Originally created 01/25/03

As Super Bowl pirates go, no contest between these fans



OAKLAND, Calif. -- They're a menace to society, an armor-plated horde in silver and black. They're loud and lewd. And they're devoted to the Oakland Raiders, win or lose.

They're the Raider Nation, fans with a reputation as brutish as their team, long considered the NFL's renegade franchise. Come Sunday, they can't wait to do their part to intimidate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Super Bowl in San Diego.

"Our fans are absolutely unique," Oakland receiver Tim Brown said. "That can be good and bad."

The official mascots of both teams are pirates, but that's where the similarities end - the Bucs' fans aren't nearly as vociferous or notorious as their counterparts.

A quick visit to Tampa's Buccaneer Heaven makes that clear. The shopping-mall memorabilia store has been the epicenter for Bucs fans' frenzy this week. They waited in orderly lines for an hour to buy team gear, and some offered to pay the difference when strangers came up short.

"Everyone," store manager Brad Cohen said, "has been so nice."

Compare that to Oakland, where police will have hundreds of officers in the streets Sunday. Hooligans trashed several city blocks after the Raiders advanced to the NFL's title game by winning last weekend.

Of course, only a small minority of Raiders fans actually break the law. But their bad-boy image has made the team's jerseys, hats and other gear - adopted by gang members and wannabes around the country - the NFL's No. 1 seller.

Like any true mob, Oakland fans export their mayhem, and San Diego is preparing for an invasion.

For security reasons, the league nixed tailgate parties near the stadium, and might even ban the spiked headgear and other metal-studded costumes that are fixtures at Raiders games. All that silver and black face paint will be OK, though.

San Diego residents already know all about Oakland's team, which plays in the same division as their Chargers. A Raiders fan bit off the ear of a Chargers fan at a sports bar. And two years ago, a Raiders fan stabbed a Chargers fan at a game.

The Raiders' management cultivates the outlaw image, allowing fans to bring fake swords to home games. In Tampa Bay, Bucs fans would have a hard time smuggling in a plastic cutlass.

The Raiders have a "Just win, baby" tradition that spans decades - and three Super Bowl trophies. The Buccaneers have been football doormats for most of their 27 years and are playing in their first league championship game.

The tailgating scene before a Raiders game looks like a gothic Mardi Gras under a haze of barbecue smoke, replete with face paint, flags and banners.

Oakland's Coliseum is known for the Black Hole, the tangle of thousands of hardcore fans who hurl insults - not to mention the occasional battery - at the opposing team.

The Bucs' stadium has a big pirate ship that fires a fake cannon when the team looks ready to score.

Fans nicknamed "Violator" and "Darth Raider" lead other denizens of the Raider Nation in taunting 300-pound linemen. The Buccaneers have a 65-year-old fan named Jackie Riles, who is known as the "Tampa Pillow Lady" because she crochets presents for players.

"If you're a veteran player who's played in our stadium before, you know it's tough to see all those people in the stands and hear all of the things they say," Raiders defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "They don't say nice things."

At Tampa's big pep rally Friday, the only anti-Raider sentiment was a stuffed effigy of Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon with his hands tied behind his back.

"Bucs fans don't really do a lot of trash talking," longtime Tampa Bay fan Charlene Campbell said. "Let the best man win."

Not every fan of the Raiders is an ex-con, of course. Some are lawyers or teachers. Some nest in Oakland's million-dollar hilltop homes and drive luxury cars - emblazoned with team decals, naturally.

"I think people are scared of Raiders fans, but we're not dangerous or anything," said Angela Morrow, who was wearing a Raiders jersey in downtown San Diego. "It's just an image. We like to have fun and have a good time, that's all."

Associated Press Mitch Stacy in Tampa, Fla. contributed to this report.