Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reign In Hell Part 2

Better to Reign in Hell Part 2

Oakland Raiders AFC Champion

The party at the AM/PM mini-mart across the street from the Coliseum was in full swing at 3 pm, well before the kickoff for the Raiders Monday Night Football game against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, an old time blood foe.  It had been a dismal three weeks in Raider Nation with two straight road losses to the Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns, the loss of linebacker Bill Romanowski for the season with a concussion, and the news that former Raiders great Marv Hubbard had killed a man in an auto accident—but you’d never know it from the buzz around the sold-out stadium. Darth Vader and friends rolled by on their Harleys in black leather jackets and hollered “Raiders!” to a group of fans in jerseys who were splitting a joint on the sidewalk.  They blew out their smoke and yelled back “Raiders!” in response.

The Raiders season was on the brink of total disaster, but the atmosphere had a playoff=like intensity. We saw a couple making out in front of their motor home and watched a man chug half a bottle of vodka.  A throaty “FUCK K.C.!” chant broke out in a corner of the lot and would continue sporadically for the rest of the evening inside and outside of the stadium.
Inside, the hallways were mobbed and echoing the “Ray-duz! Ray-duz!” chant was deafening. The cops looked a little edgy, and we saw a few people being carted away in handcuffs before the game even started.

“We got another KC idiot over there, “ I overheard a cop say to his partner.

Oakland Riaders #75 Howie Long Defeats Chiefs

“That’s what they’re paying you for,” his partner said.

“Yeah I’ll go watch him get his ass kicked and then take a report,” he replied and slowly made his way through the crowd.  In the Black Hole, the mood was festive as people mugged for the cameras and gave the Chiefs a creatively menacing welcome.  The twelfth man was present and accounted for, yelling, screaming, and insulting the Chiefs with gusto, one fan consciously upping he next in volume, wit and vulgarity.  There were a couple of Hells Angels in our section, but they were pussy cats compared to the “regular” fans, who were in fine form booing and heckling the Chiefs persistently and the Raiders when their offense sputtered on the way to a 10-0 Chiefs lead at halftime.

I thought about the Raider Nation as I watched the Silver and Black, down 17-10, start what would have been a thrilling comeback drive at their own 6 yard line.  As Tuiasosopo marched the team down the field, a guy in a white Raiders jersey and a Bill Clinton mask walked up the stairs holding a cigar, and I saw a whole band of guys dressed like KISS in silver and black strolling behind our seats. Three more regular guys got arrested while the Hell’s Angels just down the row watched the game peacefully while eating ice-cream cones. The game ended with Tim Brown catching a pass by the goal line and getting wrestled down inside the 1 yard line as the clock hit 0:00.

Oakland Raiders Defeat Chiefs

After the Raiders lost a heartbreaker 27-24 to the Chiefs in Kansas City and fell 3-8, even the most optimistic adherents of the Silver and Black knew that the boys were finished. There would be no miracle run to squeak into the playoffs at 9-7 and shock the league by gritting it out all the way to the Super Bowl. Rick Mirer was no Jim Plunkett. Safety Rod Woodson was done for the season, joining defensive end Tracey Armstrong, running back Justin Fargas, and linebacker Taravian Smith on the injured reserve list, and the only good news was that public drunkenness charges against kicker Sebastian Janikowski had been dropped.

The Raiders have a leader, a Godfather. The guy who is ultimately in charge. The only person who comes close to Al Davis is Steinbrenner, equally loathed and equally meddlesome. But unlike Steinbrenner, Davis has actually made a lot of innovations in the game. What is Raider football? It’s Al Davis, the Godfather. The essence of being a Raiders fan is being the real thing.

Only 45,000 fans showed up that day, but the Raiders rewarded the smallest crowd since 1998 for their loyalty by stunning the AFC North-leading Ravens 20-12 in a gritty, well-played game. There weren’t any Ravens fans in the stands and there weren’t any hassles with the cos.  The Raiders played tough defense and sent the crowd home happy. It was the last good day of the season .As we crossed over the bridge to BART, Danny saw a guy selling five dollar gear and quipped, “Nothing says Christmas like a “Fuck All Raider Haters’” t-shirt!”

Oakland Raiders Defeat Patriots

The Raiders last home game was another Monday Night Football affair, and despite the Baltimore win, the rumors were flying about dissention in the locker room and there was speculation about whether this would be Charles Woodson’s last game in Oakland. A far better result, most Raiders fans thought, would be to fire Coach Bill Callahan and do whatever it took to keep Woodson.

