Saturday, May 15, 2010

A One Way Street Named Loyalty

I've been up in Berkeley for about 2 weeks now, and I must say, it's a welcome break from LA. One of the good things is I got to see my cousin Warren and his wife, Janet.

During our dinner, we got on the topic of sports, and being much older than me - sorry, cuz - Warren had all these great stories about his early support of the Raiders. There were some great anecdotes, but one of the most astounding was when he said that in the early days - this must have been the mid 60's - when they played in what sounded like a podunky kind of field (Youell Field...?) he said you could walk right up behind the bench and hear all of their chatter.

My god, can you imagine that?

This was a team whose rep preceded them by a country mile, and I have to admit, the Rams who I was loyal to for years but who ended up telling all of the LA fans to fuck off, paled in comparison. The Raiders, from the artistry of Fred Biletnikoff to the craziness of "The Mad Stork" Ted Hendricks to the beautiful aggressiveness of Jack Tatum (one of my favorite players because I played free safety) defined "bad" and backed it up in spades. I just can't imagine what it would have been like to have watched and listened to these legends of the game.

That being able to listen to the players, it's no small point, as Ed Sabol's NFL Films would show some years later, slowing down the game and making it heard so that its beauty could be greater appreciated. Today it's all about security and posses, let alone the crush of media. A kid's lucky if he even catches a glimpse of a player these days.

The other major point in Warren's reminiscences was his being an early season seat holder, for a mere few hundred bucks. When in 1992 the team - let's be honest, shall we? Al "I never saw a dollar I wouldn't run over my mom for" Davis - picked up and moved to LA, it was merely following in the footsteps of the Rams, who had done the same. Thus, money triumphs over loyalty, and in a mark of cruelty seen only by the likes of Stalin and that shithead priest who was preying on deaf kids, Davis would move the team back to Oakland. This, after having pocketed a cool $10 mil non-refundable deposit from LA's Irwindale after a failed bid,
screwing the old Raider fans by making them put down a huge deposit much like what the Yanks did to Artie Lange and getting the city of Oakland to once again mistake bending over for opening one's arms in welcome.


It's a habit of old folks like us to romanticize "the good ole' days" but damn sometimes it's true. Later, while watching the Lakers and Jazz play, I was prompted by a commercial to tell Warren that I feel lucky in one regard to having come up before the mega-growth of sports. I have no memories whatsoever of one of the NBA legends and my boyhood hero Elgin Baylor acting like a jerkoff in some shitty, canned commercial for sugar water or a car that promises to get you any amount of women. Talking to Warren makes me think of the Little Richard quote I used for Ma's piece where he talks about the old time rock and roll as representing the joy, fun and happiness in music. That's how it was then, just a joy, awesome, really, to watch these magnificent athletes strutting like titans. All without a motherfuckin' posse and them feeling as if the universe was lucky to have them.

After hearing Warren's reminiscences the anger I had about pro sports today was slowly replaced with feeling awfully lucky to have come up when we did.

Me: "It ain't like the old days."

Warren looks down, slightly wistful, with a smile: "No, it sure isn't."