Some of the most vivid descriptions have come from players, like former Denver Broncos running back Derrick Loville, who famously likened the mob of spike-wearing, face-painted rowdies to "open house at San Quentin."
Writers, though, haven't fared as well. Last January, the New York Daily News called the crowd "a cross between a Halloween party and a Marilyn Manson concert." Nine days earlier, USA Today had described the fans as "dressed as though they were attending a Marilyn Manson concert on Halloween."
It's difficult to blame the writers for leaning on borrowed clichés. For one thing, they're paid to describe the games, not the fans. Plus, they're locked in the press box with their laptops, isolated from the paying crowd.
But do Raiders fans deserve their fearsome reputation? In our never-ending search for the truth -- and also because we're a frothing-at-the-mouth fan of the New York Jets -- we decided to conduct a social experiment. For the crucial, season-ending Jets-Raiders clash on Jan. 7, we went where no media outlet has dared to go before: into the Oakland Coliseum's cheap seats. And we wore the opposing team's colors.
We took that bold step -- although we did tie our Jets sweat shirt around our waist until we were inside the stadium, where there is at least a pretense of security -- and we learned something we never would have guessed beforehand: Raiders fans are pansies.
We reached that conclusion using the following subjective data: A) quality of projectiles, verbal; B) quality of projectiles, actual; and C) fear generated by A and B. Our laboratory was Section 353. Our control group consisted of a man wearing a Kansas City Chiefs hat; we planned to use him as a human shield if things got dicey.
Our data was as follows:
The best the Raider Nation could manage in terms of verbal projectiles:
1) "Chrebet's a homo" (a reference to Jets wideout Wayne Chrebet);
2) In the halftime beer line: "New York sucks, man. ... I'm gonna put on a turban and go into your locker room and blow your asses up";
3) From a wiry, red-faced man wearing a Tyrone Wheatley jersey and a ratty, dirty-blond goatee: "You guys can eat my salty nuts. Eat! My! Sal! Tee! Nuts!";
4) From a comely, polite blonde in a "Real Women Wear Black" halter top: "Excuse me, has anyone told you that you suck?"
We considered "actual projectiles" a crucial category and weighted it as such in our final analysis. Fans in the infamous "Black Hole" section have been known to throw golf clubs, chicken bones, and even glass bottles at opposing players, men who sometimes weigh more than 300 pounds. What would they hurl at two Jets fans who barely top that weight combined? We rationalized the risk by adopting the motto: "We don't mind being showered with anything we wouldn't mind drinking."
We only counted the projectiles that actually hit us. They included:
1) Several empty plastic iced tea bottles (although we were unsettled by the ominous clinking of allegedly banned glass bottles several rows behind us);
2) A lime, which, it needs to be said, is as lame as projectiles come. I mean, who throws a lime? Honestly?
3) A cup of guacamole, which is slightly better than No. 2, but not much.
The final category, the fear quotient, was the most subjective. Clearly, the Coliseum's reputation gave us considerable pause ahead of time. (A man on the Montgomery Street BART platform didn't do much for our peace of mind when he spied our Jets duds as we were en route to the Coliseum and screamed, "Don't do it, man; they'll kill you!")
Once inside, however, we couldn't have felt much safer. And not because of the security, either -- it's just hard to take a mob that throws limes and guacamole too seriously.
Still, the crowd gained a few late points when a man wearing suspiciously neutral garb approached us near the walkway to the BART platform after the Jets had won on a last-minute field goal.
"You guys are brave," he said, looking at our shirts. "I wore a [Jets] jersey last year, and somebody stabbed me with a pen knife."
He pointed to the small of his back.
"They said, "You don't wear green in here.'"
Postscript: Due to a fluke of scheduling, the Jets traveled to the Coliseum for a first-round playoff game only six days later. That meant a second opportunity to investigate the Raider Nation while dressed in Jets colors. And, while we didn't think it was possible, the upper-deck section we landed in this time was even lamer than the one the previous week. The closest thing we found to razzing was a woman who discarded an entire bag of peanut shells on my green-wearing friend. She also threatened us with her rather unpleasantly pointed boot.
Sadly for the Jets, however, the Raiders proved less hospitable than the crowd, winning 38-24.