It seems harder and harder to imagine a new golden era for Oakland Raiders football. Still, the faith persists. Many of our Black Hole neighbors insist they’ll be back even if the team isn’t. As we marveled at the generosity of our Raiders fan cohorts who gave up their dry seats to stand in a cold pouring rain so we could sit under the overhang with our year-old baby at the game, I surrendered to hope.  Maybe the Norv Turner era would bring back the glory years after all…


PART 1: Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew, 2005

Better to Reign in Hell

In the wake of the Raiders’ 2003 Super Bowl loss, a section of East 14th Street from 35th to 94th Avenues turned into what one police observer called “a war zone.” “Oakland Police  No Match for Street Mayhem,” “Roving Mobs Surprised Police,” “Disappointed Fans Vent Anger in Streets,” screamed the headlines…. The hours-long battle between 400 police officers and as many as two thousand mostly young Raiders fans was an indisputably starling event and yet another piece of bad news for Oakland.

Raiders Against Buccaneers

A reporter who covered the riots describes East 14th as “the spine of the Raider Nation.” He notes of East Oakland that “it’s ethnically diverse, low-income, with a lot of crime and drugs. It’s the home of many immigrants.  This particular area is the home of the Hells Angels and was also Black Panther turf.  East 14th is the oldest drag in Oakland. A lot of factories were on that street. The GM plant and other industries. It’s the blue-collar heart of the city.”

What happened the night of the Super Bowl was not on the scale of the Los Angeles riots, but a smaller series of flash riots that spread along International Boulevard for more than fifty blocks. The week before, rowdy celebrations of the Raiders’ AFC championship victory occurred as well. Jubilation had also veered into vandalism around Jack London Square downtown, leading to 25 arrests.  The Super Bowl week, however, a crowd of 200 or so gathered at 37th Avenue and International after the game and started marching up the street yelling, “Raiders rule! Fuck the Police!” Police in riot gear reacted with “zero tolerance” approach, making use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashstun grenades as their fellow officers in in cars, on motorcycles, and in helicopters teamed up with the CHP, sheriffs and SWAT team to suppress the crowd of young Raiders fans.

At one point during the night, the small army of police was clearly outnumbered by riotous fans and had to retreat from a barrage of rocks and bottles. Other fans, however, did not fight with police, preferring to take part in sideshows or just stand on the sidelines and watch the chaos. There was much drunkenness. No business with “raiders stuff” in the windows were damaged, but cars with 49ers stickers got trashed. Members of the multi-ethnic crowd (about half Latino and a quarter black, with the remainder white and Asian” identified themselves as Raiders fans throughout the night, not just by wearing gear but by directing he battle like a game.

Oakland Raiders #80 Jerry Rice, #25 Charlie Garner

Raiders fans changed after they came back from LA. The original Raiders fans were workers with a hometown affiliation. Many even worked for the Raiders organization in some capacity. The new Raiders fans have gotten to the point where they want to be recognized. They have a sense of community, but it comes out of a sense of outward enmity and inward amity. It’s gotten to an absurd level in some respects. Many Raiders fans have this notion of constantly being under attack. Raiders fans can be great, but people can take it too far. So Raiders fans will throw things at other fans in the stadium. I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of good fans—there are—but the others are definitely there. I would think that the Raiders organization doesn’t want bum fans, but that’s what’s happening. The drunker you get, the stupider you get. I’m really turned-off by people’s lack of respect and self-respect. A lot of what people see as scary Raiders fans are people under the influence.  My attitude is “Don’t lose respect for yourself, your team, and your community.

Oakland Raiders #63 Robbins

As far as the Raiders organization itself, they’ve lost their affiliation with the community. They’re no longer the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis holds a grudge toward Oakland. He’s aloof and doesn’t try to market the team and he seems to blame the fans. Davis has a totally pompous attitude toward everything, toward his own greatness.  I think Jon Gruden left because he stole too much of Al’s thunder. Davis has caused a lot of problems with his own marketing.  He could have gotten the fans back, but he didn’t.  The Raiders are truly like pirates who ride their pirate ship from town to town taking plunder as they go. So, Al Davis has really ruined it for me because of leaving Oakland. But, you know, you’re always in love with your first love—but they’ve broken your heart.

