I still remember the first time I heard of the Oakland Raiders.
It was January 21, 2002, on the sports news somewhere in between cricket and soccer. The sportscaster mentioned how the Raiders were knocked out of the race for the Super Bowl in a controversial game.
At the time, I was a 12 year old whippersnapper from southern Sydney who wasn't particularly concerned with the events of some sports team on the other side of the world who played a game I had no interest in. Indeed, I was merely waiting for a weather report which would (hopefully) provide the news that the next day would see epic swells off Sydney. My primary concerns at the time were the four Bs of the Australian summer - beach, beer, bongs and bikinis. While I had spent most of my life at the first and had recently experienced the joys of the next two, sadly the latter and their removal was still eluding me. (Nearly eight years later, sadly not an awful lot has changed in that regard).
Now when I look back, I almost think it was fate. I'm not a religious man by any means of the imagination, but I can't help but think it was a sign of my future.
With the tough week we've had and the inevitable rain of sledge FanPosts that come up after a game like the Steelers one, I figured that I may as well try my best to raise the spirits of my SBP brothers/sisters by sharing my story of how I came to be a member of the Nation, and show the shit-eaters like Al's Wingman what being a true (as opposed to merely a local) Raider fan is all about.
Almost a year later, I was having the summer of my life. School had just finished, and Mum was working in Canberra for two weeks meaning that until the New Year, I would be staying with my far more relaxed dad (who's main rule was to tell me if I wasn't coming home before it was dark, and if so where I was). Four Bs, here I come.
Only at Christmas, Mum surprised me by returning home with a man in tow. This man was a big African American guy named Rashard, and I learnt that night that he was going to become my stepdad as long as I didn't mind. Given that I would still be able to see my I didn't realise that he would become a man I still consider one of my best mates, and the guy who introduced me to football.
How this happened was a story in itself. You see, I had promised Mum a week later that I would get home from a friend's house party by 10pm and I wouldn't drink (forget about drugs), however in the heat of the moment and air all promises were forgotten as I experienced my first bucket bong. I knew the landing window would be open so I snuck in there...only to shit myself as I saw Rashard sitting on the couch by the landing, watching TV. And yes, he had seen me.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh...um..." Remember, we'd only been living together for about a week. I was just feeling him out.
"It's OK. I won't tell your mom. Just try not to make it a habit, OK?"
At that moment, I realised he was good people. Wanting to draw attention away from myself, I asked what he was watching.
"Football. Steelers v Ravens."
"Yeah. Go clean yourself up a bit and come watch with me. I could use some company and we can tell your mom that you got up to watch."
For the next few hours, we just watched football as Rashard explained the game to me. As he had grown up a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh, naturally there was a heavy emphasis on their great history - however he encouraged me not to be a Steelers fan but to find my own team "cause there's too many Steelers fans out there who have no idea."
So for a few months I was an NFL widow, and didn't really care because it was rugby league season and my Sharks were having their worst year since the mid-90s. Then, out of nowhere, I had a Saturday off and I came across an ESPN Classic game - it was Super Bowl XVIII.
That's where it all began and I knew I had found my team.
But ultimately, what sealed the deal for me were two factors:
1) Less important was the fact that the Raiders were one of only two teams who were just one flight away - a 14 hour flight, yeah, but that closeness meant something.
2) More importantly, it was the Nation that swung me and the tales I heard and how they jibed with my life at the time.
I'm half Indian and half Samoan, and I was living in an area that was widely seen as the last enclave of Sydney that was predominantly white. I also blew out both my knees later that year, which killed my dreams of playing professional rugby league and removed what was one of the two great leveller between me and my white mates.
The other great leveller we had was the beach. We were all surfie kids, and had been riding boards from pretty much the moment we could walk. Unfortunately, the character of our home beach was changing, and unfortunately my boys were changing with it. Increasingly, the local surfies who we had known our whole lives were leaving and being replaced by the bogan roid-monkey crowd, who went to the beach solely to perv on chicks and start fights. (This culminated in the 2005 riots - some of you with long memories might remember hearing about them on Fox News).
What's this all got to do with the Raiders? At that point in my life, I was increasingly feeling like an outcast from my old mates. Typical teenage angst bullshit, I agree, but somehow the badass outsider appeal of Raider Nation swung me up in a tentacle grip. As the great Hunter S. Thompson once said, "The massive Raider Nation is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and wackos ever assembled." For whatever reason, as all my former friends were becoming thugs themselves, I wanted to join a different gang from the other side of the Pacific. How's that for fucked up psychology.
Seven odd years have passed since then. I'm now in my 20s with a girlfriend, hotted up Commodore and half of a degree in marketing. I've even managed to reconcile with a lot of my friends from back. The only constants in my life since then have been my family, my shower head bong, knee pains in the morning and the Raiders losing.
But I won't do it.
To me, that's like selling out a part of myself, a part of myself that was born out of teenage angst but has grown and grown to the point where it's as indelible to me as breathing.
I live for the day when I can finally attend a game inside the Black Hole. I even have my helmet and flail ready.
And if anyone thinks I'm less of a Raider fan than them just because I wasn't born into it?
Fuck you very much.