I know what you’re thinking. Bay area and coming out of the closet? Sounds a little suspicious?
A few years ago, I was laced with shrapnel from a 40 mm grenade. Being from Wisconsin, it didn’t surprise the doctor when he saw green and gold blood seeping out of my right calf wound...that is until he took a closer look.
“Wait a minute. I see subtle streaks of silver and black,” the doctor replied. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he scolded.
I felt ashamed and relieved.
I knew this day would come. I had been exposed and it was now time to come “out of the closet” and just admit it...Yes, I am a Raiders fan.
I have been the last 33 years of my life. I won’t shout it from the rooftops or break the news to my family over Thanksgiving dinner in Wisconsin. I will let them watch the Packers and Lions play in peace. The Pack will always be No. 1; I just needed a little more excitement in my life—I needed a rebellious side, even if I kept it a secret all these years.
My mom always knew my little secret—that’s one of many talents mom’s have. She would let me pick out two shirts from the Sears catalogue before every school year. I remember persistently pointing at a Raiders jersey in first grade, only to have my mom move my finger over to the Seahawks jersey next to it.
The Seahawks! The Seahawks are the Disneyland team of the NFL!
The myth of being a Seahawks fan stuck with me throughout my primary years. “The Packers are his No. 1 team, but his favorite AFC team is the Seahawks,” I would hear my mom tell Aunts and Uncles.
Jimmy “the Bad Boy of Little Chute” Pagel moved to our town in fourth grade and wore his Raider’s jersey everyday to school. I was jealous. Not only could Pagel’s silver and black side freely come out, but he was also allowed to park his Raider’s themed trail bike in the Principals parking spot and pop wheelies on the school sidewalk. He didn’t need to say a word. The Raider’s jersey spoke volumes and nobody, kid or adult, would mess with him.
After my high school graduation ceremony, my mom pulled me aside in tears. “I feel so bad about forcing you to hide your true personality all these years. Don’t let the world dictate who you really are inside,” she said before slipping me a $20. “Go out and buy yourself a Raider jersey and wear it with pride.”
I did purchase the jersey my freshman year of college, but I was too scared to wear it in public. Like Superman, sometimes I would hide it under a sweater when I needed the courage to ask a fawn-eyed coed out, but otherwise I would only wear it doing pushups in my dorm room when my roommate left for the weekend.
Some would say that in this day and age, it’s OK to be a Raider fan, despite the fact that the Raiders have been the laughing stock of the NFL the last five years. Yet, even when the Raiders were winning, a foreign state fan still didn’t want to reveal his admiration for the silver and black.
Apparently, there are only two reasons why someone would legitimately be a Raider fan: 1) you live, or have lived in Oakland 2) you drive a Harley and have a nasty streak.
I don’t meet either of those criteria. I have always been the squeaky clean kind of guy described as either nerdy, preppy, or both. That is until now.
Imagine how shocked my wife was when she found out I was a Raider’s fan after being married to her for 10 years. It was as if I had been going to the sports bar all these years when I said I was going to the library.
Worse yet—sneaking snacks from the convenience store and not recording it in the budget. She demanded counseling unless I could come up with some really good reasons to be a Raider’s fan.
It’s not as if the Raiders are as loved and hated as much as the Cowboys, Yankees, and Lakers. Nice guys can still be fans of those teams.
But the Raiders?
Their fans wear spiked shoulder pads. Many of them look like the walking dead. Their helmet has a football player with a patch on, and swords that look like skull and crossbones. The player on the helmet is even smiling at you which is very spooky. Three year old kids stop dead in their tracks when they see a "Black Hole" Raider’s fan, and then book it the opposite direction.
(I trust pre-schooler's instincts by the way.) Raider girls are always the wildest at parties. No opposing team fan wears his jersey to Raiders games unless he has the secret service covering his back.
How could I possibly explain my love for the Raiders to my wife?
I tried telling her that if I had to choose players from one NFL team, past or present, to go into war with, I would choose Raiders. Stabler, Tatum, Biletnikoff, Hendricks, and even Robbins were mean, viscous, dirty and tough players that defined the Raider’s “old school” trademark football style.
But obviously that would work against me.
I could then try telling her that the Raiders won three Super Bowls and one AFL Championship. That the Denver Broncos and Kansas City chiefs can credit their previous success to their hatred of the Raiders and wanting to beat them. Isn’t it ironic that when the Raiders are good, these teams follow? When the Raiders decline, these teams follow?
But my love for the Raiders is not based on wins and losses; it is something mysterious that is immeasurable.
I could admit that secretly adoring the Raiders provides me a harmless way to rebel against suburbia and my Leave It To Beaver life. “Better than partying and sneaking Scotch and cigars on the weekend.”
But I don’t like Scotch and don’t smoke, and this would prompt her to dig for more dirt.
There is no explanation or excuse for a guy like me to be a Raider’s fan. I can’t “just win baby” with any argument.
What’s a guy like me to do? What would a Raider of the '70s do?
On the one shoulder, I have former Seahawks Steve Largent and Jim Zorn, both upstanding citizens and republicans, calmly counseling me to “do the right thing, be a family man, and give up the Raiders for the love of your kids and wife.”
On the other shoulder I have Ken Stabler and Ted Hendricks barking at me, spit from their mouths thankfully blocked by their thick mustaches, to “be a man, let the Raider side of you come out. A Raider gives no excuses and takes no prisoners. Your wife will thank you for sticking to your swords. Just Win Baby!”
In the end I took the great Raider’s advice. The first week wasn’t easy. I wore my Raider’s jersey everywhere, including a church potluck which prompted the scorn of an 85 year-old Silver Eagle named Violet Redenbacher, thus embarrassing my wife. I knew what was about to come.
That night we had it out. “I hate the Raiders,” she would say with tears in her eyes.
“I have to be me,” I constantly reminded her. Unable to force me to bend, her water stained eyes turned to fire. There was something about my Raider attitude that she liked. She suddenly found me irresistible.
The following day she went out to buy a Raider’s jersey. She looks good in it, and knows it. Yes, she is now a Raider fan as well.