My first encounter with Raider Nation occured about two weeks ago when I filed an article entitled, Al Davis, Ebenezer Scrooge, Timothy Geithner, and Darth Vader. The article focused on the hefty price Big Al paid for questionable 7th overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The Nation hurled hateful and offensive venom my way from all directions. Most of the remarks were of a personal nature attacking everything from my masculinity to my knowledge of football.
In retrospect, I did foster some subconscious hate for the Raiders based on my devotion to the Minnesota Vikings as a youngster. I used to cringe at the very thought of Dave Casper rolling on the ground and recovering a fumble in the end-zone and conversely felt a bit of euphoric bliss when Franco Harris pulled off The Immaculate Reception back in the day.
The Raiders were the luckiest team in football. I cursed Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Mark Van Egen, Ray Guy, Jim Otto, Cliff Branch, and the rest of that renegade bunch every time a tipped ball or awkward bobble went the Raiders way.
I had memorized the names of the Raiders roster more thoroughly than my own team and suffered from an all too familiar blend of envy towards those arrogant Raiders and a hopeless self-pity for my beloved Bud Grant led Minnesota Vikings.
Just once I desired to experience the thrill of Super Bowl victory the Raiders appeared to acquire with such ease.
One time, that's all. That time never came.
Remember, I endured through four Super Bowl Viking losses worshipping the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Sammy White, Alan Page, Carl Eller and the rest of the Purple People Eaters.
Based on these painful and bitter memories, I completely understand the optimistic hope of every Minnesota Vikings fan out there regarding the signing of Brett Favre; the timeless longing for that one elusive big win, the heart wrenching disappointments, the low of the lows and no relief in sight.
To make matters worse, I grew up in Rochester, NY. Consequently, my second favorite team was no other than the hard luck Buffalo Bills! I suffered through four more consecutive Super Bowl losses at the hands of Jim Kelly, Marv Levy and the rest of the head-hanging Buffalo Bills.
All said, football has not been so kind to me through the years. Yet it has been much kinder to Al Davis and all of Raider Nation.
I actually rooted for the Jim Plunkett led Raiders in their Super Bowl victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII.
Similarly, I sympathized with Raiders fans when the black and silver played heroically against the Patriots in the midst of that East Coast snowstorm back in '02, only to see the game decided by an ill-fated controversial no-fumble call that launched the legacy for Tom Brady.
Lastly, I pulled for the Raiders a few years back when they played there former coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Again, I thought the Raiders beat all odds to make it to the Super Bowl only to be routed by the Bucs 48-21.
Never cared for Chucky all that much. I can see why he and Al got along so well. The two of them shared that a certain blend of Raider cockiness and bravado that I remembered all too well from those Raider glory years.
But that was then and this is now.
Misery must love company. Currently, the Raiders are a talented yet underachieving team; heavy on salaries and high draft picks but light on wins. There are more questions than answers; negatives far outweighing positives.
Much ado about nothing in Raider Nation. Another day at the office for all those concerned.
Human nature, for whatever reason, has always been seduced by a good tragedy. In fact, the Raiders remind me a bit of the ancient Roman Empire, a mighty and proud nation that seemed invincible while dominating every adversary in it's path for over 600 years.
Some historians compare the the plight of the Ancient Romans to the recent economic decline of the United States of America. Perhaps we can also find a way to weave the story of the Oakland Raiders into this saga as well.
There are more than a few pundits who are anxiously waiting and wanting to see JaMarcus Russell fail, if head coach Tom Cable lasts the entire season, or if the Raider defense will give up it's share of last minute scoring drives. I read where one expert has predicted that the Raiders could go win-less this season.
These predictions of apocalyptic failure make for good headlines, however, I know from experience that the Raiders have always had an, "us against them," and "the little train that could" mentality.
Images of Super Bowl's past still resonate; the painful memories Jack Tatum's brutal bone-jarring hit on Sammy White and a triumphant John Madden being victoriously carried off the field after Super Bowl XI.
The moral of this story: Never count ole Al or his Raider Nation out. I know what the black and silver are capable of, miscues and all.