by Jas Faulkner, Oilers Fan from Way Back, Deep in the Heart of Nashville…
Way back in the Cretaceous, sometime before most of your current roster was born, I attended film/art school in Oakland, CA. This was, oh, sometime in the mid-80s when the Raiders had moved to SoCal and were glamming it up in LA. There were a number of reasons I picked that school: good programs, a storied, very colorful and quirky campus and the hope that I would find other people who shared my politics and taste in movies, art and music. At least that’s what I would say when asked why a she-hick like me wanted to live in the East Bay. The real dealmakers for me were 1.) seeing the A’s play was a mere bus ride away and 2.) I held out this vain hope that the Raiders would return to their roots by the time I moved into my dorm room.
Evidently I had not built up enough karmic capital. (Laughing and not clapping at Tinkerbell while she thrashes and chokes on her own bile from a comfy seat at Nashville Academy Theatre will bite you on the ass later in life, kids!) The Raiders stayed in LA and I got a look at what happens when a generations-old sports connection is cut. Let me share some glimpses of that with you. This was just a year or two after the move. I went to viewing parties where people would share memories about listening to Bob Blum and Bill King while their grandmothers knitted and added their own very own colorful commentary. A good girlfriend and I sometimes sat in a nearby Russian deli during the games as men in Hostess Bakery work shirts and Raiders caps watched, cheering and swearing at the smallish TV in the corner that sometimes required the kid who swept up to keep a thumb and forefinger on the antenna so the picture wouldn’t be completely obliterated by snow and static. As fun as it was to see men dressed like my crazy Tia Marcella, wearing jerseys and running down the Castro screaming, “NINERS!” on Superbowl Sunday, I couldn’t help but think that across the Bay, there was an air of quiet, dignified melancholy as the Raiders Faithful watched the festivities from a distance.
It would be twelve long years before the Raiders would go back to where they belong. While many gave them a prodigal’s welcome, others were a little more wary, the feeling being that the shared connection and emotional investment their community had invested in the Raiders Organization had been betrayed. It took the Raiders a long time to get back a large part of the good will they had built from 1960 until the move twenty-two years later. The connection and dedication that the people of Oakland (and beyond that, people like me who were looking for an alternative to the damned Dallas Cowboys) have/had for their team is something very similar to the relationship that Edmontonians have with the Oilers. Do you really want to gamble on losing that loyalty by making a move to Hamilton or Winnipeg?
Don’t get me wrong. The sports fan and anthropologist in me (according to the piece of paper I have from Hillbilly Landgrant College) wants to see NHL teams in those cities (especially Winnipeg), but not at the expense of the people in Alberta who wear their Navy and Rust fan gear with pride. In this tough economy, the fact that the City of Edmonton is willing to refurbish the old arena says a lot about the esteemed place that you have in that community. Maybe when times are better, asking for a a shiny new place to play will be a more reasonable thing to contemplate. In the meantime, maybe you should appreciate the good thing you already have with the people of Edmonton. Do you really want to make threats and then have to come back, helmet in hand, like a bad boyfriend promising to be good from now on? That’s what I thought…