November Writing Challenge Day 7: Raider Football

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

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I remember the exact moment I became a Raiders fan: it was an exhibition game between the hometown Los Angeles Rams and the visiting Oakland Raiders. Until this point I’d been rooting for the L.A. team because that’s where we lived and all of my classmates seemed to like the Rams. My dad had taken me to the game and it was the first time I saw an NFL game in person.

I was amazed at how big the Los Angeles Coliseum was and how small the players looked down on the field. Something about those players in the silver and black, though, just appealed to me. My dad used to root for them, too, I think because he liked the outlaw image of the team.

While my dad wasn’t an outlaw by any means, I’m sure the Raiders’ independent spirit appealed to him. He was someone who’d left his homeland behind, seeking opportunities in country where he was a minority. He only had my mom and her extended family in Southern California as his support system. He did what he had to do to provide for his family.

I remember Sundays being his day to watch football and drink a Michelob or two. I was thrilled whenever he asked me to grab a beer for him from the fridge. When the Raiders were losing, he’d tell me not to worry, since the Raiders were a second-half team. And more often than not in those days, Ken Stabler would lead the team back for a win.

While neither of us follow the team as passionately as we did before (in fact, the older I get, the less of a sports fan I become), I’m not one to change my sports team loyalties. I’ll always be a member of the Raider Nation, thanks to my dad.

Day 340: Sweating

Kashyyyk Wookies

Kashyyyk Wookies

Both of my fantasy football teams are in contention for the playoffs in two weeks, so I spent today sweating out the action. I normally don’t do this on Sundays; I usually watch the Raiders game and occasionally check my fantasy stats along the way.

Today was different, though.

In my main league my Kashyyyk Wookies came back from the cellar to lead my division, but there’s been a lot of luck involved. I’ve played some low-scoring teams and my main guys never seem to be on the same page. I’ve had to deal with the Andrew Luck situation and now my brilliant drafting of Todd Gurley looks to be for naught as defenses stack the box to slow him down.

In my secondary league my Tusken Raiders have managed to crawl back into the playoff hunt after suffering a few early season bad beats. Of course, once I started rolling, Gronk went down. Luckily, I was able to snag Chandler off the waiver wire (another reason why I HATE non-auction leagues now; free agent pickups shouldn’t be such a luck fest).

I wrapped up my secondary league game as Mark Ingram scored for the Saints, but that meant my main team was facing an even bigger deficit. Oh, the joys of rooting for/against the same player.

So it looks like I’m in good shape entering next week’s final regular-season game, but you never know. I haven’t tried to figure out all of the tiebreaker situations yet and I don’t plan on doing so. I’m treating next week just like this week: it’s a must win game for my imaginary team of players.

And on the basketball side of things, my Warriors-esque type start (five straight wins to open the season) looks to be finished tonight. It was bound to happen, but it sure didn’t help having Okafor suspended for two games due to his off-court behavior.

Day 263: Full Day of Football

Amari Cooper's first NFL TD.

Amari Cooper’s first NFL TD.

It’s a good day when three of my favorite football teams play on the same day and all win. Actually, two play football (soccer) and the third plays American football. And there’s a fourth that’s my favorite soccer team (the LA Galaxy), but they weren’t in action today. Clear as mud? Good.

A quick recap:

1. Manchester United. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wake up at 4:45am on a Saturday to catch the Red Devils. Their 8am game fit perfectly into my Sunday sports-viewing schedule, since it would be over just before the NFL games. Just like last week, the story of the match was Man U’s 19-year-old phenom Anthony Martial, who scored two goals in the 3-2 win.

2. FC Barcelona. They started off slowly, but Barca quickly turned their match against Ligante into a rout, 4-1. Messi missed a penalty kick! Of course, he also scored a brace, and Neymar also scored, so it was business as usual for the best team in the world.

3. Oakland Raiders. Their defense is a still a sieve, but credit Coach Jack Del Rio for having his team ready to play today. Last week was utterly dismal: a no-show for the new coach in front of the home fans. So today’s game was a pleasant surprise as the Raiders show heart and played good enough to beat the favored Ravens. I was hyped about Carr, Cooper, and Murray on offense before the season began. After week one, I was ready for another 3-13 year, but hopefully today’s game is a sign of better things to come. I still have my fingers crossed for 8-8, but the defense needs some help.

Day 256: Raiders vs Bangles

The Bangles, not the Bengals.

