Friday, December 10, 2004

Crawling out of The Black Hole

I called myself a Jets fan on Thursday, just minutes before noon. Declared is more accurate.

This was monumental. This was thought-provoking.

OK, background time: I am 29 years old and have been a Raiders fan for the last 21 of those years. My entrance into Raider fandom began when I saw Marcus Allen play in his rookie season. He had a great game on television and as an impressionable 8-year-old, I was, well, impressed.

So I pronounced myself a Raiders fan in 1983 and they wound up winning the Super Bowl. If I had such prognosticating skills, the interest I earn on my bank account would be more than double what I get paid to write this weekly column. My Raiders fandom continued through Howie Long, Bo Jackson, Coach Art Shell, Jay Schroeder, Todd Marinovich, Vince Evans, Marc Wilson, Dokie Williams, Coach Mike White, Ron Brown, Lester Hayes, Jeff George, Van McElroy, Jack Squirek and a host of other classics.

But I grew up in New York, which means I've been subjected to the run-run-pass Giants and the yeah-yeah-oh-no Jets on television since forever. I watched their games every Sunday for 20-plus years. Most of those Sunday afternoons were painful.

But three seasons ago, Chad Pennington cast his magic spell over the city of New York. He became the Winter Jeter. I, in turn, paid more interest to the results of those Jets games. I even bet $100 that the Jets would win more than 8.5 games in 2002.

So, in 2002, Restaurant friend Rob and I flew to Oakland for the Monday night game with the Jets. (Note: If you've never been to a Raiders home game, it's much scarier than prison, especially when 4-year-old girls walk past you with skull & bones necklaces and painted faces.) I cheered my Raiders' 26-20 victory, but on the plane to Vegas shortly thereafter, I lamented -- internally -- how the Jets needed to beat the Colts and Packers to finish 9-7 and win me $200. An unexamined bet is not worth betting.

The Jets miraculously won both games -- and the AFC East -- then went to Oakland to lose in the first round of the playoffs. The Raiders reached the Super Bowl that season, but in hindsight, I left my heart in Oakland that night in Network Associates Coliseum.

I've since watched every Jets game intently and purchased a Jets T-shirt, sweatshirt and wool hat. I even have an authentic Keyshawn Johnson No. 19 Jets jersey, though that was more through procurement than purchase.

Flash forward to Thursday morning: I'm sitting at my computer, having just placed an order on nflshop.com. I filled in all the shipping and billing fields, and the always exciting "No I don't want emails from your advertisers" check boxes. Here comes the "Johnny Moxon gut-check moment."

I was asked to select my favorite NFL team, presumably so nflshop.com could send me customized catalogs every three-and-a-half hours.

I paused. If I picked the Raiders, I'd be lying and doing such would cause more internal strife. Better to finally wash away my sins and cleanse my soul. Out damn spot!

But, if I picked the Jets, would I be turning my back on the team I grew up rooting for? This opened up an amazing amount of questions: Am I no better than a free agent? Can I really admit to switching teams at this late stage of life? What did the last 21 years mean to me, if I'm willing to throw it all away for Gang Green? Am I just a fan whore?

Do I call the Raiders and tell them what I'm about to do, or should I just keep it to myself like a woman who cheats on her boyfriend and then lets him find out on his own when he throws out her garbage and finds condom wrappers in the trash?

I picked the Jets. I waited about five minutes before clicking submit. I started to sweat, especially when I realized I was wearing a sleeveless Raiders T-shirt. Oh, this can't be good. Herm Edwards is calling to motivate me to click submit. Al Davis is knocking on my door. Michael Corleone is renouncing Satan's works as his orders for murder are carried out by his henchman. Am I about to do this?

YES I DID!

I'm a Jets fan nowadays. And this is not a bandwagon thing. You could reverse the records (Raiders are 4-8, Jets are 9-3) and I would still be writing this now. The Raiders will always have a piece of my heart, just like that ex-girlfriend you loved so well for so long, but I have to move on to greener pastures. That's Gang Greener. If the Jets somehow go into the dumper and miss the playoffs this season, I'll suffer with Jets fans, rather than laugh at Jets fans. It's a brave new world.

J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!

Fan forum: Switching allegiance, is it allowed?