They're the meanest-looking fans in the world's most brutal sport. They are the painted up, loud, obnoxious, and passionate fans of the Oakland Raiders. Most fans will dress up in the sports memorabilia from their favorite player and head to the game. For a Raiders fan, the look is not complete without spiked shoulder pads and a terrifying painted face.
These black-and-silver-clad maniacs have had it rough over the years. Their favorite franchise has not always done right by them, and many of them would call that the biggest understatement in the history of the NFL.
Raiders fans' loyalty is one reason they proudly claim they are the best fans in the league, while their rivals claim they are insufferable jerks. So, which is it?
Are the fans of the Oakland Raiders the best in the NFL, or the worst? We can't answer that question definitively, but we can give evidence to support both claims.
Oakland Raiders Fans: Basic Facts
There are a few basics you need to know about the Oakland Raiders and their fans before we get started. Here are the essentials.
As foundational a color as it is, few teams use black as one of their official colors. Perhaps they think it's a little too intense, but intensity is perfect for the Oakland Raiders.
The team and its fans embrace the intimidating aspects of the color. Close your eyes, and imagine a stadium filled with fans decked out head to toe in black. It's like watching a football game in a sinkhole.
Not to belabor the point when it comes to fashion, but Raiders fans are also known to wear spiked shoulder pads. So, in case an all-black getup wasn't terrifying enough, they've added weaponized outerwear to the ensemble.
Their Cheering Section
Remember the exercise we just did, when we had you close your eyes and imagine a fan base wearing only black and called it a sinkhole?
That's the idea behind the team's most notorious cheering section, the Black Hole. It's an area near the end zone where many of die-hard fans decided to purchase seats together in 1995. They've sat together ever since, keeping sacred Section 105 of Oakland-Alameda County, or O.Co, Coliseum.
This is where things start to get creative and not just intimidating.
You owe it to yourself to wade through the full cast of characters, but here are a few of our favorites.
The Raiders are notorious for their fans who dress up for every game. They've become regular characters, beloved by fellow fans, and appearing on a grander stage when the team's games are nationally televised.
They've Been Burned, Twice
How did Raider fans get this way? Allow us to provide a peek into the circumstances that contribute to the psychology of such a unique fan base.
One of the most heartbreaking circumstances for any fanbase is when the team decides to relocate to a different city. For Raiders’ fans, this separation has happened twice. Technically, the second time hasn't happened yet, but the Raiders are set to leave Oakland for a stadium outside of Las Vegas starting in 2020. The move has been in the works at least since current owner Mark Davis registered a website for the Las Vegas Raiders in 1998.
The first move occurred in 1982, when Mark's father, Al Davis, moved the team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Even though he completed the move back in 1995, the damage had been done to the hearts of Raiders fans across the state of California.
Raiders Fandom by the Numbers
Let's go from learning the qualitative aspects of Oakland Raiders fandom to talking numbers.
We don't mean player stats. We're talking about fan and road equity.
These are concepts sports analyst Mike Lewis created, which he measures each year in his NFL Fan and Brand Report. There are a couple other concepts he covers in these reports, but we've selected these two because the Raiders appear on extreme ends of each scale.
Fan equity is a complex metric, but explained simply, it's a measure of how much money fans are willing to spend on their teams. The fan equity side of things feeds the "worst fans in the NFL argument," as the Raiders are second-to-last in the league in fan equity in 2018, just above the Los Angeles Rams.
When it comes to Oakland Raiders fans, it appears their pockets are sealed tight.
Road equity is the measure by which these fans excel. This concept measures how well a team draws on the road, which is a pretty simple and effective way to measure the spread of a team's fan base and the passion amongst long-distance fans.
The top three teams in road equity are all members of the NFC East, the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles. In fourth place sit the Oakland Raiders, above even the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have their own legendary fans.
Here we have the paradox of Oakland Raiders fans. They are passionate, and travel extremely well, but they are seemingly unwilling to support the team financially. So, does this make them good or bad fans? It depends on how you value the measurements.
The Origin of the Bad Boy Image
The Oakland Raiders are the bad boys of the NFL. Their fans are partially responsible for this. The Super Bowl-winning Oakland Raiders teams of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s had a particularly savage play style, but the fans contributed to this bad boy image even more in the 1990s.
