Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How I went from Jets fan to Raider "Fan"

It wasn't that dramatic a process really. It mostly had to do with moving from New York to the Bay Area in 1990. I wanted to leave everything New York behind so that is what happened though Jet memories stay with me.

When I was a little kid in summer camp during the 70's, one of the things my friends and I would look forward to was going to New York Jets training camp. One or two or three times a summer, they would load us up in a bus and take us out to Hofstra University campus on Long Island where the Jets allowed fans to watch the practices from the bleachers, for free as I recall. It was exciting stuff at the time. Actually, the build-up towards training camp and going there was more exciting than the practices themselves. There were no names on the back of the jerseys so we relied on football cards to correlate jersey numbers to names wherever possible or try to ID players just by sight. That was half the battle was figuring out who was on the field.

Then of course you just try to figure out what's going on in general. It's not like they are communicating to us what they are doing. There's drills, wind sprints, huddle up, water breaks, yada, yada. It's really die-hard fan activity to hang around all day out there, for those who really want to feel like part of the team. Boring in actuality.

Though, as kids, it really solidified our relationship with Jets as an entity. Even from afar, the Jets were our guys. There was little second guessing on our part at that age. Win, lose, whatever. We barely even knew the players names. We knew the big ones the media mentioned like Richard Todd. Looking back, those teams of the 70's were not very successful. A lot of 8-8, YET, that's not a catastrophe either which is allegedly why Walt Michaels hung on to his job for so long and Joe Walton after him. Leon Hess was a patient team owner.

Walt Michaels (who coincidentally was on Al Davis's staff with the Raiders in the 1960's) was not a great head coach. He was not even a good coach according to his detractors. All I remember was NO playoff appearances until a miracle season in 1982 when all of a sudden the Jets made it to the AFC Championship game @ Miami.

Wouldn't you know it, the field was saturated due to rainstorms and the Mud Bowl as it became known is best remembered as Dolphins Linebacker A.J. Duhe's day in the sun, embarrassingly picking off 3 of 5 Richard Todd INTs on the day en route to a Jets defeat. Woo boy, you could hear the air coming out of that balloon real quick in New York.

It was painful to be a Jets fan with that really bad championship game. To that point, the Jets only had Super Bowl III as their reference for success. When you think of it, Super Bowl III was what, the 1968 season. In 1982 that was an eternity ago and now this dude Richard Todd just implodes the whole franchise. I remember watching that game at a friend's house with his dad who was a real hardcore Jets fan. The silence was just overwhelming. It's one thing to lose but to lose in such awestriking fashion like that was tough to shake. All Jets fans everywhere felt it.

Sad to say, that day ruined it for me with the Jets. I know it's just one game, one season but can you think of a better opportunity the Jets have had to actually play in another Super Bowl since III? This haunted me as a fan. I could not get over it.

I sought solace in the game itself. My best friend, Mick, was an ardent Oakland Raiders fan or more specifically, a Jack Tatum fan. We actually played football in junior high school. We were both defensive backs, ironically positioned next to each other. I don't think we made a distinction between free and strong safety at that time. What stood out at the time was that I had no role model. Whoever played DB for the Jets completely eluded me so I adopted Mick's idol, Jack Tatum - The Assassin.

I actually had no concept of Tatum's playing style at first other than it was aggressive. When I studied Tatum's style more closely it did not resonate. I'm not into intimidation. My style of play was tactical.

I liked football and stuck with it through 10th grade or so but it gave way to juvenile delinquency as a high schooler. Honestly, it made no difference since I had no future as a player anyway being roughly 5'9" and on the slender side through my collegiate years.

I was still heavily tuned into the game by my junior high school football experience. I now fully felt the game's violence. I was up close and personal with it, even as a youngster at that age when you feel the impact of those pads smashing into your body and head, the game takes on a different meaning. I now understood the field level instincts of what the player goes through at a basic level. Ever since, when I watch a game I see it as a slugfest that is physically grueling for the participants. Raider fans and others may want to read Jim Otto's autobiography as perspective.

When I try to pinpoint it, I think the Jets still felt like my team because they played at Shea Stadium which was also my original home in Queens, NY. It was the Jets legacy of Joe Namath, Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer, Jerome Barkum, Richard Caster, Don Maynard and most importantly, head coach Weeb Ewbank that stuck with me most of all.

It was obvious the Jets were bad for so many years since Super Bowl III because they got bogged down sticking with mediocre coaches, mediocre player development, mediocre front office management, all for too long - like forever. I'd like to see them bounce back but they continue to be a hard luck franchise, even today, which is discouraging.

When I moved to the Bay Area from New York in 1990 the presence of the Raiders was still around even though they were based in Los Angeles at the time. The friends I happened to make all followed the LA Raiders. When the franchise moved back to Oakland in 1995 I became "sold" on being a fan but they made it real hard with the high cost of tickets, the whole personal seat license nonsense and local TV blackouts. The Raiders made it obvious they were not a fan friendly franchise from this vantage point. Still, as a fan it was just a natural fit since I have lived in the east bay ever since. It's a geographical vibe. I'm a blue collar guy in a blue collar environment, part of a blue collar community of Raider fans. That about sums it up.

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