What It Takes: More Than a Champion by Jeff Hostetler 1997

What It Takes: More Than a Champion by Jeff Hostetler with Ron Hostetler

With the implementation of free agency in 1993, Jeff became a free agent and was in good position to test the free agent waters. He jumped in the pool.

Jeff was invited to Los Angeles for a “look see” by Raiders President and General Partner Al Davis. Al was looking for a quarterback who could help fix his broken-down team, an able-minded, able-bodied leader with the kind of initiative and know-how to put some air back in a franchise that had gone flat. What he discovered on Jeff’s trip, figuratively speaking, was a humble farm boy who knew how to do just that.

Al Davis needed this kind of ballplayer, someone who didn’t give excuses, someone who could get it done now, someone with a work ethic and the motivation to get it done when it needed to be done. Davis believed he had found that kind of player after his first meeting with Jeff; Jeff thought the same about Al Davis. Sure, there were the stories about Al’s methods and meddlings in operating the Raiders and there was criticism of Bay Area fans when the club moved to Los Angeles from Oakland. But one thing was sure; Al wanted to win, and so did Jeff.

The principles and character qualities that helped Jeff Hostetler win a Super Bowl in New York were the same ones that so impressed Al Davis when the two men met. Jeff was about to embark on another chapter in his life–both as a child of God and as a professional football player. It was time to head west. Jeff was going to be wearing the silver and black of the Los Angeles Raiders (soon to be Oakland Raiders once more).

Name-calling scorches your ears. Fists fly. Nasty hits and gang-tackling break out everywhere. And that’s just in the stands! Welcome to Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, Jeff Hostetler’s Sunday house of worship.

This particular day wasn’t your typical church service. It looked more like a rock concert, with its wild-eyed, shirtless, body-painted, body-pierced, boisterous, barbaric fans moshing it up and jumping around. And yes, they can rock the house.

Raiders #85 Bob Chandler

But on this day they were there to watch their Raiders rock the San Diego Chargers 17-7 in the 1995 regular season opener and to celebrate the team’s return from Los Angeles to Oakland–the first game at the Coliseum in fourteen years.

Lifted emotionally by the raucous crowd that arrived early, cheering their warmups, and then provided high-decibel support at every crucial moment of the game, the Raiders did everything they needed to do–including marching down the field for a beautiful ninety-nine yard touchdown drive– to defeat the defending AFC champions. Jeff played a solid game for the Raiders, completing fourteen of twenty-six passes for 136 yards.

Jeff’s 1995 season with the Raiders was filled with injuries and ended with shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder after a hit in a game against the Cowboys.  Jeff’s first injury that season was a compression fracture of his windpipe in Denver on an ABC Monday night game, when he was struck in the neck withe the Broncos were returning a fumble. He stayed int he game until the third quarter… and soon after that, he started having trouble breathing.  X-rays take in the locker room afterward confirmed a serious injury and he was taken to the hospital.

Jeff didn’t have much time to heal before sustaining another injury. He returned against Cincinnati and cracked several bones in his left hand when it was sandwiched between the helmets of a couple of defensive linemen. By the time the 1995 season ended, Jeff had missed all of five games and parts of four others due to his assorted injuries. The Raiders struggled, too, finishing 8-8 and out of the AFC playoffs. That hurt after an impressive 8-2 start….

Oakland Raiders #72

Raider offensive guard Steve Wisniewski once said of Jeff: “To his own fault sometimes, he’ll step up and hold the ball until that receiver breaks or until something opens up. You don’t see him throwing out of bounds that often, getting the happy feet you hear about in the NFL. He’ll stand in there and take his shot. Sometimes we’ll tell him, “throw the ball away if it’s not there, Hoss. Don’t take any more hits” But that’s not his style.”

Although the surgery to repair Jeff’s shoulder went well, his doctor told Jeff it was the worst of its kind he had ever seen. Everything around the joint was either gone or torn to shreds. Even the large muscle that stretched around the torso to his back had been torn. Not only did he have to go through the surgery itself, but he also had to endure a long, grueling rehabilitation. Jeff said it was the most painful thing he’d ever experienced. He couldn’t sleep for weeks and the medication for pain didn’t help much, if at all.

What lies ahead for Jeff is uncertain. He wants to fulfill the remaining years left on his contract with the Raiders, but with a new coach and another quarterback coming in, age creeping up, and injuries taking longer to heal, only the Lord knows what lies ahead for him and his family.

