- David Fleming, ESPN The Magazine
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In the crazy, topsy-turvy world of the NFL sometimes fans just need someone to talk to. So once a week Mag senior writer David Fleming will exchange emails with one lucky (we think) reader. If you'd like to have an email exchange with Flem, click here and pour your pigskin heart out. Go ahead, Flem's listening. And be sure to check out the weekly Flem File on Page 2 tomorrow and every Wednesday.
I have a question that only you can answer: Let's say you're a lifetime fan of a certain team, and let's say, hypothetically, the owner of that team is deranged, has his own press conferences, hires head coaches, then neuters them, calls offensive plays, drives the team into the ground, signs broken free agents and kills any joy you may have once had for your team. Hypothetically of course, what are the rules of allegiance you are held to? Can you get a "favorite team pro tem" until a certain owner retires. Are you required to leave for good? Or are you held in quarantine for fear you might infect other teams? It's been a rough stretch and I'm right on the edge. The power is in your hands to change this: Won't you please help?
—Jason H., 38, a Raiders fan and IT director living in Seattle.
FLEM: Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That pretty much sums up Raider nation, I think. I would think the most maddening thing for fans is the fact that this team has the worst win-loss record in the NFL since their Super Bowl appearance (yes, worse than the Lions) and yet they still behave like they are an elite franchise. At least the Lions know where to sit in the cafeteria, ya know?
JASON: But Flem—when does the loss of all hope override a lifelong loyalty? I grew up in the Bay area when John Madden was loading the cart; I saw Jim Plunkett rise from the ashes—twice. I saw Marcus Allen go from hero to goat. I lived through what we thought were tough years, followed by the rise of Jon Gruden. We reached the pinnacle, and then tumbled all the way down below the Lions.
FLEM: FLEM: First, I need to gauge how bad off you are. So, using phonetic spelling, please describe the sounds that you made after reading these stats from last week. The Raiders gained five yards in the first quarter against the Falcons.
JASON: Ungh…sucker punch to the gut.
FLEM: Some Raiders were saying recently how much they'd love to play with Mike Vick when he gets out of prison.
JASON: Aiiiyeee…bamboo shoots under the nails.
FLEM: JaMarcus Russell has been beaten by two rookie QBs in the last week by a combined 53-10.
JASON: Nyuach…the choking sound combined with the kick to the kidney.
FLEM: Wait. Sorry. I didn't think I had a heart like the Grinch but this is making laugh really really hard. Okay, the Raiders had something like negative-two yards rushing in the first half last week.
JASON: Mmmmmrrrphh…the sound of my face stomped into our home field turf.
FLEM: Even Warren Sapp thinks Al Davis has lost it.
JASON: Total silence. When Sapp or Charles Barkley makes sense…there's nothing to say.
FLEM: The Raiders would have to win 46 games in a row to get to .500 since 2003.
JASON: Whimper. Do you want to see a grown man cry?
FLEM: Yeah, okay, you need help.
JASON: I stand on the brink of insanity, Flem. And don't get me started on the game against Atlanta, a team that a year ago was in total disarray, coaches quitting, everything else, but for some reason, they're playing pretty hard, and winning. The most backbreaking moment is watching my team, my lifeblood, be compared with the Lions and Cardinals on a regular basis.
FLEM: Yeah, um, the Cards are in first place.
JASON: Being the laughingstock of the league is a very difficult proposition. I have no problem being loyal to a team going through a rough time, but that can sometimes be like rooting for a guy addicted to drugs: you want them to turn their lives around and they're still out spending all their money on crack and booze and they have no interest in rehab. That's a bit more challenging.
FLEM: Okay, so tell me where you stand on jumping ship? I honestly don't know what the escape etiquette is with Raider Nation. What I really worry about is the minute you start backing someone else, you just know the Raiders will turn the corner and there is something very very satisfying when that happens and you can stand tall and say, I'm not a bandwagon jumper, I've been here since the Callahan collapse!
JASON: It would be very satisfying to be there when the team returns to greatness. I just don't know when that will be.
