September 14, 2016

Raider Nation

I don’t remember choosing to be a Raider fan, but I remember when I became one. Not sure how it works with other people, but I assume like a religion, your sports teams are thrust upon you before you know any better to make your own informed choice. And before you know it you have sat through more under .500 seasons than you care remember.

For me it started upon coming to America. It wasn’t straight off the boat, but it happened at some point in that foggy stage between five and eight years old. My uncle, the resident American, the knower of all things, the epitome of everything that was cool, gave me a Raiders coat. Before I continue, let me say that he is a huge Raider fan and has been since John Madden coached the team in the early seventies. So it was only natural that he would indoctrinate his newly arrived immigrant nephew.

I clearly remember that jacket. It was a silver and black leatherman jacket. The coarse black canvas instantly made me feel like an outlaw. I remember thinking that the shiny silver sleeves could have been made from duct tape and that would have made it even cooler. but the piece de-resistance was the Raider logo. The pirate patch and swords made me instantly feel ten degrees tougher than I was. Even as a scrawny, fifty pound kid who couldn’t speak English, I knew that my street value was up every time I wore that jacket, and I wore it everywhere.

I didn’t know the history of the team or where Oakland was or even the rules of the game, but I knew that when I wore that jacket I was part of something bigger. I was a Raider.

Years, later I created a narrative around this identity and wove the Raider mystique into so much of my understanding of the world. And so much of this narrative was in direct conflict with the shiny red and gold of the boys across the bay. The Raiders were tough and ugly and broken and damaged, while the Forty Niners were the pretty boy bad guys from every John Hughes movie. While we bled and sniffed out the mud, the Niners were always immaculate and clean. We had thugs and criminals. They had Joe Montana.

As I got older I learned more about the teams from seventies and my love for them only grew. Kenny Stabler and John Matusak. Otis Sistrunk and Lester Hayes. We were the most winningest team in history and had a commitment to excellence. Most teams didn't like the Raiders, but they respected us. It meant something to wear the Silver and Black.

As a middle schooler growing up in the Bay Area, the late 80’s were not a good time to be a Raider fan. We were on downward spiral. Back and forth from LA, while the Niners were the golden dynasty. They could do no wrong. All they did was win and all we did was barely win seven to nine games.

But it was in those years that every Raider fan had to choose to hold on. The winning was gone. The mystique faded. The respect of the league was no more. For the next twenty years we would be terrible. A few blips of hope here and there, but really we had become a terrible team. Poor coaching. Bad management. Mediocre players.

But every member of Raider Nation, knows what it feels like to don the silver and black and take on the role of the outlaw. Every Raider fan knows what it feels like to be a Raider fan. There are no words for it. We are a hopefully pessimistic people by nature. We know that we will most likely screw it up and lose the game, but we also know that winning and losing isn’t why we love the Raiders. We have all created our own Raider narrative and have no choice but live through it till death.

I follow the Raiders even when my interest in the NFL wanes. I will follow the Raiders even when they go to Las Vegas. I will follow the Raiders because to root for any other team just doesn’t feel natural. For better or worse, this is my lot in life. And this season I am extra excited. (As every Raider fan is after week one)

We are currently 1-0 and have a pretty good looking team. In my heart I dream of another season like 2004. 12-4 playoffs and maybe the Superbowl, but in my gut I am ready for a five game losing streak and a 7-9 season looking forward to next year. That is the Raider way. For you Richard.

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