financing. That is not unusual. These deals are not real popular with with the taxpayers, fans or not fans.

    I am glad LV is glad I guess. I just know that fans get screwed. LA Rams fans got screwed, St. L Cardinal and Rams fans got screwed, SD fans got screwed, Baltimore …on and on.
    Every team in our smug market of Seattle was this close to leaving, Hawks, Mariners and of course Sonics. What did we learm? That our city will just slide into the ocean without a franchise from the league that flipped us off a few years ago.

    The only attribute making the NCAA somewhat limited on the scumbag meter is the fact they can’t leave town. And thanks for rambling about my education. It is always good to get some constructive feedback

  • Husky73

    Lloyd Christmas’ stadium is designed to have an eternal flame in memory of his father. Vegas, baby!