FLEM: I think it would involve cryogenics, to be honest. Who do you have your eye on? Should it be a lateral move, to a decent team you can build a relationship with or should you just go all out and dump the Raiders for a swimsuit model like the Giants or the Titans? What do you think? Who do you have your eye on?
JASON: Now, if we go all hypothetical, and enable me to theoretically date other people before I divorce my present team, I'd put the options in no particular order: Redskins, tough times, goofy owner, could feel at home; Plus, they're kind of a blue collar superstar-less team. (Also, they trigger an evil rivalry with my Cowboy-loving brother.) Then the Steelers, they were actually my team of choice for any of those SB's in the 70s (again, taunting my brother). Then the Titans, not because they're 8-0, but because they're stable; Fisher's been there for 7 or 8 or 12 Raider coaches, and they even developed McNair the "right" way. Essentially the opposite of Raider nation. And then the Saints, solid team, does pretty well; Also shoots self in the foot, and could be a good way to "earn" fandom; Plus I can re-use some of my existing black clothes.
FLEM: Anyone else? And remember, we want the Raiders to see you walking around at the NFL experience with your new team all happy and looking good and thinking about the playoffs and just get so sad and jealous they run out of there and actually hire a real coach and front office.
JASON: It can't be the Pats (cheaters), Seahawks (too local), or any AFC West team or the Forty-whiners (the other residents of the vortex of football disarray by the Bay), nor any of the pretty boy teams (Colts, Packers, Bucs).
FLEM: Why not?
JASON: At my age, and with my lack of redeeming qualities, I don't think I can dream of a supermodel. I'm no trophy-fan if you catch my drift. Too many Raiders scars, and the facial ticks can be off-putting. I need some prayers for my soul. So, maybe the Saints are a good match.
FLEM: First of all, did I mention how much I hate it when readers are funnier and more clever than I am? (Naw, just kidding. I love it.) I gotta say, as your potential franchise, um, pimp, I'm leaning toward hooking you up with the Saints.
JASON: I've tried to laugh to keep from crying.
FLEM: They're not perfect but, in many ways, they're everything most fans want: entertaining, dynamic, talented, troubled, a symbol of hope for the region, and wildly unpredictable. They have heart and they're never boring. They are just as likely to win out and sweep the playoffs this tear (honestly) as they are to lose their next eight in a row. Now that's a team a Raider fan can relate to. Plus you could do worse than a few weekends in New Orleans for a road trip. My next question is, what would you miss about the Raiders if you left?
JASON: I would miss the intimidation part. Just by wearing my Raiders gear, local Hawk fans cross to the other side of the street here in Seattle. If I don't shave, folks think I'm packing. I'd miss the autumn wind. I'd miss the fear. I think most folks agree that the league is better when the Raiders are good.
FLEM: Good point. It sounds like someone's having second thoughts, maybe going through some old photo albums or something.
JASON: Fans love to hate us, and love to beat us. Even when the Pats
cheated, they still didn't draw the same ire that the Raiders do. It really is terribly painful to consider leaving the Raiders, but I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe a separation would get me where I need to go. Get my own apartment, some Tupperware, and eat Chinese take out. Root for the Saints for a few weeks, remove my bookmark to Raiders Radio and dump their RSS feeds. That way I wouldn't have completely left - just cut back on my painful addiction on doctor's orders (you being the doctor).
FLEM: Dr. Flem, I like that. But you also have to stop putting in that AC/DC mixed tape, painting your face and driving by the Raiders stadium like, 14 times a day.
JASON: I'd still will watch playoff football and root for random teams each week, provided the Saints don't let me down.
FLEM: Well, hmm, the Saints are at .500 in a tough division and several of their players might just get suspended down the stretch, so I worry about putting you in another abusive relationship. Let's see how they do in Atlanta this week compared to the Raiders and go from there.
JASON: I agree, before I get into a rebound relationship, I probably need to take a weekend, drink a beer, and consider the whole thing. Thanks for the opportunity to chat, and for your support in my team-transition-woes.
FLEM: No problem. Good luck with the Saints. I have a really, really good feeling about you two.
The Page 2 columnist goes tete-a-tete with one lucky (we think!) reader.