Better to Reign in Hell Part 2
The party at the AM/PM mini-mart across the street from the Coliseum was in full swing at 3 pm, well before the kickoff for the Raiders Monday Night Football game against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, an old time blood foe. It had been a dismal three weeks in Raider Nation with two straight road losses to the Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns, the loss of linebacker Bill Romanowski for the season with a concussion, and the news that former Raiders great Marv Hubbard had killed a man in an auto accident—but you’d never know it from the buzz around the sold-out stadium. Darth Vader and friends rolled by on their Harleys in black leather jackets and hollered “Raiders!” to a group of fans in jerseys who were splitting a joint on the sidewalk. They blew out their smoke and yelled back “Raiders!” in response.
The Raiders season was on the brink of total disaster, but the atmosphere had a playoff-like intensity. We saw a couple making out in front of their motor home and watched a man chug half a bottle of vodka. A throaty “FUCK K.C.!” chant broke out in a corner of the lot and would continue sporadically for the rest of the evening inside and outside of the stadium.
Inside, the hallways were mobbed and echoing the “Ray-duz! Ray-duz!” chant was deafening. The cops looked a little edgy, and we saw a few people being carted away in handcuffs before the game even started.
“We got another KC idiot over there, “ I overheard a cop say to his partner.
“Yeah I’ll go watch him get his ass kicked and then take a report,” he replied and slowly made his way through the crowd. In the Black Hole, the mood was festive as people mugged for the cameras and gave the Chiefs a creatively menacing welcome. The twelfth man was present and accounted for, yelling, screaming, and insulting the Chiefs with gusto, one fan consciously upping he next in volume, wit and vulgarity. There were a couple of Hells Angels in our section, but they were pussy cats compared to the “regular” fans, who were in fine form booing and heckling the Chiefs persistently and the Raiders when their offense sputtered on the way to a 10-0 Chiefs lead at halftime.
I thought about the Raider Nation as I watched the Silver and Black, down 17-10, start what would have been a thrilling comeback drive at their own 6 yard line. As Tuiasosopo marched the team down the field, a guy in a white Raiders jersey and a Bill Clinton mask walked up the stairs holding a cigar, and I saw a whole band of guys dressed like KISS in silver and black strolling behind our seats. Three more regular guys got arrested while the Hell’s Angels just down the row watched the game peacefully while eating ice-cream cones. The game ended with Tim Brown catching a pass by the goal line and getting wrestled down inside the 1 yard line as the clock hit 0:00.
After the Raiders lost a heartbreaker 27-24 to the Chiefs in Kansas City and fell 3-8, even the most optimistic adherents of the Silver and Black knew that the boys were finished. There would be no miracle run to squeak into the playoffs at 9-7 and shock the league by gritting it out all the way to the Super Bowl. Rick Mirer was no Jim Plunkett. Safety Rod Woodson was done for the season, joining defensive end Tracey Armstrong, running back Justin Fargas, and linebacker Taravian Smith on the injured reserve list, and the only good news was that public drunkenness charges against kicker Sebastian Janikowski had been dropped.
The Raiders have a leader, a Godfather. The guy who is ultimately in charge. The only person who comes close to Al Davis is Steinbrenner, equally loathed and equally meddlesome. But unlike Steinbrenner, Davis has actually made a lot of innovations in the game. What is Raider football? It’s Al Davis, the Godfather. The essence of being a Raiders fan is being the real thing.
Only 45,000 fans showed up that day, but the Raiders rewarded the smallest crowd since 1998 for their loyalty by stunning the AFC North-leading Ravens 20-12 in a gritty, well-played game. There weren’t any Ravens fans in the stands and there weren’t any hassles with the cos. The Raiders played tough defense and sent the crowd home happy. It was the last good day of the season .As we crossed over the bridge to BART, Danny saw a guy selling five dollar gear and quipped, “Nothing says Christmas like a “Fuck All Raider Haters’” t-shirt!”
The Raiders last home game was another Monday Night Football affair, and despite the Baltimore win, the rumors were flying about dissention in the locker room and there was speculation about whether this would be Charles Woodson’s last game in Oakland. A far better result, most Raiders fans thought, would be to fire Coach Bill Callahan and do whatever it took to keep Woodson.
It seems harder and harder to imagine a new golden era for Oakland Raiders football. Still, the faith persists. Many of our Black Hole neighbors insist they’ll be back even if the team isn’t. As we marveled at the generosity of our Raiders fan cohorts who gave up their dry seats to stand in a cold pouring rain so we could sit under the overhang with our year-old baby at the game, I surrendered to hope. Maybe the Norv Turner era would bring back the glory years after all…