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No matter how far-flung Raider fans are, they remain united by a fierce and belligerent loyalty.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- Wayne Mabry, a card carrying member of the Raider Nation, tells the story of the day a Rams fan was mouthing off to a posse of Raiders supporters during a game in Anaheim some years go.
The guy, Mabry said, flirted with danger and paid a heavy price. Minutes into the "discussion," a straight right landed squarely on his chin putting him down and out for the rest of the game.
"The thing about it was that it was a woman who knocked him out," said Mabry, a costumed regular at Raider games who goes by the name Violator. "She just walked up to him, drew back and Bam! Lights out. She was an average Raider fan. Stocky. Strong. I wouldn't mess with her. That's Raider Nation."
"Raider Nation is spiritual. It's religious. It's a way of life. Once it gets you, you're in it for life. I've been in it for 32 years and if you don't like it, step inside my domain."
Raider Nation, the collective name given to the team's global fan base, is an unofficial institution with one official rule: You're either a citizen of Raider Nation or you're a threat to it.
There is no middle ground.
"It's amazing," said Bucs tight end Rickey Dudley, who spent his first five seasons with the Raiders. "Although you go to a lot of places and there are fans there from everywhere, I'll have to say that in my years I don't think I have ever seen fans like that.
"They follow you to the cities and to the hotels. You get there and the lobbies are full of Raider fans. You know why they call it the Raider Nation? Because it's nationwide. Miami, Boston, wherever. You're part of the Raider Nation. It's so large. They say Dallas is America's team, well, I'm not so sure about that. The Raiders are beloved."
Raiders running back Randy Jordan, now in his sixth season with the team, agrees.
"If you think of a nation, you have to think of a whole lot of people, first of all," Jordan said. "It's not Raider Club. It's not Raider Fans. It's Raider Nation. Wherever you go, you will find more than just a few fans. There's never one Raider, they come in droves. Safety in numbers."
Who makes up those numbers?
According to the Violator, it's lawyers and laborers. Financiers and fugitives. In the Raider Nation, he said, there are teachers and technicians, brokers and brawlers.
"Ex-cons too," said Raiders right guard Frank Middleton, who spent the first four years of his career with the Bucs. "It's like night and day. The people in Tampa are wine and cheese people, like San Francisco. But the Raiders fans are those who stay in the house all week, and build up tension and then they just let it go (on game day)."
Raider Nation today is, in part, a product of the franchise's storied history. Under the directive of owner Al Davis' commitment to "Just Win Baby," the Raiders never have been afraid to take chances on players with off-the-field baggage. That philosophy helped create a certain image for Raider fans and helped draw certain types of fans to the Raiders.
As the franchise rose to prominence in the '70s and '80s, that Raider mystique blossomed and the team's Silver and Black colors, mostly black, became symbols of the dark side of the NFL. Players like Art Shell, Jack Tatum, Lyle Alzado, John Matuszak, Willie Brown and Howie Long played with a ferocity that endorsed the growing us-against-the-world feeling among the franchise and its fans.
"You never hear someone say, 'I'm kinda a Raider fan,' " said John Madden, a former coach of the Raiders and now analyst for ABC's Monday Night Football. "It's either all the way, with great passion being a fan, or it's nothing. That's what being a Raider fan is."
Today that fan base is as talked about as the Raiders themselves. Images and stories from the Oakland Coliseum, and particularly a section known as the Black Hole, paint a disturbing picture.
"We played the Jets last year and they had this effigy of (quarterback) Vinny Testaverde's head," Jordan said. "I mean, the thing was so lifelike it wasn't funny. They had it hanging from a noose. It was graphic. Eventually, the stadium had to have it removed."
Raiders tackle Barry Sims said the players appreciate what happens in the Black Hole, even if they don't officially endorse the behavior.
"I've seen some funny stuff and some stuff that's not so funny," he said. "I've seen people swarming and then you'll see an opposing jersey fly up out of the middle of it. Some people feel threatened by Raider Nation and you don't want fans to take it to that extent."
The problem facing the Bucs is that Raider Nation has a strong following in San Diego. In fact, in recent years games in San Diego have seemed more like home games for Raiders. This year, the Chargers tried to thwart Raider fans from packing Qualcomm Stadium by making the tickets for the game available only in a season-ticket package with a number of other games.
It didn't work.
"I didn't realize how much they take over the stadium until I played here this year," Raiders defensive tackle John Parrella said. "How they literally came in and took the thing over. It's a huge advantage, obviously, for us. Hopefully, we'll have enough fans here to have a little bit of an advantage on Sunday."
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