The Bangles, not the Bengals.

I settled in for the first Sunday of the NFL/fantasy football season today with the TV on, laptop in hand, and pizza on the way. My wife’s a good sport about being a football widow, but I find myself less fascinated by the games these days anyways, so I’m sure I won’t be doing the morning-till-night NFL shift too often this year.

As much as I enjoy fantasy football, it’s the Oakland Raiders’ continued ineptitude that helps kill my love for the game every week. I actually felt good about this season: youngsters David Carr and Khalil Mack would be joined by Amari Cooper and the Raiders’ climb back to respectability would begin. I wasn’t delusional and thinking a Super Bowl run, of course, but an 8-8 season would be a nice turnaround.

Unfortunately, it was business as usual for the Silver and Black.

The offense was stale, the defense was a sieve, and the cherry on top of the sundae was Carr leaving the game with an injured hand. To play that bad under a new head coach in his debut at home? It proves that the Raiders have a much longer road ahead of them than any of us thought.

I took to Twitter to vent my frustration. The team was playing bad, but color commentator Chris Simms on CBS was annoying me and a lot of other fans with his mispronunciation of Cincinnati’s team name. He said “Bangles” instead of “Bengals” throughout the game.

Maybe it’s just the way he says it, but the already testy Raider fanbase wasn’t going to sit back and let Simms continue with his comments about the “Bangles beating the Raiders.” The snark on the Internet was on full blast, but apparently nobody at CBS checks social media since Simms never corrected himself (which was hilarious because he stopped to note how he was correctly pronouncing Khalil Mack’s first name).

The Raider Nation in cyberspace filled Twitter with jokes about the Bangles, Manic Mondays, and Walking Like An Egyptian. And Simms kept saying it, just adding to the unintentional comedy.

It was the only thing we Raider fans had going for us today. Better to laugh about something than cry about another losing season.

Day 210: Twice the Fun

Tusken Raiders

Tusken Raiders

My fantasy sports geekdom was born in the early ’90s when I started a rotisserie fantasy basketball league. Each week I bought the Wednesday edition of USA Today for its comprehensive NBA statistics. I calculated stats and typed up reports on my PC clone, then printed the results out on my dot-matrix printer. The amount of work was staggering.

Not surprisingly, that league lasted exactly one season (won by my youngest brother who made the no-brainer decision to draft Michael Jordan).

Even though I could’ve been permanently scarred by the fantasy-stats-by-hand experience, I wasn’t. If anything, it fueled my passion for the game during a time when information and advice was hard to come by.

I started small fantasy football leagues before joining a friend’s more established league. That led to my other brother starting our current fantasy football league in 1999. It amazes me that the same core group of friends and family will be starting our 16th season together.

Throughout the years, I’ve managed to play almost every fantasy sport out there: football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, NASCAR, soccer … and, for one hilarious season, the XFL.

I joined multiple leagues in multiple sports for years before the inevitable burnout. About five years ago I began scaling back my fantasy sports play: one league per sport only. This year I didn’t get around to playing fantasy baseball and surprisingly I didn’t miss it at all.

But when a buddy of mine had an open spot in his auction draft keeper league, I didn’t hesitate. I’m looking forward to being in two leagues again, especially since I got to try out my new Star Wars themed team name, as shown above.

Day 204: CONCACAF Gold Cup

Team USA's Gyasi Zardes

LA Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes representing the U.S.

Well, that was interesting. Not only did Jamaica upset the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-finals, but the Panama-Mexico match nearly ended in a riot. As much as I love The Beautiful Game, the ugliness of any sporting event marred by questionable refereeing and unruly fan behavior is something I’ll never appreciate.

Some of that ugliness was on display at the Galaxy-Barcelona game I attended two nights ago. On a beautiful Tuesday night in Pasadena, a sold-out crowd of over 93,000 filled the Rose Bowl to cheer for their teams. It was a remarkably pro-Barcelona audience, since Barca has the longer and more illustrious history.

Now, I’m all about supporting your club and being passionate and vocal. Unfortunately, some “fans” think of the games as an excuse to over-imbibe and act like an idiot. F-bombs filled the air, as did slurred speech and the occasional near-fight. I was embarrassed for them and felt bad for all of the parents who had to explain to their children why it’s not acceptable to act like a drunken buffoon in public.

As I commented to my stepdaughter, it was like being at a Raiders game.

