Sunday’s game was billed as the final Raider appearance in Oakland before the silver and black band of deplorables relocate to Las Vegas, but a fight broke out instead. Correction: fights. Many of them between Raider Nation and security guards at the stadium once known as the Oakland Coliseum.
The scenes were ugly. Fans threw trash onto the field after the Raiders blew a big lead and lost their Oakland swan song to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 20-16. Some fans destroyed their seats. They vented their rage and the whole sordid scene made national news.
Was it a typical example of NFL fan violence and abhorrent behavior at sporting events supposedly fit for the whole family? Of course it was, but it was more than that.
This was about an unhealthy relationship between the miserable Raiders and their miserable fans. They aren’t good for each other and yet they just can’t quit each other. So what happens when stress, grief, anger, alcohol and who-knows-what-else mix in a toxic brew of rage and loathing? You get what we saw on Sunday in Oakland.
I’m not passing judgment from 30,000 feet. I grew up a Raider fan in the glorious 1970s heyday of a franchise that is still living off the exhaust of those times now 40 years in the rear view mirror. I still have my kid-sized Raider jacket that my parents bought me in the mid ’70s. It’s tiny, in mint condition and it’s hanging in my closet. As a child, I slept in Raider pajamas between Raider bed sheets.
I don’t watch the NFL anymore, but my favorite football players were Raiders: Jim Plunkett, the late Ken Stabler, the late Gene Upshaw, the late Jack Tatum.
The Raiders first left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982 and I couldn’t continue. It was like a breakup. They left me. And that was that.
You sometimes can still be friends after a breakup, but it’s never the same anymore. That’s how it’s been for me and the Raiders. I have my memories, but they are distant for me. From the safety of emotional distance, I’ve watched with amazement as a franchise I once loved slowly lost all appeal.
The iconography of the team still lionizes the 1970s Raiders over everything else because with a few exceptions, the team has been woeful for 30 years. When I was full-time sports columnist, I used to compare Al Davis, the late Raiders owner, to Fidel Castro because the Raiders are like modern Cuba with crumbling infrastructure and 1950s cars lumbering past billboards trumpeting a long-ago revolution.
Fans cling to the illusion, repeating moldy slogans like “Commitment to Excellence.” All these years later, those slogans sound more like punch lines than a rallying cries.
Meanwhile, Raiders fans pay top dollar for terrible football. The Raiders are leaving them for the second time, this time to Las Vegas, and yet they keep hanging on.
Marriage counselors would call this relationship abusive and unhealthy. What did we see on Sunday but a hostile workplace? Raider fans weren’t just raging at the Raiders, they were raging at themselves. Self loathing is a symptom of violence.
Yet for all we saw on Sunday, you can bet your house on this: An unhealthy portion of those fans who acted out will drop a ton of money next year to watch their team in Vegas.
This is fandom in the darkest sense of the word.
I’m thankful I got off this crazy train back in 1982, when the Raiders left me and I sought healthier sports relationships in which the object was entertainment and enjoyment and not what we saw, one last time, in Oakland on Sunday.
This story was written by Marcos Bretón
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