It’s 9:30 on a Saturday morning and the air is so crisp you want to bite it. The Oakland Coliseum parking lot is filled with every imaginable kind of Winnebago. The sky is black with Jolly Rogers. A few people are even still sober.
In just a few hours the Brave and Excellent Raiders will engage in a time-honored battle with the hated Broncos of Colorado. Only 49ers fans and crazy motherfuckers hell bent on getting their asses kicked wear red jackets inside the territorial confines of the Raider Nation on a day in which Denver is in town. Meet Jim from San Francisco: 49er fan, red-jacket wearer, and one crazy motherfucker. Thank God nobody is yet wasted enough to kill him. Rich from Oakland understands. He is a true Raiders fan and once even dressed up as Al Davis for Halloween. Yet he still admits that Jim is his friend and bravely walks beside him. Rich carries important supplies: a portable TV and an ice chest full of beer.
We are united together in the search for free meat. True fans know they’ll need sustenance if they want to make it past half-time. Like all warriors preparing for battle, they crave sausages, preferably the variety pre-stuffed with cheese. And hamburgers. And tri-tip. And boneless pork ribs. And Bud Light — lots and lots of Bud Light.
We have come to inspect. We start with some guys cooking tortillas on a hibachi.
“Ah, you just missed breakfast,” says a man we shall call Cheech, since he asked not to be identified by his real name because of a parole issue. “Girl, we were cookin’ up some chorizo and eggs!” gloats Cheech, who evidently traveled farther for this game than the terms of his parole allow. As a consolation prize for the breakfast we missed, we’re given some handmade tamales and invited to come back later to talk shit about the Broncos, a favorite topic of conversation.
Jim Martinez has been here since 8 a.m., when the Coliseum first opened the gates. Although costumed Raiders fans strut menacingly around the parking lot in elaborate combinations of leather, spikes, fur, and feathers, Martinez ignores the costumes and concentrates on the task at hand, the cooking of lots and lots of meat. He has a huge barbecue going. Rib eye steak and pork ribs are sizzling on the grill. He generously offers us a sample of the rib eye. The meat is as hot and juicy as a Raiderette.
Although about ten guys occupy Martinez’ lot, there’s still a lot of empty chairs. “We’re waiting for the old ladies; they’re still sleeping,” explains Martinez as he deftly flips the steak. Then he puts down his tongs and walks over to the side of the car, motioning for me to follow. “Ever since I got married I had to make one of these things,” he says. Next to the vehicle is an outhouse made from a cardboard box. “When I get ready to leave, I just pull the seat off and leave everything behind. Sometimes I like to carve little half-moons on the door.”
We bid adieu to the classy Martinez and travel down the aisle. The silver light of the winter sun illuminates many lovely sights. A man with stegosaurus scales and leather shorts with a teddy bear latched to his head, a blond-haired female folk-singer type swaggering around in Viking porno gear, a wooden cage full of skeletons wearing 49er helmets. Jim reacts to this latter display with a combination of glee and abject fear.
We meet Anthony Silva, aka Big Ant, a season ticket holder from way back before the cruel Davis jerked the team to Los Angeles. He wears a spectacular BBQ apron that basically declares that the Raiders Are the Fucking Best Team in the World.
Silva mans a grill filled with tri-tip and a load of chow mein leftovers from a party. He also has some boneless country ribs. “I get my meat from a place in Tracy,” he offers. “They season it for me; all I have to do is throw it on the grill.” Whatever they do to meat in Tracy they’re doing something right, ’cause the ribs are melt-in-your mouth spectacular. Silva reckons that before the final kickoff, he will have fed about thirty people. The back off his pickup is laden with every flavor of Budweiser imaginable.
Although people have been kind enough to offer us free meat, no one is stupid enough to part with their beer. But Jim and Rich had the foresight to bring a few cans of Old English 800, a manly and rugged malt beverage. The sight of a white dude drinking an OE 800 is so rare and hilarious that a member of Oakland’s Finest is compelled to investigate. He pulls over to Jim and starts laughing. “Man, I ain’t never seen a white guy drinking an OE,” says the black officer, shaking his head in disbelief. “I just had to check this out.”
Speaking of the police, we notice about ten on-duty cops chowing down on something in the distance. “That must be where they make the donuts,” someone mutters. We walk over to investigate. Instead of donuts, Rita from Alameda is busy barbecuing about two dozen oysters — appetizers for a huge feast that will revolve around pork.
“If you’re also going to include the meat, you have to include the sauce,” suggests an officer, handing over a jar of blueberry-flavored BBQ sauce for our perusal. Rich is given an oyster to sample, which he drenches in a liberal amount of Tabasco, and downs it in one shot. “Mmmm,” he gurgles.
We ask who in the Raider Nation is most famous for tailgating. “Everyone who comes out here has been doing it for awhile,” Rita says. “But there’s one guy who cooks a whole pig in a fire pit,” an officer chimes in. Discussion ensues on the pig’s location, with one of the cops recalling that it’s under a white awning. The problem is there are about fifty white awnings just on this side of the Coliseum alone.
Nevertheless, we set out to find the pig. On our way we pass a Raiders band performing a horrible version of a Stone Temple Pilots song. The fat and balding singer flails around and yells out the words as a man in a gorilla costume frolics about on a toy horse. Transfixed, we watch for a while and then remember the task at hand: Finding the pig.
In the distance is a tent festooned with the logo of the handsome Raiders face. Curious, we walk towards the makeshift kitchen. Directly in front of us is an unconscious Raiders fan. Sprawled on an inflatable silver and black Raiders chair, the tuckered-out zealot wears a silver and black Santa hat and is peacefully snoring like the baby Jesus. We gingerly step over him.
This is the mother of all barbecues. There is chorizo and eggs, sausage, ribs, hamburger, shrimp, steaks, chicken, and a pot with spaghetti sauce boiling. “I did the pasta already,” says a man we know only as “Tony,” because every one was yelling so much it was impossible to hear his real name. “Don’t forget the burritos,” reminds an anonymous tailgater. “Last week we had lobster and New York steak,” says Tony. But that’s not all; these Paul Prudhommes of the Coliseum have also been known to whip up deep-fried turkey and homemade tamales. Someone proffers an expertly cooked rib and some excellent tri-tip.
Down the aisle from Tony’s crew are Raul, Hector, and Dennis from Lodi. Hot links, sausages, pork, and hamburgers are sizzling away. “Don’t forget to mention that we have salami,” warns Dennis.
How long does it take to clean up? “Oh, about ten to fifteen minutes; we have about seven to eight people helping,” says Hector, who adds, somewhat cryptically, “Plus, I’m a Coors light drinker.”
As we talk about our shared interest in beverages, someone who may already have had a few too many of them walks by and shoots Jim a really mean look. Taking this as our cue to punt the ball, we quietly say goodbye to the citizens of this ferocious nation and head toward BART. We never do find the pig.