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Week Eleven: Under the weather
'Tuck Bowl II' is vaguely unsatisfying to this Raiders fan

Illustration by Tim Walker

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- mail 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- mail, 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 pretty bad.

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 victory.

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 them.

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 sure.

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

Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002