AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS -- There's a steady clinking and an occasional pounding
from the booth behind me. Two waitresses are combining the contents of
half-empty ketchup bottles. As they do this, they're discussing an upcoming
wedding. I'm not sure whose. I'm trying not to listen.
Then there are the sounds of the foursome in the booth behind my wife. They're
conversing in Japanese and loudly sucking Buffalo sauce from their fingers -- a
steady sequence of greasy finger sucks that makes us wince, that makes me
wonder whatever happened to manners.
And from the far side of the bar, way over across the room, there are the
muffled sounds of conversation, occasionally cut with laughter but largely flat
and, it seems, almost entirely dispassionate.
There's been grumbling in various spots from time to time throughout the night,
but not now. There's been a cheer here or there, but not lately. Mostly,
there's a quiet hanging over the place, a thicker, more oppressive version of
the general hush that prevailed in this pub since we walked in at
6:30 p.m. I've wondered at times throughout the night if it was the
weather. It's been raining or snowing (often both) for two days now. Maybe it's
just gotten to people.
I keep thinking there's something more to it, though. I keep thinking it's tied
to the feeling I've had all day, a weird vibe about the Patriots losing. The
mood here at Rafters makes me wonder if maybe the others have felt it too.
I hadn't thought much about this pall during the day, writing it off as an
expression of my loyalty to the Pats' opponent tonight, the Oakland Raiders. My
team. My chosen team, that is, as opposed to the Pats, who, though I love them,
are really just the team geography stuck me with. There's only one circumstance
under which I ever root against the Patriots, and this is it.
The reality, though, is that this has never been a feeling that the Raiders
were going to win. That would have been different. That, from my perspective,
would have been a happy feeling, energetic, sunny. A Raiders victory over the
Pats is, after all, what I've wanted most since the NFL announced this season's
schedule. It's what every Raiders fan has wanted since then. Before then,
really. Since January, when the Pats stole a playoff victory from us. And if
you'd asked then, or if you'd asked on Saturday, I'd have told you I wanted it
badly enough that I'd take it however it came.
That's still kind of true, but a Raiders win -- a real, crushing Raiders win --
would have been preferable by far to a pitiful, inept, stumbling Patriots loss.
It would have felt different coming, too.
So yes, it's a Pats loss that has been in the wet, heavy air today. It's
depressing. And it occurs to me that it has to be what the others are
feeling. The sense of a Raiders win would have brought them in angry, would
have filled the room with a passion to rival the one I've been trying to
muster. But they're not angry. They haven't been angry all evening. They're
just sort of here. Like me.
THINGS MIGHT have worked out differently if I had been able to find a place to
watch the game with other Raiders fans.
I tried. For months, in fact. I asked everyone I know who goes out to see
football games if they'd ever come across a place in New England where Raiders
fans gather. I would have driven to Burlington, to Bangor, even, if I could
have found such a place.
I asked the only other Raiders fan I know, the guy who delivers mail to my
office. I asked random Raiders fans I found online. They all said they watch
games at home on their couches. Like me. Sometimes, they said, they go to some
local bar where they're usually the only Raiders fan in the crowd. Like me.
I found a list of Raiders booster clubs online. The closest one to New England
is in Westchester County, New York. The president doesn't list an e-
address and the phone number given on the Web site doesn't work.
I called some random guy in Brookline, Massachusetts because he was on the
membership roster of something called the Oakland Raiders Internet Boosters. He
couldn't help. And I'm pretty sure the call just kind of freaked him out.
I turned to the team, phoning their press office to ask if they were aware of a
place I could go. The woman who took my call could only laugh. "You're a
Raiders fan in New England?" she said. "I'm pretty sure that's illegal." She
gave me the name and number of the guy in Westchester County, thinking maybe
he'd know something. I didn't bother to tell her I'd already tried him.
There was a hint, late in the week, that I might be able to find a few other
Raiders fans in a bar in Milford, Connecticut. If the weather wasn't too bad, a
guy told me by e-
I might run into two or three Raiders fans in a bar called Gipper's. I actually
thought about making the two-hour drive. But as it turned out the weather was
Instead, I took my wife up on her standing offer to watch a game with me if I
ever found myself in dire need of it (an extremely generous offer, given that
the woman can't even pretend to enjoy football) and stayed in my neck of the
woods. We headed to the sports bar nearest the UMass campus, because I figured
there had to be a Raiders fan or two on campus, and I hoped one of them would
end up making the short drive down the street. By the time we got to Rafters, I
really just hoped to find one other person for whom the joy of a Raiders win
would offset the pain of a Pats loss. Or, in a worst-case scenario, someone who
could share the potential taunting if the Pats somehow pulled off a victory.
