By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
The Raiders' Los Angeles debut in 1982 was a godsend. I finally got to see my dream team in person with a good friend (and great college linebacker), whose dad scored excellent season tickets—behind the Raiders bench, right at the 20-yard line. I still remember the Denver game when you could see four fights going on simultaneously in the stands. And pity the fools who wore opposing-team jerseys into the LA Coliseum.
When the Raiders cleared out of LA in 1994, I must admit now, it was the right call. They belong in Oakland. But wherever they play, it ain't easy being a Raider fan, and not solely because they are coming off crappy 4-12 and 5-11 seasons (and, as this goes to press, an 0-2 record to start the season). It's bad enough you've got to watch your back around fellow fans like Red Beard. But it seems as if everyone hates you—opposing fans, the sporting media, polite society.
Sports radio host Jim Rome conveniently lumps all Oakland fans together as the singular "Raider fan"—as in "Raider fan don't like people knocking Al Davis" or "Raider fan can't deal with the fact their team sucks" or "Raider fan won't make bail in time for today's kickoff." Rome talks about Raider-fan myopia, a condition whereby Raider fan only sees events one way, the way that puts the team in the best light. Rome says Raider fan claims to have won every Super Bowl—after all the injustices the team suffered are peeled away to prove the team really should have had a perfect record. He's exaggerating, of course. We don't count games where scabs replaced striking players.
Rome is a buttercup compared to other famous observers of the game. Hunter S. Thompson described Raider fans in the 1970s as "a sort of half-rich mob of nervous doctors, lawyers and bank officers who would sit through a whole game without ever making a sound—not even when some freak with a head full of acid spilled a whole beer down the neck of their gray-plastic ski jackets." Over the years, the Raider Nation clearly evolved, as Thompson updated his assessment of the fans: "Beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and whackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single 'roof,' so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world."
My name is Matt Coker, and I am a Raider fan.
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Larry "D-Fence" Garcia
Photo by John Gilhooley
Two weeks before the Saints game, about 50 people in all manner of Raiders clothing were inside Larry's Pizza in Fullerton watching the Raiders' exhibition game against the lowly Houston Texans—so lowly that Houston would go on to win, 19-17, on a field goal with 0.8 seconds left. Two walls inside Larry's are adorned with giant black Oakland Raiders Boosters of Orange County banners. There's also a Wall of Fame with framed photos signed by Raiders players and Raiderette cheerleaders.
Waitresses—their shapeliness stretching tight black Raiders baby tees—attended to customers. Little kids ran wild. Some guys sat at tables alone, glued to one of three big TV screens. People in large groups seemed to talk about everything except football.
"The Raiders pretty much own our county, even if the Rams used to play here," said Larry Garcia, who was parked near the entrance to the pizzeria's dining area. No relation to the Larry of Larry's Pizza, Garcia is the president of this officially sanctioned Raiders fan club. He's a longtime Orange Countian who was never a fan of the Los Angeles Rams, even when they played at nearby Anaheim Stadium before departing in the dead of night for St. Louis. Asked if any of his fellow Raiders clubbers are former Rams fans, he said, "Not so much."
A quick web search reveals Garcia may be on to something. While there are at least two sanctioned Raiders fan clubs meeting in Orange County—at Larry's Pizza and Danny K's sports bar in Orange—and booster groups for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, I could find no clubs in the county the Rams called home from 1980 to 1994. The closest I came was the "new" Southern California Rams Booster Club someone tried to start in 2004. Intended to draw OC, LA and the San Fernando Valley Rams fans to a Whittier restaurant on game days, the club had not had another visitor to its site in the previous week, according to an onscreen log that came up when I clicked on their link in mid-September.
Incidentally, Raiders games still draw respectable television ratings in the LA-Orange County market, no matter how much Los Angeles Times columnists wish it weren't so.
"I think it was the take-no-prisoners attitude," Garcia said of what first attracted him to the silver and black. "I like that they tell other teams, 'Hey, you're in our house. If you walk out, you're lucky.' It's what they're known for: blood and guts, home of the castoffs."