I suppose that it has the ingredients of a common story: born in Northern California, some family members were fans, and I started playing football when I was young... but, it didn't all fall together quite as neatly as it might have seemed.
I was born in Sacramento, close enough to be either a fan of either San Francisco, or Oakland. When I started playing football as a kid, I wasn't yet really into a team, other than I liked Larry Csonka, not just for his bruising, no-nonsense running style, but for his name as well. I have a German name that isn't really that different, but enough in those days to draw some ridicule on occasion, and I loved that someone with a name like that could be such a standout. I wasn't a fan of the Dolphins, but I did really like Csonka.
My family was never very close, and it wasn't until I grew up, and in my 30's, that I discovered that my dad (who I luckily became close to before he passed away last year) and my brother were both soberly realistic fans of the Raiders; they weren't rabid, they saw the problems, celebrated wins, and absorbed losses, but were never blind homers. I have always been the same kind of fan; some may say that it makes one 'less of a fan' to not be rabid, but I say it's just a difference in personality. My dad loved the way that the Raiders could be so completely out of the box as far as 'standard thinking', and my brother loved their outlaw style. I came to admire both aspects of the team, but never really knew beforehand how that would run in the family.
In 1974, I was 11 when I saw the 'Sea of Hands' game; although I kinda liked the Raiders' style, I was watching more because of Csonka. He had a pretty good game, but there was just something about the Raiders, how they won, how they battled, how they pulled that game out at the very end, with a play that I certainly didn't know how incredible it was at the time. But, I just couldn't shake that feeling, that this was the team that I was meant to be aligned with. So, even though they didn't go to the Super Bowl for a while, I started following them in earnest after that game, slowly learning who everyone was, and laughing as I found out, marveling that I had missed this before. I loved how Al Davis stood up to the NFL, doing it his way, going against the grain because he knew he was right, which rubbed the noses of every naysayer in his successes, even if he wasn't explicitly doing it. (Which I appreciated; I've never been a smacktalker or loud about being right, and Al knew what was happening, and while he might say something here and there, he wasn't a braggart.) I loved the outsized personalities and outlandish actions of some of the players; although that's not me, I could see how different that was, how unusual to be that loose and free, and how it didn't prevent them from being beasts on the field. Because I loved how the team played, hard and tough, taking nothing from anybody, and leaving every opponent with a bruised and battered body to remind them of just who they had played, win or lose. I loved to try to hit as hard as I possibly could as well; the only problem was that I was smaller, slower, and didn't have much physical talent, but ohhh, was I willing... lol
I was so excited when the Raiders won their first Super Bowl, but it really didn't matter as far as my fandom; I was hopelessly caught up already. I have loved every winning season, reveled in every Super Bowl win, but haven't lost any passion for the team in any losing season, or even losing streak of seasons. I have always had the greatest respect for Al, even as I felt he made so many mistakes when chasing that elusive last championship; while I can't forget how badly it ended, I can also never forget just how long he was golden. I only wish that I had had the privilege of meeting some of the players, whether while they were playing, or after they retired, just to be able to tell them of how much joy their efforts, their actions, their personalities, gave me, and so many others. Maybe some day...
Now, I live in Texas (with my Raiders license plates... lol), but I go to see at least one game every year; this year will be the home opener, and the preseason game in Dallas. Although the game has changed greatly, to what I feel is it's detriment, and the team has moved (again), and Al no longer runs the franchise, I am still drawn to this team. It's different now; they aren't the swaggering misfits anymore, but they are still the only team that I feel that I could really follow. I'm drawn to them, not because they win (although they are again), not because they're 'cool' (although they are), not because they have the best uniforms (although they do), but because they are the only team that feels as though they have a soul, a purpose more than just sports, and entertainment, simply a vehicle full of faces and names that come and go. They exist to call to those who want more than just a team, but an ethos, to follow, to bond together, to become one with. There may come a time when I get tired of the NFL and how it has changed, and no longer watch the game, but I will never stop following the Raiders, and supporting the team.
As a fan, maybe that's 'not typical', but isn't that what the Raiders are really all about...?