Watching the San Diego Chargers come back late in their game against San
Francisco, I started to think I might have gotten lucky. A group of three young
men seated near one of the big-screen TVs was rooting loudly for the 49ers.
Maybe, I thought, they were really rooting against the Chargers. Maybe they
were Raiders fans in for the Pats-Raiders game later that night and hoping the
Chargers, who were one game ahead of the Raiders in the AFC West, would extend
their losing streak.
I craned my neck trying to get a better look at them in between bites of
Cajun-chicken sandwich. I hoped maybe I'd spot a Raiders game jersey. I took an
unnecessary trip to the men's room, just so I could pass them, hoping my
Raiders sweatshirt would rouse some cry of solidarity. Nothing. And then they
left almost immediately after the Chargers won in overtime. 'Niners fans,
maybe. Or gamblers. Either way, not what I was hoping for.
I kept an eye on the wooden front door until game time, looking for
silver-and-black with every creak. But all I got was a stream of Pats caps and
Tom Brady game jerseys (and a single Tedy Bruschi).
The bar never filled up the way it typically does for a big game (the weather's
doing), but by kickoff there was a solid crowd, a mix of college kids and
locals. There was a sense of anticipation in the room. But it was dreadful
anticipation, a collective sense that something was amiss.
The crowd lacked any real energy. Most fans couldn't even find it in them to
give me a hard time. I heard a hiss at one point as I walked to the men's room.
And when I walked over by the bar to check final scores on some 4 p.m.
games 15 minutes before the Pats-Raiders kickoff, a young guy with a
mischievous smile offered, "Raiders fan?" and turned his eyes in mock horror.
And so the game went. As the Pats drove toward what would ultimately be a field
goal on their first possession of the game, the crowd was unmoved, sitting
mostly in silence as Brady pushed his offense down the field, looking like he
might actually have it in him to lead his team to a third-straight road
Once in a while they'd cheer, like when Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was
sacked early in the second quarter. Once in a while someone would swear out
loud, like when Raiders running back Zack Crockett scored the first touchdown
of the game early in the second quarter. And now and again, someone would crack
a joke, like when Brady fumbled deep in Patriots territory late in the second
quarter and a kid in a backward baseball cap yelled, "It was a tuck!" (a
reference to the controversial overturned fumble call that cost the Raiders
that playoff game last season).
But mostly they sat silent. And so did I.
When things went well for the Patriots, it was almost as if it were in error.
Tedy Bruschi's interception for a touchdown was a fluke, exciting for a second,
but not energizing for the team or the fans. A pair of Brady fumbles that went
uncalled by the refs may have angered Raiders fans at the game in Oakland, but
they did little to stir the fans in Amherst.
So now it's all but over. The ketchup bottles clink along. The finger-suckers
pay their tab and get up to leave. The few fans still hanging on hardly seem to
notice as the Pats turn the ball over on downs with less than four minutes
remaining in the game.
There's a shallow cheer a few minutes later when Kevin Faulk returns a kickoff
return for the Pats' second TD. But it's a short-lived cheer for a meaningless
score. A failed on-side kick attempt and a minute of game time later, it's
over. The Raiders have their revenge. The Pats have a long trip home ahead of
I should be happy, but I'm not. I went into tonight's game figuring the Raiders
needed the win more than the Pats, thinking the Patriots would easily win five
of their last six games, possibly all of them. I thought they'd take the AFC
East title and head into the playoffs with some momentum. Now I'm not so
Tonight's game hasn't really proven anything about the Raiders. All it's really
shown is that the Patriots still haven't solved the identity crisis that's been
dogging them throughout this post-championship season. In spite of an
impressive win in Buffalo two weeks ago and a much-needed comeback victory in
Chicago last week, the Pats still haven't proved that they can beat good teams.
That's a problem. And my sense tonight is that it's a problem that's starting
to weigh on Pats fans.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it really is just the weather.
Sean Glennon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002