Anyone who knows me will tell you I have been a crazy Raiders fan since the 3rd grade, my only football team during good times and bad. Being a left-handed quarterback in our neighborhood street football games, who else could I have loved except Kenny Stabler?
I have everything Raiders in my basement, I see them every chance I get, and bought one of the first personal seat licenses in the new Las Vegas stadium on the night they opened the lottery. The lady said, “you are our only Kentucky customer so far!” This might make me Kentucky’s biggest Raiders fan!
Back in the 1970’s, the Raiders were one of the best professional franchises in all of sports labeled by, “The Just Win Baby” and “Commitment to Excellence” – all part of the epic founder, Al Davis, folklore. Davis, the beatnik owner who was a mysterious football guru who never followed status quo and seemed to defy conventional wisdom year after year.
Honestly, at 8 years old, it was Stabler initially but then it was the colors– black and silver; the colorful coach, John Madden, storming the sidelines in short sleeve shirts in the snow, and it was the culture to just win at nearly all costs that had me never miss a game on TV forever. And their Monday Night Football winning percentage record was unmatched for decades.
As a young boy, having your team be led by a vocal owner you could almost touch, players perceived as a bunch of unlawful bandits wearing mat black and pushing boundaries the entire game, plus the craziest fans of all time dressed in pirate customs and face paint filling up your TV screen – how could you not like them?
Being a Raiders fan in the late 70’s and through late 80’s, were some of my best childhood memories any fan could ever experience. I cried myself to sleep after the Immaculate Reception against the Steel Curtain, danced in my basement after the first Super Bowl win against the Purple People Eaters. I watched second chance Plunkett shock the league with an epic performance in Super Bowl XV, drank at my first Super Bowl party when Allen slaughtered the Hogs and all the way through until the tragic injury to Bo Jackson that seemed to end our amazing run. It has never been the same since!
Al Davis became out of touch as he aged and had constant coaching changes demanded by him to win tomorrow. There was undisciplined football by rogue players, constant threats to move the team, and a weak organizational management team underneath the mercurial owner that seemed to taint the black and silver.
There were decades when opposing teams feared coming to town because they were going to witness the craziest home fans anywhere in the world. But the two-decade decline took a toll on the franchise and fans today just see a crazy fan base and don’t fear the Silver and Black as they once did. Outside of the Gruden, Gannon, Brown run to a blowout Super Bowl loss, it has been continuous tough times.
However, when you are a true fan of any team you love the bad times because it thins the fan base, tests the loyalty of the fringe fans, and makes you hold on to the amazing memories that defined your childhood.
For all of us who are part of Raider Nation, this year is still a sad one because it is the bitter end for our Oakland historic roots, so everyone is rushing to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (that is sadly shared with the A’s) to cheer like never before because we move to glitzy Las Vegas next year.
A few weeks back, when I realized our GLI Glide Trip would take us out to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Wine Country, I had to sneak away one night because it was Monday Night Football, Opening Night, in Oakland verses the Denver Broncos, and it was time to enter the BLACK HOLE even if it was by myself because this is the END.
If you want to make your own pilgrimage, go to StubHub and pick the section called the BLACK HOLE. I found one ticket still for sale, row 7, near the end of the row and a childhood dream was finally coming true!
On this night we cheered from the parking lot while tailgating with chants, the whole way entering the gates, and never even sat down once as we played masterfully this night picking the Broncos apart with Derek Carr looking like a right-handed Kenny Stabler. Prior to this night, I watched the Raiders on TV for 45 years and was envious every time of the true fans covering my TV screen that created the BLACK AND SILVER culture, and I finally got the chance to be one of them.
You can definitely go alone but you will leave with dozens of new friends from all walks of life. I hugged and high-fived everybody I met in my section, becoming one of them. My old teenage envy turned into true joy because, finally, I was home on Monday Night Football and a childhood dream came true!
Vegas may be the greatest football stadium ever built, and I will be there whenever I can make it out there, but it will never be the Oakland Raiders County Coliseum BLACK HOLE ever again where the football grit, the renegades, the regular people dress up like it’s Halloween and cheer like it is life and death for four hours!