Completion percentage of 57.2 over Raider career is second-best in team history.

In thirty-one games as a Raider, has thrown for 6,576 yards to rank eighth in team career passing yardage, completing 499 of 873 passes with thirty-four touchdowns over that span.

Snake by Ken Stabler, 1986. PART TWO

In the spring of 1970 I was the only quarterback at the spring workouts and again when training camp opened. The NFL Players Association was threatening to strike, so the owners barred the veterans from camp. For two weeks I got all the work and I took advantage of it.

Oakland Raiders John Madden

John Madden would stand behind me when I dropped into the pocket during all the passing drills and scrimmages. That is the only way to tell which receiver is open from the quarterback’s point of view.

“Ken, I don’t know how you spot the open receivers and get the ball to them so fast,” John told me.”You’re hitting people I can’t even find looking over your shoulder.  You’re getting the receiver the ball when he’s being pinched by two defenders and you’re hitting guys on the dead run when they’re shoulder to shoulder with a cornerback. You’ve got the touch.”

I had always been blessed with the ability to read defenses quickly and release the ball quickly. I don’t think I had any special vision, but I did have a special feel for what was going on in front of me. My confidence was definitely back.

Madden warned me that I couldn’t always trust the receiver who comes back to the huddle and says he was open on the last play. He demonstrated this when we viewed films of a scrimmage. Just as I was about to release the ball on film, John would stop the projector and ask, “Okay, who’s the open man on this play?” A receiver would say he was open, then John would roll the film again. We’d see that the man had come open only after his coverage had reacted away from him.

Oakland Raiders George Blanda #16 Hall of Fame

During the 1970 season, I threw exactly seven passes. If starting quarterback Daryle Lamonica got hurt or was ineffective, George Blanda played. Brilliantly, at age forty-three. In one five-week stretch, Blanda won four games, tied another, and earned himself AFC Player of the Year honors. In a 7-7 tie with the Steelers, Lamonica went down, so George went in and threw three touchdown passes and we won the game 31-14. The next week, trailing the Chiefs, 17-14, George kicked a forty-eight yard field goal to tie the game as time ran out. The next week he kicked a fifty-two yard field goal with three seconds on the clock to beat Cleveland, 23-20. Then he beat the Broncos with a twenty-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes left to play. There were four seconds remaining in the game against the Chargers when George kicked a sixteen-yard field goal for the victory.

I learned a lot from Professor Blanda. We would stand together on the sidelines and analyze the offense when Daryle was in. I’d watch Daryle’s attack and tell George what I would’ve done. Then he would advise me, tell me whether he agreed with my plan or not and why. He kept pointing out that it was just as important knowing what not to do as knowing what to do. His message was: Don’t worry about interceptions and don’t be conservative, but never force a pass. Instead, take the hit and get up to throw again. Forced passes led to foolish interceptions. Blanda was a big, big factor in my development as a pro.

Oakland Raiders #16 George Blanda

In over twenty years of pro football, he’d seen hundreds of players come and go, he was still winning games with his arm and foot and making a great living.

Anything George Blanda wanted to do he could do well. The card games we played-gin, crazy eights, any kind of poker—George almost never lost. He was a real good pool shooter who could just make that cue ball talk. After he’d sink a shot, the cue ball would roll around the table and line up in perfect position for his next shot. If you challenged him in basketball, bowling, or golf, George would always beat you.

He asked me to pay gin with him on our plane trips. I knew he’d beaten everybody he’d played and that he just wanted some new competition. George also liked me an I enjoyed his company, his intensity. I played everything to win, too. I didn’t expect to have much success against him, but I thought it would be fun to watch him work. Hell, it was always fun to watch George’s mind in action on the football field, the way he called a play here to set up a big gain later, the way he waited to the last second for the wide receiver to clear out the middle, then hit the tight end underneath.

George played gin the way you should, counting the cards, knowing exactly what was still available to draw, reading your hand and knowing what you likely needed to fill. He’d change his hand completely in mid-game. He had played a lot of gin on a lot of airplanes, on prop planes, fan jets, and now jets. And he beat me on trip after trip through the season.