(For the record, I’m a card-carrying member of the Raider Nation. Most of us diehard fans act responsibly, but it’s the unruly types who make the news. And truth be told, I’ve seen some bad behavior at the Raider games, especially when they were in Los Angeles.)

Day 190: The Snake

Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders.

Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders.

My love of the Oakland Raiders goes back to the 70s, when I would watch the team with my dad. If the Raiders were down at halftime, my dad would tell me not to worry since they were a second-half team. More often than not, the Raiders would come back and win the game, just like my dad predicted.

I was in elementary school when Ken “The Snake” Stabler led the Raiders to all of those comebacks. One of my first memories of football on television was when the Raiders beat the Chargers on the Holy Roller. At that age I had no idea what had just happened, but it was ruled a touchdown and I was excited that the Raiders had won again (the play resulted in the NFL changing its rules the following season).

It’s a shame that Stabler isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best quarterbacks of that era and if I was on the NFL committee, I’d propose a new rule: anybody involved in more than one game with a nickname is a Hall of Famer. Stabler was on the winning team in The Holy Roller, the Ghost to the Post, and the Sea of Hands.

Rest in peace, Snake.

Day 32: Super Bowl Sunday

Sasquatch Double IPA

Sasquatch Double IPA

The Super Bowl is my favorite unofficial American holiday, right up there with opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, and my fantasy football league’s annual draft. The excess, the pageantry, the commercials: I enjoy all things Super Bowl. Yes, its silly, unnecessary, and over-the-top, but it’s fun. As a card-carrying member of the Raider Nation, I haven’t had much to cheer about in over a decade, but no matter who plays in the season’s final game, I know that the entire spectacle will be entertaining. From crazy proposition bets like “Will the national anthem go longer than two minutes and one second?” to the praising/panning of the halftime act, the Super Bowl has a little something for everyone, even the most casual fan.

While I love Super Bowl parties, the last few years I find myself enjoying the big game with an increasingly smaller crowd. It’s nice not having to worry about driving after a few beers, the bathroom being occupied, or if there’s enough food to go around. Tonight, my wife and I watched one of the better Super Bowls, as I scarfed down carne asada fries and a Sasquatch Double IPA from Six Rivers Brewery. We loved the Walter White commercial and I gave myself a geeky high five for having the appropriate glassware for the occasion (picture above, my fellow Breaking Bad fans).

Carne asada fries.

Carne asada fries.

Day 4: Suffering


As the NFL playoffs get underway, it means only one thing to me: another season of suffering is over for Raiders fans. It’s been miserable watching my favorite football team go from a Super Bowl appearance to the laughingstock of the NFL. It’s been over 10 years since the Raiders have been relevant, but it seems a lot longer.

Growing up in the Los Angeles area during the ’70s, we had the Rams. I sported a Rams jacket as a child, but my dad always rooted for the Raiders. On game days, I’d fetch him a beer from the fridge (sometimes Coors, usually Michelob) and we’d watch Ken Stabler lead the Raiders to victory, something they did a lot more back then. If the Raiders were losing early in the game, Pop would tell me not to worry because the Raiders were a second-half team. More often than not, he was right.

I like to think that he was drawn to the Raiders’ image as the outlaws of the NFL, led by their maverick owner Al Davis. I don’t view my dad as an outlaw, but as a Filipino immigrant to the U.S. in the late ’60s, he certainly had that maverick spirit to leave his home country to start a new life.

One day in the late ’70s, my dad took me to my first NFL game. It was a preseason matchup between the Rams and the Raiders at the Coliseum (a few years later, the Rams would move to Anaheim before finally leaving for St. Louis). I don’t remember much about the game, but one thing I’ll never forget is watching the Raiders play in real life. The game seemed much faster than on TV. There was something about seeing the Silver and Black in person, though. Call it an epiphany or a calling, but after that game, I had suddenly outgrown my Rams jacket. I was now a member of the Raider Nation.

The Raiders would eventually move to Los Angeles and win their third Super Bowl in 1983. They continued to be successful for years, before moving back to Oakland and making their last Super Bowl appearance in 2003. Since then, it’s been nothing but embarrassing losses, wasted draft picks, and questionable management.

I still believe that things will turn around, especially with the Raiders’ salary cap issues being cleared up and young talents Derek Carr and Khalil Mack leading the team. The Raiders might not be the outlaws and mavericks they once were, but I’ll settle for a team I can be proud of: a team that I enjoy watching with my dad over a few cold beers.