By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

It was somewhere around 8:15 on Sunday evening when people started laughing at me. The room was intensely crowded, so I didn't notice the first wave of snickering for a while, but finally it became too aggressive to ignore, and I had to leave the room. People refused to get out of my way as I plunged awkwardly across the bodies between me and the faraway exit.

I was not surprised to be treated like this by my neighbors. Most of them have suffered grief and degradation here in the past; they jabbed me and pushed me around like a stranger. Gambling can turn into a dangerous two-way street when you least expect it. Weird things happen suddenly, and your life can go all to pieces.

That is what happened to me on Sunday when the Raiders self-destructed in the Super Bowl. It was like being crushed by an airplane full of leeches. I knew what it felt like to be a victim of national liberation. ... It was more like walking the plank, actually. There was never any doubt about what was happening to me. It was the most horrible beating in the history of Raider football, possibly in the history of the Super Bowl. ... The 48-21 score was deceptively close; it might as well have been 111-6. Only a baffling rash of freak plays toward the end of the third quarter kept the game close enough to avoid a forfeiture by Oakland. They failed in every way, and so did I.

The beating came close to utterly destroying my self-esteem. I felt smaller and smaller as the game went on. There was no relief, no mercy, no place to hide from it, and no sane way to explain it. Indeed. How was it possible that the immortal Jerry Rice could be reduced to an irrelevant factor in a game so vital to everything the Raiders seem to stand for -- but no longer? No, not the 2002 Raiders anyway:

"Bye bye love, Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I'm gonna cry."

That is a line from a song I remember from many years ago, when Richard Nixon was President. But what is it? What is the name of it? Who knows the lyrics? ... And what in the name of creeping Jesus happened with Oakland's so-called "most valuable offensive lineman" getting kicked off the team on the morning of the Big Game? Ho ho. Impossible. Nobody would be that stupid, not with dawn coming up on the Super Bowl -- never in hell.

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What crime could be so horrible, so gross and despicable, to cause a successful coach in the National Football League to flip out so far as to fire the de facto quarterback of his whole offensive line operation, only hours prior to kickoff time for the biggest game of their lives? ... It made no sense. Something was clearly missing from this story. What is the apparently unspeakable truth behind the clearly disastrous saga of Barret Robbins, the once-indestructible anchor of the Raiders' vaunted attack?

The decision to sack Robbins was blamed on head coach Bill Callahan, and that may be true, but in fact it sounds more like something Al Davis might do in a fit of pique, for no good reason at all. ... Sorry, Al, but I cannot tell a lie. Why did you do it? Tell us before it's too late.

The spread on the game dropped a full point -- from 3 1/2 down to 2 1/2 almost instantly when the news got out about the huge new hole in Raiders' O-line. It was a terrible shock to the gambling community, as well as to the structural integrity of the league's No. 1 offense. ... The center is the signal-caller, the brain behind their blocking assignments, their timing and their survival against what would prove to be the best defense in football.

The truly wretched saga of Barret Robbins will hang like a cloud of nerve gas over Super Bowl XXXVII for as long as the game of football is discussed by English-speaking people in the world as we know it today. Ho ho. And it is well to remember that the overweening spectacle that the rest of the world knows as "American football" is not even played in any other nation on the planet -- except perhaps in Germany, which hosts a sort of NFL experiment league for what is essentially a slave trade for U.S. rejects. Nobody gets paid in what they call the "developmental league." It is a profoundly low-rent operation that may or may not last another year, for lack of cash.

But so what, eh? The fat went into the fire, and the fire lost. The Raiders went down in a blaze of shame, and I am on the hook for a major appearance on world-wide TV with a cluster of blood-sucking leeches on my head, while I read a statement of personal apology for being so dismally stupid as to bet heavily on the Oakland Raiders -- as if I actually believed all that high-powered swill that I wrote about them last week.

But at least I did not bet on them and give 500-1 odds -- and that is all that stood between me and bedrock stupidity on Sunday night. I was mocked and humiliated, but my actual losses were minor -- unless you see something dark and shameful about appearing in public with healthy working leeches all over your head, and I don't.

Leeches can be good for you. They are extremely beneficial in treating wounds to the head, face and lower extremities. They will attach themselves and suck with both mouths for 30 consecutive hours, after which they will bloat up and become useless for the next two months and usually die of loneliness.

Right. And that is all the time I can spare for leech research, right now. I will make my appearance, as promised, on either ESPN or the "Conan O'Brien Show" or possibly on the keenly modern Naked News on the Playboy Channel. ... It will not be fake or computer-generated -- although that may not matter at all to a 21st Century audience. We will see.

And finally, before I flee, let me leave you with two final lumps of painful wisdom: The Everly Brothers wrote that "Bye Bye Love" song in the '50s, and the real reason why I got whacked so hard with the Raiders is that I was giddy enough to believe, for even an instant, that they were faster, that Al Davis was the one who had speed on his side. That was abysmally stupid. How could the oldest team in the league be faster than the best defense? That is absurd. I was a fool.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was born and raised in Louisville, Ky. His books include "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," "The Great Shark Hunt," "The Curse of Lono," "Generation of Swine," "Songs of the Doomed," "Screwjack," "Better Than Sex," "The Proud Highway," "The Rum Diary," and "Fear and Loathing in America." His latest book, "Kingdom of Fear," has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears regularly on Page 2.




Hunter
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HEY, RUBE