Silver and Black Like Me

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

"Is this your costume?" the reporter asked.

First came an incredulous smirk and then that proud straightening of the back—familiar to anyone who has witnessed Trekkies launching into a description of their meticulously accurate uniforms. "Oh, no," said the wide-eyed Raider fan in the same condescending tone employed by the comic-store owner on The Simpsons, "my costume is much too elaborate and takes quite a bit of time to get into."

And I wondered if it struck anyone else as odd that we were giving blood for Saints fans mere hours before the Raiders would be spilling the blood of Saints players.

* * *

My "costume" is a No. 34 Bo Jackson jersey, a gift I'd received from my brother during the team's LA years. And that's what I'm wearing as Red Beard goes nuts. I can practically feel his breath on my neck as he goes on and on about faux Raider fans in their LA-era jerseys.

"What in the hell are they even doing here?" he asks rhetorically—not that he can spell "rhetorically."

I can smell his breath: booze. I quickly scan my Gameday program.

34. Jordan, LaMont. RB. 5-10. 230. 11/11/78.

That's it! After Red Beard swings me around to face him—and just before he pummels me with his paw—I will calmly explain that I'm wearing my nephew LaMont's jersey number.

Fortunately, there is no need to pull out this lie, for just as Red Beard is ready to throw down the gauntlet—not that he can spell "gauntlet"—a Saints player is hit hard by a Raiders defender and somersaults before smashing into the turf.

"Hey, look," says one of Red Beard's Latino buddies, "he landed on his nuts."

The group of rocket scientists behind me bursts into more laughter, and just as they finish howling, Red Beard apparently forgets the LA Raiders taunts.

"THESE NUTS! THESE MUTHA-FUCKING NUTS! NOT THESE NUTS, THESE NUTS!"

Seriously, can we end this game now?

* * *

Walking through the turnstiles after the game (Raiders 13-Saints 6: Moss made a miraculous catch, but overall the game was sloppy), I bump into Raider Gloria, who poses for a photo and then gives me a card, like a baseball card, with a photo of her on one side and an ad for Vella's Locker Room—an "officially licensed Oakland Raider merchandise" outlet, with four Bay Area locations—on the back. Everyone's got their angle.

Heading for the sidewalk that will take me to my motel, I think back to earlier in the day, on this very same path, where I encountered surprisingly pleasant African-American ticket scalpers ("You got your tickets, man? All right then. Go team!"), a white guy in San Francisco Giants gear who was animatedly going on and on to an older white woman in Raiders silver and black about "Mets fans vs. real Mets fans" and "Yankee fans vs. real Yankee fans," and then, swear to God, a heavyset white man in a white-brimmed Raiders hat and street clothes, staring down at his brown shoes as he walked pigeon-toed, at about the pace of a Dawn of the Dead zombie.

As I thought about these stragglers and the fans I encountered along the way, it occurred to me you can look at Raider Nation any number of ways—thugs, diehards, tweakers, skinheads, vatos, bruthers, gangstas, rednecks, people who are frighteningly attracted to spikes, skulls and Alice Cooper eye makeup, but on the whole the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet. At their core, Raider fans are no different from people who join any other social group, especially those groups with members who wear silly outfits and perform unusual rituals, and the select, extra-committed few who see themselves as mini-celebrities for whatever reason. Go to any square dance, sci-fi convention or yacht club, and you'll see what I mean. Especially the yacht clubs.

As I reach the crosswalk, my thoughts turn to that comfortable motel bed, but then I barely make out a familiar sound in the distance. No, it can't be. Probably just so burned into my brain by now that I'll be hearing it for days, like a Ricky Martin song. But the sound gets louder and louder as the vehicle emitting it draws closer. Finally, it's unmistakable. Red Beard is behind the wheel of a little truck with the rest of his crew packed in the cab like sardines.

"NOT THESE NUTS! THESE NUTS! BWAH-HAH-HAAAAAWWWWW!!!"

Nuts.

Oakland RAIDERS BOOSTERS OF ORANGE COUNTY MEET EVERY GAME DAY AT LARRY'S PIZZA, 926 W. ORANGETHORPE AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 871-3484. DUES ARE $20 PER SEASON. PRESIDENT LARRY GARCIA CAN BE REACHED AT (714) 278-8922 OR VIA E-MAIL AT LARRY.GARCIA@ALCOA.COM; ORANGE RAIDERS BOOSTER CLUB MEETS EVERY GAME DAY AT DANNY K'S, 1096 N. MAIN ST., ORANGE, (714) 771-9706. PRESIDENT DAVE LA BLANC CAN BE REACHED VIA E-MAIL AT DGRAIDERS@HOTMAIL.COM. BOTH CLUBS ARE PLANNING TRIPS TO OAKLAND FOR THE OCT. 2 DALLAS COWBOYS GAME.

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