When I think back many years to my first recollections of being a fan, I guess it would have to have been about 1958. I lived in a little town about ten miles south of Oakland, California. I remember going to a San Francisco Forty-Niners game at Keezar Stadium. I also had a bunch of football cards around the same time. When I close my eyes I can still see my Bob St. Claire, Leo, The Lion, Nomellini, Y. A. Tittle, and Hugh McElhenny cards. I remember that the 49ers was my team, but they always managed to lose out to the L.A. Rams. Probably a few years later, I can remember going camping and fishing with my dad, and listening to San Francisco Giants’ games on the radio. On the radio were Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. That team had Jim Davenport at third, Orlando Cepeda, and later Willie McCovey on first, Juan Marichal leg kicking the sky on the mound, and The Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays in center field. I will never forget listening to the game on the way home from the lake, when Willie Mays hit four home runs in the game. But, like the 49ers, the Giants usually lost their division to the hated Dodgers. Drysdale, Kofax, Roseboro, and the rest of those Southern California guys. Shoot, Marichal almost had to club Roseboro on the head with a bat. So, with those two teams, I learned early in my childhood that being a fan meant you had to stand behind your team, even if they almost always ended up second to the teams of Southern California. Being a fan had nothing to do with whether or not your team won. I was Northern California, and so were my teams. We hated those plastic people of Southern California, so of course we hated their teams.
About that time I started high school. Now in high school the sport I was most interested in was chasing girls. When I started high school I was 4′ 8″ tall, and probably weighed about 98 pounds. My oldest brother had been a track star whose records were painted on the wall of the gym, and they stood for years after I left. he also starred on the Cross Country team. My next oldest brother was also a member of the Cross Country team. So, when another towheaded boy showed up at Arroyo High School, Coach Ryan automatically recruited me to run. My freshman year I ran Cross Country and wrestled. My athletic career ended that year when the wrestling coach told us to get our hair cut real short. He assured us that if the girls liked us with hair, they would like us without hair. He was a dirty, rotten liar. When my hair went, so did the girls. In my sophomore year, my best friend had the coolest car at Arroyo High School. We took his yellow 55 Chevy with No.4 painted on the rear quarter panels, the black tuck and roll leather seats, and the 365 horse 327 cruising the Strip on Friday and Saturday nights. So, I didn’t actually go to many high school football games, but of course, the Dons was my team.
When I was a junior, my girlfriend Linda Hosier became an Oakland Raiders cheerleader. The Raiders used high school girls so that they could get the girls’ families to come watch the Raiders play. Linda gave me free tickets to watch the Raiders play on a junior college field, sitting on portable aluminum bleachers. I got a chance to watch exciting, winning football. Oakland was closer to home than San Francisco, and the football was better. The Raiders quickly became my team. Then the “A’s” moved to Oakland and I could pay $4.50 for box seats a few rows behind the dugout and watch Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Campy Campaneras, Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers kick ass.
Those were my teams. In the world I lived in no fan would even think about booing their own team. Your players were the equivalent of your country’s soldiers. High school, college, professional, it didn’t matter. Those were the guys that were defending your homeland, your way of life, you! If your team lost, you welcomed them, encouraged them, so that they could return to the battlefield. You supported your team almost like you would support your country’s military. You didn’t question them or their generals. I mean, we didn’t know shit about military tactics and strategy. We didn’t have the unmitigated gall to question those who had dedicated their whole lives to warfare. We felt the same way about our teams and our coaches.
As an adult my son played football on the Westside Mustangs team. We sold raffle tickets, brought snacks, and went to every game. If some fool parent of one of our teams’ players had dared to boo our team he would have been knocked out in the blink of an eye. When I hear UTEP’s fans boo their own players it is one of the most disgusting things I have ever heard. The first time I heard it I was stunned. To me, it is like booing returning Viet Nam veterans. It is beyond my ability to express how it makes me feel. There is a mixture of disgust, and contempt for that despicable, classless, and, in my mind, bordering on traitorous behavior.
I still can’t comprehend how fans can do the fricken Wave while our team is running offensive plays. That is like talking in the audience at your child’s school play. So, know this, I sit in awe, at the behavior of some. Some of you look for my “objective criticism”. To me that is like asking me to objectively criticize the Third Cavalry, or the 101st Airborne. In my world, you just don’t criticize your own team, objectively or otherwise. Not purposely, anyway. I sometimes lose control of my emotions and say things I regret. I damned sure try not to. They slip out in the heat of the moment. Then I remind myself that I am in no position to criticize what I don’t know enough about. When I say that we weren’t able to punch the ball in from the 2 yardline it is a statement of fact, not a criticism.
Those who would tell their own child “you sucked at that”, and say that they were just objectively criticising them, know that that isn’t how I was raised. As a teacher, I saw lots of kids some might say, “sucked”. As their teacher, I could objectively criticize them because I was in the position to know what I was doing, and I could help them correct the problem. Until one is in position to provide the correction, I don’t consider it constructive. I consider it bitching, and I also consider that bitching to be like acid. It eats at the cohesiveness of the team and the fans that support that team.
That’s my position on the whole fan thing. If you think I’m wrong, or you are right in doing what you do, that’s on you. I think burning the American flag is as low rent as it gets, but I served my time in the Army to ensure that Americans have the right to be low rent, too. You have the right to call me out, rip me a new one if you want. But, know that that is how I feel, and I will never change that. My team, is like my extended family, my tribe, my warriors. I will have their backs, not be biting their backs.