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October 5, Bye Week

 

So why exactly do I love the Raiders so much?

A lot of it is the same reason why so many other football fans love their chosen team: it's all about where I grew up. The irony there is that I grew up in the mountains of Southern California, not exactly a place devoted to any sort of tradition or loyalty to anyone or anything.

I lived in SoCal at a time when Los Angeles reveled in the prolfligate glory of not one but two professional football teams. One was the Rams, and there was no way I was going with barnyard animals. Plus, the other guys wore silver and black. Blue and gold looked seriously wussy in comparison. The Raiders entered my consciousness 'round about age five, which would have been 1981. You may recall that they redefined badass in those days. I didn't know a thing about Al Davis or Oakland or lawsuits. They stayed firmly cemented in my head as The Supreme Motherfuckers, even as football grew very hazy and I entered my teenage years, when the 49ers were running inexplicably rampant over nearly everyone.

But the truth is, I didn't really know much about anything at that point. All I really knew was that I was 13 and I needed a way to rebel against my parents. My dad loathed sports of all kinds, despite being a middle-distance track runner in college. Thanks, Dad! Much easier than hanging out with highly unsuitable friends or drinking or doing drugs.

Then again, this obsession has taken up a good chunk of my life ever since. Maybe a meth habit would have been healthier after all.

I moved to Santa Cruz in 1994 to attend school at UCSC, otherwise known as Uncle Charlie's Summer Camp. If you listen to my friend Richard, I moved back to the Bay Area to follow the Raiders. Richard is sadly misguided, but I did realize something my freshman year: Damn, did people in Oakland love the Raiders. It was like the second coming of Christ, only with tackling. I saw people separated by every conceivable racial, class, and social boundary happily piling into the Coliseum parking lot to char dead animal flesh and pound beer in glorious unison. (I still remember a Chronicle article from the time: "Those pussies over in SF drink Chardonnay at their tailgate parties. We have barbecue!" Granted, I like Chardonnay just fine, and I've been a vegetarian since I was 13--the most efficient way to piss off my mom at that point. Nevertheless, it resonated.)

The real turning point came in 2000. I moved three blocks southeast in Berkeley after a nasty breakup and found myself the only white girl in an entire apartment complex--simplex, rather. My neighborhood was the heart of Raider Nation. During the playoffs, people blocked off both ends of Stanton Street between Russell and Ashby, dragged their sofas and big-screen TVs into the street, and fired up the grills to watch the Raiders take on the Ravens. I was too scared to venture outside into all of the hollering and broken beer bottles, but I despise the Ravens to this day. I began to realize the real point of professional sports in our disconnected, far-flung, detached, constantly-relocating world.

Attachment to a sports team, even one as sad and bedraggled as the Raiders--or the Cubs, or the Browns, or possibly even the Knicks--bonds you with a select group of other people. For whatever reason, probably firmly encoded in our DNA for highly practical reasons that have expressed themselves in thoroughly disturbing and impractical ways--the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, lynching--human beings have needed to bond with other human beings for reasons beyond simple kinship, tribal bonds, or common creed. We need to feel a part of an abstract Something that transcends the day-to-day responsibilities, the abstract philosophical and religious beliefs, the political alliances. We need to agree with our fellow man on something, even if it's meaningless. Maybe even especially if it's meaningless. I mean, shit, look at what meaningful things get us into. We kill people and raze their villages and bomb entire nations over abstract notions of Good and Evil and Voter Participation.

Nearly everyone can agree on the sublimity of a really sweet interception, even if it's my dad and he prefers to grumble about how all of this is bread and circuses. And it is, no question. The outpouring of previously unrequited love from the Greater New York Area for the Giants over the past 8 months is all the proof you need. (Side note: I'd like to point out here, for the zillionth time, that I called Super Bowl XXXIII in the first week of the season. It is the only thing I've ever accurately predicted and it may be the last. I'm still really proud of it.) Does any part of it really make a meaningful difference in people's lives?

No. But it allows them to bond with each other, to strike up conversations with one another, and to bond together over the most superficial and meaningless thing possible. One of the best conversations of my life was in a dive bar in Moscow, ID with a 40-something guy named Doug over sports teams in general, the Twins in particular, and why it was that he still followed them. I cannot bring myself to care in the slightest about baseball, which makes this time of year particularly trying (talk about football, dammit! I could give a hang about your pennants or flags or whatever the hell you're going on about!), but I still sat there and knocked back my gin and tonics and commiserated with him on the perils of handing your affections, your attentions, and your devotions to a geographically distant corporation primarily bent on selling you baseball hats and jerseys.

And this week has driven that conversation home. Al Davis, the man who in a just universe I would think the world of, has yet again proved that he is wallowing in bat guano as he totters ever closer to the River Styx. I look at him and I want to filter the entire thing through my fingers, horror-movie style. I am fairly confident at this point that *I* could run the Raiders far more efficiently, and I still occasionally need to ask my esteemed compatriot what certain arcane penalties mean. And yet I still watch his every bizarre move insofar as it affects the guys who wear silver and black every Sunday (except this one), who get paid far too much to run around on grass with a ball. I follow their tribulations, occasionally their trials, and I jump all over my living room when they do get it right. They make me happy, even when they drive me nuts.

In short, it's a highly dysfunctional relationship, and like all people in love with damaged parties, I believe they can change. I believe that they are just X many good linemen away from actually being able to block, and I believe fervently that Next Year Will Be Better. I believe in interceptions, 99-yard touchdowns, and miracle plays in the final few seconds of the fourth quarter. I believe in watching players grow over the years, partnerships and trust coalesce on the field, and the genuine moments of genius displayed by coaches and staff alike. I believe in tackles that shake the earth, 325-pound guys who can move faster than anyone would ever imagine, and the Fifth Gear some wide receivers can shift into. I believe in crazy fans--crazier than me--who go to games in Darth Vader costumes and decorate their jerseys with skulls and chains. I believe that one day, Los Angeles will have a football team again, and it will NOT be the Raiders. I believe in beer, barbecue, Sunday afternoons, Monday evenings, and the wondrousness that is the playoffs when I get football on Thursdays and Saturdays, too. I believe in the glory that was, the misery that is, and the splendor that hopefully someday will be, but not if this nonsense about firing Kiffen keeps up.

I *heart* the Raiders.

Game #1, 09/08/08 

Game #2, 09/14/08 

Game #3, 09/21/08