Character is not cut in marble; it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing...
- George Eliot, English Novelist (1819-1880)
After a Christmas road trip up to Oakland that was enjoyable for the conversation with my wife, enjoyable for a good choice of audiobook (Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”) but a bit of a slog for the drive under dreary skies and heavy rains, we checked into our room and just enjoyed the rest of the day lounging about with the curtains closed.
When we woke up the morning after Christmas to throw open the blinds, what a sight it was to see the rains had given way to such crystal clear, beautiful blue skies. What a welcome site also to see that Tribune Tower right across from the window of our room on the 17th floor – ah yes, there it was, the Oakland Tribune building with Old Glory flying atop of the flag pole and the silver and black of the Raiders flag flying just underneath. You see that sight and you know you’re in the heart of Raider Nation.
We get there early, but for now, I’m still avoiding the whole parking lot scene. Even though it’s right up there with the game itself as part of the entire gameday experience, I’m still a bit young in my sobriety and parking lots and heavy drinking are so tied together for me it’s a little hard to imagine making it through and enjoying it stone cold sober as I am. That parking lot will still be there in seasons to come.
So we head to our seats, we’re just eleven rows back from the field, and nowhere are you closer to the action than right there in “The Black Hole.” In the shot below, my unbiased vote for the NFL Rookie of the Year, Jacoby Ford (#12) about an hour before he took the opening kick off all the way down that sideline right in front of us for a touchdown that had the entire place exploding with delirium from the very first play.
So the seats begin to fill, and lo and behold, is that some suicidal lunatic showing up in The Black Hole wearing the wrong team’s colors?
Now unlike the Seattle game, in which we counted less than a dozen people brave enough to show up wearing Seattle green, there were probably a good couple hundred Indy fans that showed up in the “visitor’s seating”, which is all the far section in this shot, behind the visitor’s sidelines, and you can see a smattering of blue there, but this guy is wearing Indy blue in the Black Hole. He must have been ordering the tickets and thinking the end zone was a great place to take in the game, completely clueless as to how many Raiders fans would take offense at the very sight of an intruder in The Black Hole.
It was pretty obvious this guy had figured out that he had placed the lives of himself and his girlfriend in pretty precarious situation when Indy got their first score and there wasn’t a peep from either one of them – not even a cheer or a clap. So there they stood, completely silent and expressionless, and yet the mere presence of these two in the wake of the Indianapolis score was enough to set one guy off screaming over and over, “FUCK YOU!”, three or four different ways he managed to phrase it as he screamed those two words at them, just as serious as a heart attack, with his middle fingers and fists waving right in this guy’s face.
And I’m close enough to these two Colts fans in an ocean of seething hate that I’m starting to run the hypotheticals on “what would I do if” – like, what would I do if Indy fan gets a little bold and says something like, “Hey screw you, we’re just here to watch a game.” Okay, if this guy is stupid enough to spout off like that, I’ll probably laugh if he ends up getting clocked in the face a couple times, but if he falls and starts getting kicked, at that point I’ve got to start trying to pull people off of him. So I run all the hypotheticals in my mind, but none of the worst case scenarios materialize and at the end of the game, the couple manages to silently make their way out, each of them in one piece despite the Indy win.
On the way out I see another guy and his wife, two little bits of blue flotsam and jetsam in a sea of black . . .
Now you can tell this guy has given it some thought, because he has his own plan of escape and he’s sticking to it. With his wife leading the way, you can’t see her in front of him in the picture, but they’ve both donned what they must imagine are “non-descript” jackets over their Colts gear, hoping no one will notice the color is wrong. He’s got his headphones on, but as I come up alongside him and tilt my head, I don’t even hear a hint of a radio voice coming through those headphones, so there he is, running the escape plan, alert and listening to the crowd around him, but playing like he’s listening to the post game radio show – “I don’t hear you!”
I can’t help myself, I’ve got to engage this guy in conversation. “Hey, bud. Hey, bud.” Sure enough, it’s the “I don’t hear you” plan and he’s sticking to it as he walks on, staring straight forward, seemingly oblivious to me. I give him a gentle clap on the back, knowing that even as gentle as I tried to make it, it’s probably enough to make his heart leap up in his throat, but I just can’t help myself.
“Hey bud, how were you guys treated today?”
“What do you mean, ‘you guys?’”
(Suddenly, without even having to fiddle with the volume on his headphones, he can hear me quite clearly.)
“You guys, meaning, I see you guys wearing the wrong colors and I just wanted to know how you guys were treated by the Raiders fans today.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘you guys’.”
He’s obviously still clinging to the plan to play Mr. Anonymous-Guy-Who-Didn’t-Even-Root-for-the-Colts-Today, clinging to that plan with white knuckles.
I try putting the guy at ease.
“You know, that whole reputation about the Raiders fans is totally overblown.”
“Bullshit it’s overblown! We fuckin’ earned that reputation, man!” A guy beside me yells out proudly.
I’m cracking up as I try to continue, “I mean, come on, you guys are alright, aren’t you?”
“See? You guys are alright, I mean, one Raiders fan bites off some Charger fan’s ear and the next thing you know, Charger fans won’t even show up to their own home games any more when the Raiders come to town. It’s totally overblown.”
I realize bringing up the incident with the Charger fan’s ear getting bit off by a Raider fan probably isn’t helping calm this guy’s nerves at all.
So I give up on trying to convince this guy Raiders fans aren’t so bad, and I begin to wonder if that reputation that my fellow Raiders fans proudly boast that “we earned” troubles me. I begin wondering if wearing the wrong colors at a Raiders game should really feel as life threatening as your car breaking down in the worst possible neighborhood in the world.
Ah fuck ‘em. Zero tolerance. They should know better than to wear the wrong colors at a Raiders game.