With all the recent bickering on this site about the Raiders and all the haters, I thought it time to share my story about my love for the team and the fans of the Silver and Black.
In the late 90's I was a 30-something guy raising my three kids in the foothills of the Gold Country in Northern California. One day I found the Raiders Usenet newsgroup, alt.sports.football.pro.oak-raiders (ASFPOR).
Thinking this would simply be a forum for discussing the Raiders, I subscribed and began reading. Boy was I ever wrong. What I found was an eclectic group filled with sharp minds from all over the country and even on other continents. The Raiders weren't the only topic of discussion by a long shot.
WWW is generally understood to stand for World Wide Web, but in this forum it stood for Wild Wild West. The belly laughs were abundant; the caustic wit dripped from every post, and the absolute love of everything Raiders was the glue that bound them together.
I jumped in and began throwing in my two cents and was welcomed into the family with open arms. Over the next couple of years, "family" became a very real word I'd use to describe these folks. Although it was a cyber family, we leaked enough of our personal lives in our posts to get to know each other pretty well.
The haters, or trolls, were in abundance in the group, most usually posting some drivel about how all Raiders fans were costumed Halloween wannabe's, or former and future residents of the California penal system.
It was these poor witless victims of their own lack of originality that provided the daily entertainment. The mental assassination of these clowns brought tears to my eyes at times, leaving me laughing so hard that literally falling out of my chair was a regular occurrence.
Then one day in 1999 I broached the subject of us all getting together for a game at some point. Some of the group were locals who regularly attended games, and many of the others had never been to the Mecca of all things Raider, the House of Thrills in Oakland known as the Coliseum.
As we discussed the possibilities, a name for our little gathering was born. A simple typing error about the impending Tailgate party (I left off the T in Tailgate) and the moniker was born, we would call it Alegate. And so it came to pass, one Sunday night in 1999 that we gathered in Oakland for the first of many Alegates.
We had folks fly in from all over—Manhattan, Hawaii, Philly, LA, etc. The stories they told in the aftermath were priceless, and it was like meeting long lost brothers. The tailgating was hosted by a couple of locals, and to a man (and a few women) it was like coming home.
If you have never experienced tailgating in Oakland, there is no way words can properly describe the mass of humanity. A shanty town of pop-up tents, music blaring from every direction, the smoke of BBQ's creating an absolute environmental nightmare for the EPA, all done in the name of Raider love.
Over the next couple of years we continued these get togethers, including a road trip meeting in San Diego where we spent a couple of days in the Gaslamp Quarter partying amongst the sedate locals.
Most of us came without game tickets, and much to our amusement found Chargers fans willing to drive down to the Gaslamp to sell us their season tickets.
That was something so completely foreign to a Raiders fan. Giving up your seat to an arch rival so he could go into YOUR HOUSE, and root against YOUR TEAM seemed unthinkable. But they did it, willingly and in droves. Never would that occur in Oakland, regardless of the tough times our team was experiencing.
My own kids were very familiar with Raider games. We made the trek down to Oakland several times a year and feasted before the game, shouted until hoarse during, and made the long drive home from Mecca satiated by our experience.
In October of 2002, the unthinkable happened. The wonderful girl pictured above with her older brother in the background, my 16-year old daughter Kristiana, was tragically killed in an afternoon car crash.
On that Indian summer evening in our hometown, our lives came sudden screeching halt and veered off in a direction that I would never wish upon any person, loved or hated.
The level of shock that night had us on autopilot as we notified family and friends, and gave solace to those who showed up on our doorstep with tears in their eyes and no words to express to each other the horror that we all felt.
There was one group we hadn't notified, and that was our Raider family. As my wife and I sat down to compose the most dreadful post of our lives that evening, it seemed so natural to include them.
Many of them knew my kids personally; we'd visited each others homes, attended high school football games together, and had spent many a day gathered around the BBQ in Oakland as we prepared to root for our beloved Raiders.
So we wrote of our horror and hit send. The outpouring of condolences was unbelievable. Word spread to other teams' newsgroups in our loose online community and many a parent, regardless of their team affiliation, wrote that they made it a special point to kiss and hug their children that night and appreciate the gift that they had.
Sadly, there were others who were not so kind. The disillusioned wretches of society who thought it fun to make sport of a tragedy crawled out from under their rocks, and we included them in our prayers.
Our daughter was a beautiful spirit and an old soul, and she would have felt sorry for anyone who harbored such hatred in their souls. She would have felt it her personal mission to bring some beauty into their dark lives, and to honor her, we forgave.
Amongst the hundreds of mourners at her funeral were the faces of my Raider brothers and sisters, shedding tears at the loss we all experienced, and laughs as we remembered our girl's outstanding sense of humor and ability to bring a smile to any who were fortunate enough to cross her path.
In February of 2003 we received a hand delivered letter from our Raider friends. It had crisscrossed the country for months, going to the homes of our friends as they added their own special words.
This message of love and support had traveled some 43,000 miles throughout the US and Canada before finding its way to our doorstep. It is a special treasure that we still cherish today, nearly six years later.
I wrote this story to share something special. While we may be just fans of a sports team on the surface, often it goes much deeper than that. Unfortunately, some may only possess the ability to view others in a shallow and preconceived way that fits into their tiny worlds.
For those of us who have learned tolerance and wisdom through tragedy, our loss opened a door to a magnificent world of compassion and friendship. I absolutely cherish these friends, not just the Raiders fans, but those of other teams who shared their humanity.
While there are those who simply view the Oakland Raiders as a down-on-their-luck football team to be made sport of, I view them as a portal to the greatest gift of all, the love of friends and family.
As we gather again on December 14, 2008, for yet another Alegate, we will raise our glasses and toast those who are no longer with us, wish Godspeed to those whose lives have become a struggle, and count the many blessings that have bestowed themselves upon us over the years.
We will revel in the camaraderie of friendship and finally toast the Oakland Raiders, whose greatness is not only in their past, but also in their future.