Miami players, aware of what awaits, say they're unfazed.
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001
DAVIE -- They are large and loud, and a lot of them look like their mothers dressed them funny. They curse and scream and dramatically flex their muscles. They live for the silver and black, preparing each week as if they are engaging in battle.
And those are just the fans.
When the Dolphins go to Oakland for Saturday's division playoff game, they will have more to contend with than a rested and ready Raiders team that has been tabbed a nine-point favorite.
They also will have to deal with fans considered the nastiest in the league.
"The last time I was out there, a fan had a Crown Royal bottle and kind of wanted to introduce it to me, but I looked at him and had him change his mind," Dolphins defensive tackle Daryl Gardener said Sunday. "Their fans are aggressive, and I don't think they like the Dolphins too much.
"They like throwing things at us. They're real cocky. That's a loyal stadium for the Raiders. Win, lose or draw, those fans are going to be ugly."
Liquor bottles are just part of the airborne arsenal at what now is called Network Associates Coliseum. Miami players say they have had batteries and hard candy thrown at them, had drinks spilled on them, had more expletives spewed at them than could be deleted.
"It can be a rough place to play," defensive end Trace Armstrong said. "We've had beer bottles thrown at our bus. I've been spit at. It's a tough stadium to play. They've got some crazy fans."
On a bulletin board in the locker room at the Dolphins' training facility, team officials routinely post information and photos of the next opponent. In addition to mug shots of the 22 Raiders starters, waiting to greet the Miami players Sunday morning was a photo of one of Oakland's finest, his face painted black and silver, in full roar.
"From the moment we drive in, we're going to get the one-finger hello and a lot of names," guard Kevin Donnalley said. "And that's the easy stuff, the fluff. They get you even harder than that. The fans are into that whole mystique, the commitment to excellence, black and silver. It's a hell of a home-field advantage for them."
"That's probably the worst place to play in the league," linebacker Robert Jones said. "But it's a mind-set. You can't do anything about the atmosphere."
The Miami players know what they are getting into.
But they aren't too worried about it, even though it is the first playoff game in Oakland since December 1980.
The Dolphins have won their past three games in Oakland (after losing their first eight) and were an impressive 6-2 on the road this season.
"It's a hostile environment to go into, but we've done pretty well there and feel like we can do it again," defensive end Jason Taylor said.
As crazy as Oakland can be for a visiting team, Miami linebacker Zach Thomas said he likes it. And he uses it to his advantage.
"They just try to intimidate you out there," Thomas said. "It definitely motivates me. Everyone is wearing black. They're just crazy. You hear all kinds of things. That's a great feeling out there. You feel like you're in the movie Gladiator."