Win or Lose, the Key to the Raiders’ Identity is Found in the Parking Lot

Nothing says Oakland like chilling and grilling at the Coliseum on a Raiders game day.


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The parking lot parties on game day are legendary, with grills sizzling and beer tops popping. Ricky Willis, second from left above, pauses from the domino game.

Photos by Stephen Texeira

For die-hard Raider fans, Game Day actually begins on Wednesday or so. First, there’s the marinating of the steaks. Then there’s the preparation of silver face paint and glue spray. And then the mixing of the margarita vats. And finally, the menu coordination with friends and family that would impress even the most seasoned NFL line coach.

“I can’t sleep the night before,” said Bart Greathouse, a butcher shop manager from Fairfield who’s tailgated in the same spot at the Coliseum parking lot since 2004 (yes, that means he often camps out the night before). “It’s exciting,” Greathouse said. “It’s a celebration. That’s why I became a manager—so I’d never have to work Sundays and miss this.”

For the NFL’s most passionate, loyal, and colorful fans, tailgating is not just a way to kill time before the game. It’s Mardi Gras, Christmas, and a family reunion rolled into one jubilant afternoon, a joyous blur of barbecue smoke and cold Corona that has very little to do with actual football and a lot to do with love.

At a recent game this fall, thousands of the faithful packed the Coliseum parking lot a good six hours before kickoff. There were tents and flags, gas grills, and music; kids tossing footballs, and grandmas spooning out potato salad. There were guys in wigs and face paint, school buses customized in silver and black, “’95ers” who’ve had season tickets since the team returned from Los Angeles, and a plethora of Kenny Stabler jerseys in tribute to the late, great Snake.

Strangers shared tacos. Old friends reminisced about Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Jack Tatum, and Otis Sistrunk. And the whole scene was mercifully free of corporate logos.

Jose Maldonado’s family, a group of about 18, was enjoying steak tacos and homemade salsa so fresh, so well-seasoned, so perfectly prepared they would have passed muster with Oakland’s most discriminating food mavens.

“We don’t see each other very often, so this is how we get together,” said Maldonado, a Richmond resident and student at Contra Costa College. “My uncle does the cooking. You know what they say: If the cook’s in a good mood, the food is delicious. Well, today he’s here to win.”

Maldonado’s uncle, Oliver Rodriguez, a warehouse manager from San Pablo, shrugged modestly and said his culinary secret is nothing more than Lawry’s salt. For him, the highlight isn’t the food; it’s family.

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “We drink a few beers, we watch the game, we have fun. It’s part of my life. Every week, we can’t wait.”

Cheryl Santos and her pals from Manteca were enjoying rib-eye steak and a lemonade-vodka concoction that made them all very happy.

“I was born a Raider fan,” she said. “My mom was an original Raiderette. My dad, well, I’d call him an aggressive Raiders fan. My mom’s more a passive-aggressive fan.”

Just around the corner, Dr. Death was making his rounds. Dr. Death, aka Ray Perez of West Sacramento, was in a black wig, silver hardhat affixed with what appear to be knives, and painstakingly applied Broadway-quality silver-and-black face paint. On game days, he wanders the Coliseum parking lot, posing for pictures and communing with the faithful.

“It’s a privilege for me,” he said. “The Raider emblem is like our family crest. For people who wear these colors, it’s like a unification under one symbol. We become a family.”

He’s got the face-paint routine down to about 20 minutes, and to keep it from running he coats it with glue spray.

“When we played the Chiefs last year in the pouring rain, I didn’t get touched,” he said. “The only problem is getting it off. I use soap and water, but the next day it looks like I’m wearing ‘guy-liner.’ ”

The Raider Nation is so welcoming and friendly that even a group of what appeared to be 49er fans were right at home.

Kerry and Margie Murphy, winery owners from Orinda, and their friends Ginny and Davis Freeman of San Francisco were seated at a tidy card table complete with tablecloth, chicken, and sautéed green beans, and several bottles of Chardonnay: a tableau straight out of Sunset magazine.

Upon questioning, however, they made it abundantly clear they are anything but 49er fans.

“I had season tickets at Frank Youell Field,” Kerry Murphy said, referring to the Raiders’ stadium from 1962-65 at the present-day site of Laney College, while the Coliseum was being built. “I remember when Dan Birdwell worked at a gas station in Alameda in the off-season,” Murphy said, referring to the Raiders defensive lineman in the 1960s. “I was blessed to be born in Oakland, and I’ve always been a Raiders fan. They’re won so many championships, and done so well on a low budget. It’s just a great team.”

His wife is a good sport about the whole thing. “I just hope I don’t die when there’s a Raiders game because no one’ll come to my funeral,” she said with a laugh.

Wayne Deboe’s love of the Raiders also dates to the Frank Youell Field days. A native of West Oakland, Deboe is at every game, accompanied by about 30 family and friends, and even travels to select away games—in Cleveland, no less.

“I have a lot of pride in the city of Oakland,” he said, as he surveyed the smothered steak, mashed potatoes, greens, and cornbread; the old friends laughing and talking; and the sea of silver and black before him. “I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I don’t think there’s any fans anywhere greater than Raider fans.”

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