Silver and Black Like Me

Rams? Lambs! Orange County is Raider Nation. Dont believe it? Ask a Raider fan

Photo by John Gilhooley"THESE NUTS!" a red-bearded yokel yells at the top of his lungs. "THESE MUTHA-FUCKING NUTS!"

The teenage rednecks and burly Latino pals flanking Red Beard are nearly shitting their pants in moonshine-induced laughter. They are staggering above seats they cannot possibly afford behind the Raiders bench at McAfee (née Oakland-Alameda) Coliseum, where the Raiders are playing their Sept. 1 pre-season game against the New Orleans Saints. The matchup might have been meaningless if not for the fact that Hurricane Katrina had roared through the Deep South mere days earlier; if I heard, read or had injected into me one more story about the majesty, diligence, focus, discipline, intensity, loyalty-to-sport, professionalism or innocence with which these plucky Saints concentrated on football while their thoughts were on the underwater fans back home, I was going to do the Technicolor hurricane yawn on the spot.

In an attempt to meet and understand some of the costumed Raider fans who brought me to Oaktown, I had moved from the seat number printed on my ticket to the rows up against the tunnel leading from the field to the locker rooms. But as the last seconds ticked off the game clock, ushers who'd experienced Raider fans at previous games showering opposing players with projectiles had strategically blocked my path, pushing me into the seat directly in front of the Red Beard Brigade.

"THESE NUTS! NOT THESE NUTS! THESE NUTS!"

This goes on a half-dozen more times before I nonchalantly crick my neck, glance over my right shoulder and try to ascertain the context for these incessant screams on behalf of a particular set of dry, dehiscent, one-celled seeds.

"THESE NUTS! NOT THESE NUTS," Red Beard yells as he points both hands at his crotch, "BUT THESE NUTS!" For the latter pair, he points in a directional plane that includes—gulp!—me. But surely he can't be referring to me as a nut. No, he must be pointing through me to some other nuts beyond my line of vision. Whatever he is pointing at, his "These nuts!" refrain continues, so I turn my head back toward the action on the field, pretending not to pay attention. But, Jesus Christ, it's these nuts this and these nuts that, not these nuts, but these nuts, etc.

Will this game ever end?

Finally, the subject matter changes.

"Look at all these people in their jerseys," Red Beard laments; he sounds like a World War II vet talking about those dirty Krauts. "We got 34, 72, 32. Those are Bo Jackson, Howie Long and Marcus Allen's numbers. They're not Raiders!"

I realize that this particular diatribe is crescendoing into let's-kick-all-their-asses territory. Jackson, Long and Allen played for the Los AngelesRaiders, or Los Angeles Traitors, as they were known to many Oakland fans. Some here still can't get over the fact that owner Al Davis moved his team to LA in 1982 and kept them there until 1994. It especially stings now that Davis, who is demanding more improvements to the Oakland stadium, is threatening to move south again if his wishes are not granted. Of course, these mooks would pound a Southern Californian for the injustice without ever laying a finger on the Raiders' benevolent, oily-haired king.

By the way, did I mention I'm wearing a black No. 34 Raiders jersey?

* * *

My old man was always a Los Angeles Rams fan, but he spent every game yelling at the TV, droning on about how horrible our hometown team was. So this young pup believed him and spent the rest of my days rooting against the Rams, even when they moved just down the road to Anaheim in 1980. At a very early age, I briefly sided with the Kansas City Chiefs, and then the Minnesota Vikings for a few seasons. But it was the Oakland Raiders who ultimately stuck. In the swingin' '70s, they had guys with long hair and beards, cigarettes dangling out of their mouths, blood and remnants from the chow line staining their away-game whites. I loved quarterback Kenny Stabler. The way he carried himself was so anti-establishment. I still remember being alone in my back yard, pretending I was Stabler, trying desperately to complete passes as a lefty like Stabler even though I was right-handed. When no neighbor kids were around, the clothesline stood in for receiver Fred Biletnikoff. Ah, Freddie B.: there's something about a scrawny white guy who ran flawless routes, caught anything thrown his way and took long drags off cancer sticks on the sidelines. And the Raiders had those defensive players who would not only outplay the opposing offenses, not only humiliate them, but maim them.

I went on to play high school and college football in Southern California. Actually, "play" is too strong a word. Let's just say I was on the rosters, that I was a live tackling dummy for the starters, that I never missed a pre-game meal. My college had loose ties to the Raiders; our head coach's nephew was their special teams coach for a while; my defensive backs coach, a football genius, they used to say, scouted for the team.

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