That was the decade when N.W.A took the music world by storm with their brash, hard-hitting brand of West Coast rap. Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella rocked Raiders gear hard while the team was in Los Angeles. The group cultivated an image of danger and embraced a thuggish lifestyle. They also developed an identifiable look that the New York Times gave the name: "Raiders chic."
N.W.A released music at the height of Tipper Gore-inspired Parental Advisory Labels. Parents actually wondered if their kids were safe listening to the group's music.
N.W.A and the Raiders never formed an explicit partnership, but the team did nothing to discourage the associations. As a result, their fans still seem dangerous to this day.
The Real Bad Boys: Outrageous Behavior from Raiders Players
You can't judge a team's fans without looking at the team's players, and the Raiders have plenty of players who set a precedent of bad behavior. Here are just a few of them.
Jack Tatum was not a large man. He was under six feet tall and just over 200 pounds. Yet, his nickname was "The Assassin."
The late free safety hit wide receivers and running backs hard. He even unintentionally paralyzed the Patriots' Daryl Stingley on a hit. It's not a proud moment of his career, but it certainly earned him his nickname.
Alzado came to Oakland from another much-maligned franchise, the Cleveland Browns. He was an admitted steroid user, and he had a legendary temper, throwing his helmet and shoving opposing players frequently.
Then again, he also helped the team win the Super Bowl in 1983, so maybe all that anger was productive.
Hendricks may not have had the scariest nickname, "The Mad Stork," but he more than made up for that with a wild look. He played with pads on his forearms, which added to the Mad Max undertones already present in the team's image. He was a ferocious tackler, and his full set of pads made it look like a black knight was knocking opponents to the ground.
"The Tooz" caused problems off the field that made some of the on-field behavior from this list pale in comparison. When he played for the team, he pulled out a .44 Magnum from his car and shot a stop sign near the team's practice facility. Because there was no league rule about this at the time, the Tooz wasn't even chastised for his behavior, but it no doubt gave opposing players pause when lining up across from him.
Let's Talk About Al Davis
We mentioned Al Davis earlier, but we'd be remiss if we didn't devote a larger portion of this discussion to the late owner's bombastic behavior. It's a big part of what makes Raiders fans the way they are.
Davis is known for his many feuds with players, coaches, and the NFL itself:
This is just a taste of his antics.
Reasons to Root for the Raiders
This best or worst conversation wouldn't be a debate if the Raiders didn't have plenty of reasons to root for them.
Bo Jackson was arguably the coolest, most well-known (partially due to Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign), and most fun athlete on earth, when he was a two-way baseball and football player for the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Raiders at the same time. Jackson performed superhuman feats of athleticism on a regular basis. The fact he was a Raider is enough to recommend the team on its own.
Yet another Raider with an excellent nickname, Ken "Snake" Stabler entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. He was on the team that won the Raiders their first Super Bowl in 1977 after playing in one 10 years earlier.
Not only does Stabler have a great nickname himself, but he also contributed to a variety of games with miraculous nicknames, such as the “Holy Roller Game”, the “Ghost to the Post Game”, and the “Sea of Hands Game”. The names of these games make us want season tickets to the Black Hole.
Fast forward to the present day. The Raiders have another bombastic player to add to their impression collection, Oakland hometown hero Marshawn Lynch.
Does he have an awesome nickname? Well, does it get any better than "Beast Mode" for a nickname?
What about colorful personal habits? How about his addiction to Skittles.
Is he responsible for legendary plays? Many of them came with his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, but still, unequivocally, yes.
You may have gathered as much from the team's road equity ranking, but the Raiders' fan base is one of the most diverse in all of sports.
These fans are not only diverse geographically, but they cross racial lines as well. The team has an especially large black and Latino fan population that is unique among NFL teams. This is partially due to the fact that the Raiders are the unofficial team of “La Raza,” a term to describe Hispanic-Americans that comes from the Chicano pride movement of the 1970s.
It's amazing to think a team so intimidating can unite so many different tpyes of people. If you ask us, it's one of the most compelling reasons to love them.
Too Tough for Tepid Opinions
Love them or hate them, best or worst, it's impossible to feel neutral about Oakland Raiders fans.
They're ferocious, they're dedicated, they have a storied history that makes them easy to follow, and Raiders team sports memorabilia is just as fascinating to collect.
If you are on the hunt for Raiders sport memorabilia, check out our football collection. It's a great place to start.
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