EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 12, 2008

Raider Nation still believes

Bill Burt

First thing's first. Raider Nation preceded the moniker Red Sox Nation by more than a decade.

That is important this week. Because it will explain what awaits the Patriots on Sunday.

The Patriots will show up in Oakland and win. They have to win. They have a playoff berth at stake. Sure, they could possibly struggle because of the injuries, but the Raiders, now 3-10, are the Raiders.

But from the 2,700 miles away, they look at Sunday's game against the Patriots a tad differently.

"I hate the Patriots and I always will," said season-ticket holder Cory Buchanan of Sacramento. "When we beat the Patriots this weekend, and possibly help knock them out of playoff contention, it is going to be great, and we will be there in person to watch them fall."

I confess I went looking for trouble when I found Mr. Buchanan.

I Googled Oakland Raiders Fan Clubs and my laptop lit up like a pinball machine. There were 58 recognized Raiders fan clubs overall. They're everywhere; California, Texas, New Jersey, Virginia and even little old Providence, which hosts a New England chapter.

I sent e-mails to nearly all of them asking questions about owner Al Davis, the current plight of the franchise and, of course, the painful "Tuck Rule."

Nearly all of them responded. And as you probably guessed, the "Tuck Rule" is still a sore subject.

"The Tuck was to me a bunch of (bunk)," said Marc Gutierrez, who heads the Texas Hardcore Oakland Raiders Boosters out of El Paso. "I think we all know that was a fumble and the worst part of it was that it was the beginning of the Patriot Dynasty. Do I hate the Patriots? Hell yeah, I do."

Here's another guy still upset about the Snow Bowl in January 2002 when Tom Brady seemingly fumbled but the refs ruled it was incomplete due to the tuck rule.

"Your team has our (Lombardi) trophy, of which you didn't deserve as you were knocked out of the playoffs with that so called 'Tuck Rule,' " said Larry Zine, president of the Oakland Raiders Internet Boosters.

"It was a fumble and everyone knows it. Then the arrogance of the team trying to trademark '19-0: The Perfect Season,' got a reality check didn't they? It made my year when they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl."

Buchanan's take was the best.

"That (Tuck Rule call) was the single most devastating moment of my life as a Raider fan, especially since it was a call that had not been used in the history of the NFL," said Buchanan. "In my opinion, the Patriots dynasty would have never happened if it was not for that call."

The other issue is the state of the franchise.

Since 2002, the Raiders have been the anti-Patriots. They've been the worst franchise in the NFL. While the Patriots broke a record for wins over five-year span, the Raiders have won the fewest games since their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. They are 22-71.

To put Sunday's matchup in perspective, the Raiders have won 18 games since the beginning of the 2004 season, the same number of games the Patriots won last year.

But Raiders fans still come out in droves. Buchanan will be among more than 100 members of the Sacramento Raider Rooters who take the near-two-hour trek to Oakland on three buses.

Believe it or not, the Raiders sold out all but one game (Carolina Panthers) this season, including Sunday's game against the Patriots.

Fan loyalty notwithstanding, controversial owner Al Davis must be vilified.

According to my unscientific poll, eight out of 10 Raiders fans are sticking with the only owner the franchise has ever known.

Peggy Holmes, secretary of the DC Metro Raiders Booster Club in Washington, D.C., speaks for most of her fellow Raiders followers.

"As being one of the three original AFL-NFL merger owners still alive, Al Davis is still traveling with his team," said Holmes. "No one can beat down a guy who loves his team as much as Al does. He's made mistakes, but there isn't one NFL owner who hasn't made butthead moves during their ownership tenure."

As for hope, the sellout crowds probably tell that story.

"It's never embarrassing to be a Raider fan, you wear the colors and support the team no matter if you win or lose," said Gutierrez. "That's what makes the difference between Raider fans and any other fans. Raider fans are all year round. Other fans are fans only when their team win."

"It is not just a 'hope' that this will turn around," said Donna Atkins, from the Sacramento club. "I know it will turn around. Bad times are only temporary. We are the Raiders."

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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