To the untrained eye, Friday evening’s Raider Nation Celebration in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza was just another glorified salt-and-pepper-colored pep rally for the local professional club, stringing longtime supporters along for what could be yet another disappointing season.
And while most of the couple thousand fanatics who showed up probably had one prevailing concern—can the Raiders break from their losing seasons set on repeat?— there were smiling, face-painted children running amok, and long lines to meet local legends, which helped distract minds from wins and losses for just this one late afternoon.
According to Raiders CEO Amy Trask, the free celebration in Oakland, with City Hall and the rest of the skyline as the backdrop, was simply a way to give back to the community that has supported the team since its arrival in 1960.
“We do an annual event that we’ve moved around the Oakland area in the past,” she said. “And we thought it would be a great idea to deliver a crowd of this size to the heart of Oakland for a really vibrant, family friendly event of this nature.”
The Raiders’ entire squad showed up to pose for pictures and sign autographs—along with the coaching staff, the latest crop of Raiderettes, and a handful of former-Raider greats, including Hall of Fame center Jim Otto, Super Bowl winning defensive tackle Art Thoms, wide receiver “Swervin’” Mervin Fernandez and linebacker Gary Weaver. Also on hand for fan photographs were the Super Bowl trophies from 1976, 1980 and 1983.
Following an introduction by local sports personality JT the Brick, who acted as emcee, the black-adorned congregation was mesmerized by the back-and-forth sways and kicks of white-and-silver-shimmering Raiderettes as they performed a couple numbers. Head coach Tom Cable then introduced the players. When off-season addition Jason Campbell, the new starting quarterback, was introduced, fans thundered with enthusiasm for what he could mean in turning around the franchise and leading them back to the Super Bowl.
“It’s a really unique place,” said former Raider linebacker and fan favorite Bill Romanowski of the relatively eccentric scene. “It is the only culture where you’ll have CEOs of companies putting on leather jackets and getting their bodies painted up and going to the game and acting crazy.”
Based on the repeated chants of “RAI-DURS” in unison, and the shouting of “TOUCHDOWN RAIDERS!” at play-by-play man Greg Papa’s cue, it quickly became apparent that fans of the Silver and Black are ready for the renewal of the season. Even the blaring of quintessential rock ballads from AC/DC and Queen couldn’t drown out the passion in the air.
Oakley resident Steve Bailey, 44, said he has been a lifelong Raiders fan, and that despite his frustration with the team’s recent results—the Raiders haven’t made the playoffs in seven years—he still loves the sense of camaraderie the franchise yields for the city.
“It’s the bringing together of the community with all of the problems of Oakland,” he said. “No matter what race, what age, you’re all there together getting along, for the same reason.”
But fans will be rooting for quite a different team this season, starting with the quarterback position, as JaMarcus Russell has been jettisoned in favor of Campbell. The former Redskin is already receiving high praise from owner Al Davis, who has compared him to former standout Jim Plunkett, remembered for propelling the franchise to two of their three Super Bowl championships.
Also thought to be improved is a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league last season, primarily against the run. In the group of nine rookies acquired through the draft, high expectations await middle linebacker Rolando McClain, from the University of Alabama; and from the University of Texas, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston. McClain, taken No. 8 overall in the draft, will be expected to start immediately, calling plays for the defense and making on-the-fly adjustments to the opposition’s offense. Houston, a second-round pick, will need to be able to put pressure on the quarterback, as well as plug holes against the run, all while learning a new position as a first-string defensive end.
Friday’s event was timed as a build-up to the Raiders first home preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 28th, at 6 p.m. versus the 49ers at Oakland Coliseum. The game between these two teams has become known as the “Battle of the Bay” and grants early Bay Area bragging rights. Tickets for Saturday’s game are still available at Ticketmaster.com. The game will also be simulcast live on 1550 KFRC-AM and 105.3 KITS-FM beginning at 5:30 p.m. The television broadcast will be tape delayed and shown at 9 p.m., but viewable on both Cox KICU TV36 and CW KBCW 44/Cable 12.