The Oakland Raiders are known for having some of the most dedicated and passionate fans in all of professional sports. In fact, many would consider the Raider Nation second only to the hooligans of European soccer in terms of the seriousness in which the fans take their respective franchises. From the west coast home of the Raiders, clear accross to the east coast, one will find Raiders fans spread throughout this country. In fact, The Raider identity spans oceans. I have seen cars with Raiders stickers on them in remote towns in eastern Europe and people with Raiders apparel as far away as Asia. There is no questioning the devotion which Raiders fans have for their team, unless of course, you are a Raider fan from Oakland, then your fandom is questioned.
Earlier this week, local sports writer Monte Poole penned an article in which he declared that the magic between Oakland fans and the Raiders had been destroyed by their move to Los Angeles in the 80's and has never recovered. Now, before I go on my tirade, I would like to note that Monte Poole has been writing about the Bay Area sports scene for years and is a well respected journalist. In fact, I am a fan and read the majority of his pieces with a smile on my face. This, however, was not such an instance.
Poole argues that the Raiders support in Oakland was hurt so badly by the move to Los Angeles, that there is no longer the magical connection to the franchise that Oakland fans once felt. Seemingly, Poole's only argument to show that the Oakland Raiders fans do not have the same pride and passion as they once did is the fact that last season was the first sell out season since the Raiders moved back to Oakland. That argument, however, is drastically flawed. Poole leaves out two major factors to consider when judging the Raiders fans. First, when the Raiders moved back to Oakland, Al Davis instituted a personal seating license (PSL) requirement to purchasing tickets. Second, after the PSL was removed, the Raiders suffered one of the NFL's worst periods of struggle.
Let's face facts here, Oakland is not Marin county. The majority of people who reside in Oakland, and a large part of the Raiders east bay fan base are working class people who simply could not afford to go to many Raiders games due to the PSL issue. I can attest to this, as I was one of those fans. That, however, does NOT mean that I abandoned my team. In fact, when I was born, the Raiders were already in Los Angeles, but that did not stop me from bleeding Silver and Black. My family had been Raiders fans before they left, and that passion was put into me despite the team's residence in LA.
Besides the prohibative costs of Raiders games upon their return to Oakland, Poole fails to mention the rather large number of people who traveled to Los Angeles from the Bay Area weekly to watch Raiders games at the LA Coliseum. Or the large number of fans that would go to Ricky's sports bar and other locations throughout the Bay to watch the Raiders, both when they were in LA and upon their return. In all my time as a Raiders fan, I have never missed watching a game. Whether it was due to distance or prohibitive costs, I always found a way to see the Raiders play on Sundays. The fact that I was not always at the stadium in person has nothing to do with my status as a fan.
Now, the Raiders did eventually do away with the PSL requirements. However, that came at a time when the Raiders were experiencing one of the worst periods of football in NFL history. It should not be surprising that the Raiders were unable to sell out the stadium for full seasons when they were one of the worst teams in the NFL, and it certainly should not be seen as a commentary on the relationship between the fans and the team. Once again, using myself as an example, I watched every Raiders game during this time, but went to very few. The fact is, I was a poor student through most of that time, and I could barely afford top ramen, let alone tickets to Raiders games. Despite that, no one can tell me that I was not and have not always been a die hard Raiders fan just because I did not always have season tickets as I do now.
The fact that the Raiders sold out the stadium for an entire season for the first time since moving back to Oakland is more of a commentary on the economic status of many East Bay fans combined with a commentary on how bad the Raiders were for a long stretch of time. To take it as a commentary on the dedication of Oakland's Raiders fan base is an ignorant slap in the face. All one needs to do in order to determine whether or not the Raiders fans of Oakland still feel the magic is to go to a game. Walk around the parking lot before a game and you will experience the passion of Raiders fans from Oakland. Sit in the cheap seats during a game and feel the Coliseum shake with the roar of the crowd. Or simply take a look at my friends and I, a group of people who were born while the Raiders were in Los Angeles, but who still bleed Silver and Black because the Raider Nation has a bond with its team that is not broken as simply as Poole would suggest. I was raised in Oakland and believe it is one of the greatest cities in America, but being a part of the Raider Nation is bigger than the location of the team. It transcends locality, Raiders fans do not jump ship simply because the team is not located in driving distance from one's home. Regardless of where one calls home, a Raider fan is a Raider fan for life.