This story was originally intended for NFL Insider magazine in 2002, but the reporter did not return. Recently, a dog-earned notebook surfaced in Tempe, Ariz. Here is all that is left.
Some assignments take you to some of the most hostile places on Earth: Iraq. Somalia. Afghanistan. Any of those choices would have seemed like a day in Disneyland compared to eth assignment I recently received--consorting with Raiders fans. The Oakland Raiders and their traveling band of gypsy fans were making a road trip to Arizona and I was asked to assimilate and find out how the mind of a Raiders fan works.
This involved taking a huge leap of faith believing that Raiders fans actually possession the ability of cognitive reasoning. Undaunted, I still accepted the task.
To really understand Raiders fans, you must first distinguish between the Oakland Raiders fans and Los Angeles Raiders fans. Oakland fans are the cartoon characters that show up at games wearing their Halloween costumes. A creative bunch, they are led by Darth Raider, Pharaoh Raider, Gladi-Raider, and their minions.
Although this group looks gruesome, it is actually a fairly harmless bunch of frustrated accountants who lead such mundane real lives that to dress up for a professional football game rates as the highlight of their weekends. Darth Raider is likely some middle-manager in Chandler Bing's field--meaning nobody knows what he does for a living. The helmet-less Darth Raider must wake up each morning, put on his white shirt and tie, then drive his Ford Focus in rush-hour traffic cursing his life.
But he is Darth Freaking Raider come Sunday.
Los Angeles fans are some of the most dangerous people on Earth. One Los Angeles fan admitted that he was late leaving for Arizona because he had to pick up his mother in Chino ... Prison. She was the most respectable one in the bunch. She looked like the Church Lady compared to the rest of the face-painting, fight seeking, foul-mouthed fans who pounded a six-pack for breakfast and garnished their bloody Mary with pepper spray.
And that is just the children. One of the kids walked around Tempe with a sign that said, "My first Raiders game." He stabbed his first Cardinals fan in the second quarter.
It was this latter group of Raiders fans that I had to assimilate with and to do so, I had to do something to my appearance. I grew an ill-fated beard about two weeks prior to the game. Unfortunately, Al Gore can grow a thicker beard so I opted for a goatee.
Another surefire identifying mark is a tattoo. Raiders fans are proud of their tattoos. One fan had their entire back covered by the Raiders shield. She was a handsome woman. You had to admit that her movie theater sized back and tattoo looked pretty cool riding on the back of her husband's motorcycle. I opted for a temporary Harley Davidson tattoo ... on my neck because I am not ready to make that big of a commitment to the story. Even if it meant my life.
Clothing was easy--anything black was acceptable. I was hoping to score one of those white Al Davis jump suits, but Montgomery Ward went out of business a long time ago. So I went with a black No. 12 Raiders jersey. But it was not for Ken Stabler, rather Todd Marinovich.
"Marijuanavich (sic) was the man, dawg," screamed one Raiders fan as I walked by. I had past that test.
The most important step was to take any football knowledge and forget it completely. To be a true Raiders fan, rationality is strictly prohibited. Nobody ever beats the Raiders. It is always the NFL screwing the team. That is right, the NFL has a vendetta against the Raiders because the Raiders keep fighting the league (and winning) in court.
Rational NFL fans knows that if this were really true, the St. Louis football team (Georgia Frontiere) and the Baltimore Ravens (Art Modell) would not have ever sniffed the playoffs, let alone win a Super Bowl in the past couple of years. But when you are trying to occupy the mind of a Raiders fan, you have to ignore logic.
Confident that I looked the part, and sure I could pass the "intelligence" test, I approached my first group of Raiders fans in a small parking lot.
"[Expletive] the Cardinals," I shouted. "[Expletive] those mother [expletive] and let’s kick their [expletive] [expletives]!"
I was instantly accepted into the Raiders clique like Mo Vaughn at a strip club. I received free beers and food over the next couple of hours as I regaled tales about how the Raiders were screwed by that damn tuck rule. It did not matter that Charles Woodson hit Tom Brady in the head, or that the Raiders gagged four of their last six games of the 2001 season, it was the "tuck rule" that forced them to play in the snow in New England. It did not matter that the Patriots had to drive the length of the field—twice—to kick the game-tying and game-winning field goals in the snow; it was the referee's fault.
It is always somebody else's fault because nobody ever beats the Raiders.
I would have been elected mayor of Raider Nation if they held elections that morning. It would have been a landslide. We moved the party from the Tempe parking lots to inside of the stadium and it was just more of the same. My newfound comrades and I intimidated the local fans; insulted the state (the one that pays their welfare checks); and scared children. We taunted, we teased, and we overtook Sun Devil Stadium, and claimed it as our own.
As the game clock started to wind down on a Raiders blowout, we chided Arizona fans who feared for their safety. I secretly apologized in my mind with each expletive that I uttered. I felt for these people. I knew, as an old Los Angeles Rams fan what it was like to be on the receiving end of these insults. But I had to keep my cool. When you are Ken Wahl in Wiseguy undercover, you cannot let them know that you secretly are not one of them.
We descended upon the town of Tempe like a biblical plague of locust after the game, pillaging the bars and refusing to tip the bartenders. We were like the "Black Widows" from a 1970s Clint Eastwood movie. We were the kings of the day.
I put my arm around one of my fellow Raiders fan after the game and said, "As a true Raiders fan, I am so glad we win games like this because we always choke in the playoffs. These games are truly meaningful because we have not won a Super Bowl since the 1980s, but we are always good in the regular season. These wins over juggernauts like Arizona in the regular season more than make up for all of our recent choke-jobs in the playoffs."
The Raiders fan looked at me (and without a hint of irony) replied, "Amen, brother."
Yep, it was a great day to be a Raiders fan.