As the 2018 season begins to wrap up, the Oakland Raiders will finish with a losing season for the 13th time in the last 19 years. In my adult life as a Raiders fan, the best teams I’ve witnessed went 8-8, 8-8, and 12-4 respectively. Oakland’s last playoff win? A hazy memory from when I was a pre-teen. The best Raider player I’ve seen? Was traded to Chicago in September. The Raiders are arguably the worst team in football, and will likely finish the season with something close to the league’s fewest wins.
Many of my friends and family have asked me why I don’t just root for another team. They suggest that they wouldn’t judge me, and that they wouldn’t make fun of me for it. My girlfriend, a Ravens fan, reminds me that her team also wears black. My mom and sister, Seahawk season ticket holders, have taken me to several games at Century Link. I’m asked nearly once a week why I’m still a fan of the
Oakland Raiders, and here’s my answer.
Why I Still Support the Oakland Raiders
Before I tell you why I still support the team, I’ve gotta tell you, being a fan is no picnic. It’s not just a matter of losing, though we’ve dealt with plenty of that as well. Just supporting this team can be strenuous, as wearing silver and black subjects you to drama on and off the field.
In the last month alone, the Raiders fired Reggie McKenzie, a general manager who was the AP Executive of the Year just two seasons ago, and announced they wouldn’t be playing their games in Oakland next year. The move from Oakland to Las Vegas has divided fans since it was announced, but knowing that next Monday may end up being the last home game for the Oakland Raiders has been devastating.
And then on the field, the Raiders are the NFL media’s punching bag. Of course, that’s not to say they don’t make it hard on talking heads looking for a punchline. Since January, the Raiders have given a coach that was off the sideline for ten years a 10 year, 100 million dollar contract, traded away the only first round picks they’ve drafted in the last decade that played in the Pro Bowl away, and won three games. The Khalil Mack trade alone has been a nightmare to endure.
If you’re not a Raiders fan, you don’t know how obnoxious it is to be reminded just how good Khalil Mack is. We watched him play incredible football for four years, and he hardly got the attention he’s received this season. He was dominating with the Raiders despite playing in ridiculous schemes with hardly any supporting talent, and it took Oakland’s only winning season since 2002 to get him noticed.
If I had a dollar for every time someone beat the “Mack has more sacks than the Raiders” dead horse on social media, I’d have enough money to build a time machine and pay Mack’s Raider contract with the change. I’m not joking, look at this.
And those were just the first ones I saw when I searched “Mack, sacks, Raiders” on Twitter. I’m sure there are dozens more, dating back to September. And it’s not just Mack, you could do the exact same thing with Amari Cooper and his numbers.
Sure, these are controversial trades, and it remains to be seen how the Raiders use the capital from them, but here’s something that gets lost in translation. Raider Nation didn’t trade either of these guys. There’s some confusion about whether it was Mark Davis, Jon Gruden, or Reggie McKenzie that pulled the trigger, but I can say with 100% certainty that it wasn’t anyone from Raider Nation.
That doesn’t stop us from being punished for it. It’s bad enough that we get mocked for the team losing double digit games every year, but now we have to be held accountable for personnel moves that we didn’t approve of, let alone cause?
If I’m so unhappy, why don’t I just root for another team? If I hate the drama and the consistent, tedious ineptitude, why watch? Honestly, the thought never crosses my mind, and here’s why.
My Raider Story
I was born in 1991, that means that since I was born, the Raiders have a record of 178-259 in my lifetime, and that’s including the 90’s and early 2000’s, which I was far too young to appreciate.
Confession time, I’m not from Oakland. I’m not even from California. These days, I call the Eastern Shore of Maryland my home. So when I say that I’m a diehard Raiders fan, there will be those that scoff at me, bringing my true commitment to excellence into question, and this is fair.
My connection to the team wasn’t born from geography or carefully crafted by my parents, in fact, the opposite is true. For as undying as my love for the Raiders is, my father has a similar devotion… to the Kansas City Chiefs. One of the biggest reasons my wardrobe is almost exclusively silver and black is because I wanted support the bitter rival of my father’s favorite team.
Not a Fanbase, a Nation
A friend of mine, a talented writer (also named Ryan), is a Steelers fan, and when prompted, he said that he didn’t really consider the Raiders and Steelers to be rivals. His reasoning was that because of how bad the Raiders have been, they didn’t really pose a threat anymore.
I was taken aback, because if I were to list my top five rivalries in the history of the NFL, Raiders/Steelers would’ve been pretty close to the top. George Atkinson clubbing Lynn Swann, the Immaculate Reception, the majority of the big AFC games in the 1970’s, Nnamdi Asomugha‘s coming out party, Richard Seymour punching Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski‘s big win in his hometown.
But because the Raiders aren’t in playoff contention, they were an afterthought to my friend. His idea of supporting his team is defined by the right here, right now. In two months, when football is gone, he’ll think about the Steelers every now and then, ramping up around free agency and draft time, and then rarely until the preseason starts in August.
For me, and for most Raiders fans, it’s not like that. It’s not like that at all.
For those who don’t proudly wear the Silver and Black on Sundays, you just don’t get it. It’s possible that you love your favorite football team very much, and that the thousands of hours and dollars you’ve poured into supporting them have been worth it in your eyes. There are hundreds of sporting fanbases all around the world in all the different sports who believe wholeheartedly that they are the best in the world. And they could be right.