But during our gin marathon on the last road trip of 1970, a six hour flight to New York, I caught all the right cards. We played for a penny a point, and there wasn’t much money involved, about $5. But I won all the way cross-country. When we landed, George stood up, angrily threw his cards down, and walked away. He wouldn’t speak to me the rest of the trip or sit with me on the plane ride home. That’s the kind of competitor he was. Tough as leather.

Probably our meanest defender in 1970 was strong safety George Atkinson, who was downright surly with tight ends.  They usually outweighed him by fifty pounds, but the 170 pound George applied a lot of hurt on them. He liked to hit receivers in the head from the blindside with a blow he called “the Hook,” catching them in the crook of his right arm and ringing their bell. When I met George in Al’s, I told him I liked his “Flipper” better. A receiver would go up high for a pass and George would dive at his ankles and flip him so that he landed on his head.

Oakland Raiders Defense“That’s just timing and doesn’t sting like “The Hook,” George said. “The goal is to get the receiver to flinch every time he hears you coming. I try to discourage them from even coming near me.”

One reason the Raider defense always featured a gang of punishing, intimidating players was those were the kind of individuals Al Davis looked for, the kind of guys who helped you win ball games. Another reason Raider defenders were so aggressive is they tended to take speed. By the handful.

Up until there was reported drug abuse on the San Diego Chargers in the early seventies and the league tried to cut back on the use of amphetamines, there was always a big jar of them in the Raider dressing room. Players who wanted some extra energy could just dip in. I understand this was the situation on every pro football, baseball, and basketball team then.

The big Raiders jar contained gray-colored amphetamine capsules that the players called “rat turds.” I had taken some speed in college, I’d feel like I was so wired with energy that I could go forever without sleep and do anything.  As I was a hyper, high-energy guy anyway, I had to be careful with speed. As a quarterback, I had to be as clearheaded as possible because there were so many things to remember, so many variables that came into play on each down, I had to think quickly but calmly, not with a mind that was racing.

Oakland Raiders Superbowl Ring

I think what Madden liked best about me was that I stayed relaxed in games, refusing to get rattled, because that was my nature. John, on the other hand, would often go berserk on the sidelines. He would hoot and holler at officials, slobbering at the mouth, pulling at his hair, and waving his big splay-fingered hands all around. All the while his face would get pinker and pinker until we sometimes thought it would burst.

Getting close to all my teammates helped my quarterbacking. The best part of the game was the brotherhood, laughing and working together. It was my personality to be part of all that, to go out for drinks with the guys, jack around, chase and carouse with those who wanted to. I asked everyone about their injuries, their families, whatever they wanted to talk about.

For about two weeks after the loss in Pittsburgh, I’d wake up every morning and replay the game in my mind. I tried to figure out what I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome—my play calling, my passing. I was focused on myself because the only thinkg I could worry about was what I personally controlled.

Oakland Raiders Kenny Stabler #12

I wanted to be remembered, and I knew the only way that was going to happen was to win the Super Bowl. I was obsessed with winning it all in 1976.  The thing that tormented me most was coming so close four years in a row, and never even getting into the big game.

“We didn’t get in because we lost to great teams,” John Madden said when I called him. “Kenny, for two years Miami was a great team, so were the Raiders. The Dolphins beat us. Then Pittsburgh had great teams and beat us. In all four of those years, the teams that beat us were the world champs.”

“Well, we’re gonna win it all this year, John,”I said. At the end of the 1975 season, Al Davis had told a writer, “I never said this before, but I think Ken Stabler might be the most accurate passer in football today. Other than that, the only thing I can say about him is that he is a winner.”

He never said anything like that to me. Al didn’t say much of anything to the players. What he did say was rarely a compliment. No matter how well anyone performed, Al’s words always seemed designed to motivate us to do better. In one game I hit Freddy with a touchdown pass. Afterward Al said, “You know, Clifford was wide open on that play, nobody near him.”
I couldn’t see what difference it made if I’d had three other receivers wide open. You can only score one touchdown per pass. But Al liked to nudge you.

Sometimes now, though, I wished I hadn’t jumped out of Oakland. The difference between playing with the Raiders and playing with the Oilers was not so much in personnel. The main difference was that the Raider players began every season with the belief that they were going to win, and that come playoff time they would be there. The Raiders played to win. The Oilers played not to lose. And that, subconsciously, was the attitude I felt among my teammates. They just hadn’t been winning long enough to have that ingrained confidence that permeated the Raiders. Winning was expected, and that attitude all started at the top with Al Davis.