Generally speaking, there are two basic reasons someone becomes a fan of a given team.
The obvious one is geography, the second is association.
Association with a team can come directly—someone you know is employed by the team—or simply on the basis of persona or reputation with which you like to associate. Having a distinct personality is why teams have names which they then market to a broad audience.
If the personality is distinct enough, you gain a broad following…or a “Nation.”
In the short term, simply winning a lot will give you a number of fair weather fans, since many people want to be associated with a winner. But stop winning and the nation quickly becomes a village.
In like form, even a nation with a strong personality can push their fans underground if they are bad for a long enough period of time, since no one likes being associated with perennial losers (with the possible exception of Cubs fans).
Only a few NFL teams can boast of having a national or global following, which is based on a team having a strong personality associated with it, and a reasonable winning percentage over time.
In the NFL, the Oakland Raiders have historically been one of those few teams that can boast of having a “Nation.” Raider Nation has grown out of the team’s historic success, and of its swashbuckling, independent, pirate personality.
Growing up in Northwestern Ohio in the late 60’s and 70’s, the closest NFL teams geographically were the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. I enjoyed seeing the Browns have success, but I loved to watch the AFL/AFC teams which had a much more wide-open style of play.
As I formed my opinions and developed an affinity for certain teams, I found it difficult to simply go along with the crowds lauding the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, or Dallas Cowboys. Of course, being a semi-fan of the Cleveland Browns, hating the Pittsburgh Steelers was a given, and their nemesis was the Oakland Raiders.
As my understanding of football grew, and I increasingly enjoyed watching the open, physical style of play both of these great teams employed, I became a Raiders fan.
At first it was this style of play and the competition with the hated Steelers, and eventually that evolved into an understanding, and association with, the Raiders’ team persona.
This was cemented when I saw an interview with Kenny Stabler in which he commented that in any old western movie, you have the guy in the white hat, and the guy in the black hat, and that the Raiders liked being the guy in the black hat.
The Raiders, for decades, have promoted this personality. Al Davis’ battles with the NFL, Upshaw’s stated belief that "If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’," the barely legal hits, and references to the team (by the Steelers) as the league’s criminal element, have all worked to promote a team persona that was a bit outlaw.
And they won.
They won a lot.
The Raiders, by accepting those that other teams would not, became the NFL’s “Island of Misfit Toys” and through skilled use of sheer talent overcame liabilities.
In fact, they actually celebrated those liabilities.
The Raiders didn’t expect more than marginal fairness by referees and NFL management, they expected to overcome it by outplaying their opponents to a level that those things didn’t matter.
The NFL has evolved, and today virtually every team is willing to play host to any player that can help them win, abiding by salary caps that help equalize teams’ ability to attract talent.
Today’s NFL features sophisticated schemes that require as much brains as brawn, and virtually every defense utilizes these schemes to prevent giving opposing offenses time to get receivers deep downfield more than a few times per game.
These changes have served the NFL well, providing parity between teams and making it extraordinarily difficult for any team to build a dynasty.
This brings me to the central point of this article—which is that there should be no whining by Raider Nation over bias against the Raiders, when the Raiders have intentionally promoted this persona.
We should simply understand that it exists, and that with current NFL rules allowing so much discretion on the part of officials it can be expected that we’ll have marginal calls go against us—and we have to outplay them by enough margin to win consistently.
An old coach of mine told us that no game really comes down to one play. You may have gotten screwed by an untimely call, but if you make the plays you are supposed to make—don’t drop passes, turn the ball over, miss blocks, etc.—you won’t be in a position to lose on a bad call (or calls).
So I must say that I’m rather hard pressed to accept whining from any team about officiating, as I believe that these things tend to even out. If you watch enough football, you understand that a penalty can be called on virtually any play (particularly holding). The best you can hope for is some level of consistency in what is being called.
Secondly, being former military, I believe that there are generally three things you can attempt to control: tools, competency, and situation.
In the NFL, this correlates to facilities and equipment, coaching and player talent, and game management. If you execute these things well, you put yourself in the best position to win.
The Raiders, nor Raider Nation, can’t control officiating (or media) bias, real or imagined.
It’s time to move on.
I’m as frustrated as all of Raider Nation when I see my team screwed by a call I sincerely believe would have gone the other way had it been another team, and I’ve actually become surprised when a challenge or marginal call goes in our favor. I assume they won’t go our way, and move on.
What frustrates me more, are the things the team can control, and doesn’t.
The Raiders use high draft picks on poor players and push them onto the field in place of more talented players that were drafted lower, or that somehow managed to get on Al Davis’ enemies list, which is long.
This, they can control.
The Raiders refuse to modernize schemes to stay competitive, giving opponents a confusing mix of coverages and looks to challenge.
This, they can control.
The Raiders have become a dysfunctional organization that attracts only those that have no other opportunities, or are there only for the paycheck, rather than the one that everyone wants to be part of. When the names of proven potential coaches are discussed, it’s nearly a given that none want to work in the Raiders organization.
This too, the Raiders can control.
The recent focus of the Raiders, and many of us in Raider Nation, has been on whining about things beyond our control and that act as nothing more than a diversion from the real problems in this organization. Anyone that’s critical of the organization becomes labeled a “hater” and their comments are disregarded, and the organization moves on its merry way pretending that they are on the cusp of winning next year’s Super Bowl.
At the end of the day, this is why I’m not looking for a turnaround anytime soon.
For what now approaches a decade, the Oakland Raiders have become the very thing that we loathe. When other teams complained about the physical play and other questionable activities by the Raiders, we told them to stop whining.
The Raiders should man up, and stop talking about the officiating, Rich Gannon, and the other BS reasons we haven’t been competitive for a very long time, and focus on what can improve the team.