But when you’re a Raiders fan, you’re not part of a fanbase. You don’t just wake up super early and tailgate. You don’t take your jerseys out of storage in August and
tuck stow them away in February. You don’t sigh when the season ends and think, “oh well, maybe next year.” Because when you’re a Raiders fan, you’re not part of a fanbase… you’re part of a Nation.
Log onto Twitter at any time of any day in the year, and you’ll find a Raiders fan complaining about the team in one way or another. These days, it’s the split between fans that believe Jon Gruden has a plan, and the fans that believe he’s destroying the team. They’re split between giving Derek Carr one more year in the offense, or seeing what draft picks they can get for him.
There are Raider fans that still insist Hue Jackson and Terrelle Pryor are the missing pieces. There are Raiders fans that think Matt McGloin could’ve been better than Derek Carr. Somewhere, somehow, there’s a Raiders fan that thinks A.J. McCarron is Gruden’s quarterback of the future. As silly as some of these opinions are, there are Raiders fans who will fight you about them until you submit and/or block them.
These fans are ravenous. This is just a sappy piece about how much I love the Raiders, and I promise you there’s someone that will get upset and attack me about it. Somewhere, there’s a Raiders fan typing about how a real Raiders fan wouldn’t even write this article because he loves this team so much, or how I don’t count as a real fan because I’m not from Oakland. These people love Raiders football more than some of their family members, and I’m proud to call myself a member of such a wild fraternity.
Even though the Raiders haven’t showed signs of life in twenty years, these people live and breath silver and black. Being a Raiders fan isn’t a hobby, it’s an addiction, it’s a part of who you are as a human being. Like the NWO t-shirts in 1998, you can walk into any NFL stadium on any given Sunday and I promise you’ll find at least one person wearing silver and black.
The Raider Mystique
I’m in the midst of writing the “All-Franchise Teams” for all 32 NFL clubs, and I’ve realized something kinda depressing. Some teams just don’t have a legacy. Some teams have little more than a stud receiver or a decent quarterback to show for decades of competition. Outside of 2017, fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars have had nothing to show for it. The Detriot Lions were great in the 50’s, but all they’ve done since then is force two potential all-time greats, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, to retire young and frustrated.
The history of the Oakland Raiders reads more like a true crime mafia novel than a cleverly named sports biography. The ignorant and uninformed might just think of the Raiders as “that team that always sucks” but they don’t understand the rich, colorful, and meaningful impact that the franchise has had on the league.
They don’t know about Daryle Lamonica, shredding secondaries with Fred Biletnikoff and Warren Wells in the 1960’s. They don’t know about Ken Stabler, partying all night and leading the Raiders on seemingly impossible fourth quarter drives in the 70’s. They never saw Marcus Allen running with the night, and they didn’t appreciate how the Raiders breathed life back into countless “washed up” veterans like Jim Plunkett or John Matuszak. And then, of course, there’s the ultimate Raider, Al Davis.
Al Davis, the former coach and owner of the Raiders, is known as the crazy old man that ran the Raiders into the ground in the 2000’s, but he may have been the most important man in NFL history. Davis, the only man brave enough to take on the NFL by himself, over and over, whether it was literally, as the commissioner of the AFL or in court, as he tried to take the Raiders to Los Angeles, embodies the spirit of the Raider.
Davis was an iconoclastic maverick who believed in doing whatever it took to win. Al didn’t care what color you were, what gender were, how old you were, or if anyone else thought you were “the criminal element” of the NFL, if you could help him win, you had a spot on the team.
Al was the first owner to hire a minority head coach (Tom Flores), the first owner to select an African-American quarterback with a first round pick (Eldridge Dickey), the first owner to hire an African-American head coach (Art Shell), and the first owner to hire a female executive (Amy Trask) in his time with the Raiders.
And I think that’s part of the Nation mystique. Anyone can be a Raider. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, where you’re from, what your gender is, if you love the Raiders, you’re welcome.
We’re an all-inclusive gang of loyal maniacs that do it our way. We don’t care if the Raiders are 12-4 or 4-12, we’re crazy about the silver and black. We can, and will trash our team to no ends, but don’t try it yourself unless you’re willing to pay the price. We’re a fanbase, a family, and a Nation.
The Autumn Wind is a Raider… and so am I
And that’s just it. There’s something magical about the Raiders. Maybe it’s the black jerseys, maybe it’s the pirate logo, maybe it’s the swagger and history of boisterous badasses of Raiders past, but this is a team that hasn’t been consistently good since the mid-1980’s, and they still have one of, if not the most passionate group of fans in the world.
So when the people that claim to know me best question how it is that I can still root for this team, even when they do nothing but disappoint me, I just have to laugh. They don’t get how I can root for a team with such a rich history and unique mystique, and I don’t get how they can root for anyone else.
The Raider Nation is one of the most volatile, divided, hostile, furiously passionate groups in the entire world, and I’m proud to call myself a member for life, for better or worse. As long as someone, somewhere, suits up in silver and black, you can bet I’ll be watching, whistling along with the Autumn Wind, hoping that someday, somehow, we’ll just win, baby.