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You’ve seen them on TV countless times, the Oakland Raider fans dressed up in spikes and chains. They’re screaming, yelling, rattling their chains and supposedly turning McAfee Stadium into the infamous “Black Hole”. ESPN.com recently ran an article that centers on one such fan who goes under the moniker of “Spike”. The ESPN writer caught up with Spike, whose real name is Mark Shadinger of Sacremento, the morning of a home game against Denver:
"Today we raise hell. Today we turn the Black Hole into an absolute jungle. No mercy today. It's the Broncos."
Seven hours later, the Oakland Raiders are about to take the field against the Denver Broncos. Every beer-chugging, street-strutting, look-at-me-the-wrong-way-and-I-might-pop-you-in-the-mouth Raiders fan is charging toward McAfee Coliseum, eager to not miss a play.
Spike’s brother goes as the character “Howie”, presumably a tribute to ex-Raider Howie Long. He talks tough:
"We're evil. We're the devils, the degenerates.The Raiders, man. We're the bad guys. The misfits. I watch T.O. run his mouth off and I think to myself, 'Keep it up buddy and the sooner you'll be out here with us.' We're the guys that nobody wants their daughters to marry."
However, as the article title says, these vicious-looking characters are just that, characters. They’re all bark and no bite.
Three of the most visible Raider fans out there -- the go-to guys for photographers looking for that fan reaction shot -- are more Saturday morning cartoon characters than Friday night devil worshipers. They tell you they want Mike Shanahan on a stick. That they want someone to clothesline John Lynch. But then you find a neon green children's book in the back of the Durango, complete with a pop-up rubber football that squeaks when you squeeze it.
"Oh, that's for the kids," Spike says.
The Black Hole? It's more like a pink locker room.
Teams do not always take after their fans or vice versa. However, in this case, no matter which is the chicken and which is the egg, the team is just like its most noted fans. It lives off of the tough, bad-boy, misfit image but that’s just an image.
Randy Moss has left the field a couple of seconds early and delivered an ersatz moon shot in Lambeau Field, but he’s no Bill Romanowski. Warren Sapp has run through other teams’ warmup drills and mouths off on occasion but John Matuzak he ain’t. Kerry Collins used to drink too much and said some things that he shouldn’t have, but all that was years ago. He’s been nothing but a model citizen since leaving the Panthers following the 1997 season.
There is nobody else on the team who has what could be even remotely described as a checkered past unless some of them have some outstanding library fines.
It’s not like a bunch of good guys can’t go out and play some good, tough football. The Raiders, though, are a bit, well, soft. Their defense doesn’t scare anybody. They’re 19th in the NFL in rushing defense and 24th overall.
There’s not much there to put fear into opposing defenders either. Their rushing attack is 26th in the NFL. Collins’ play at quarterback has been respectable but far from spectacular.
The may have that famed “Commitment to Excellence”, but right now they are a thoroughly mediocre football team.
All in all, this team is a reflection of its head coach, Norv Turner. If you need an explanation of that, you missed the seasons from 1994-2001.
The Redskins should handle this pedestrian group. There is a temptation to say that they will handle them easily, but nothing has come easily for the Redskins this year. To take another phrase from the Raiders’ glorious past, the Redskins will “Just Win, Baby.”
Redskins 24, Raiders 17.