In their Darth Vader outfits, the Oakland Raiders unquestionably are the most hated team in American football, and Cliff Boston relishes the image.
He wriggles on his bar stool, smiling without embarrassment or apologies, as he explains why he roots for the bad guys.
"I love their reputation for playing dirty. They play to win, and that's the kind of team I like," says the 33-year-old hospital janitor, looking over the many Raider pictures and pennants on the walls of Uppy's, the bar on Oakland's waterfront Jack London Square owned by Raider captain Gene Upshaw.
Boston has been a Raider fan since he used to sneak under the gate and watch them play in the mud, before they moved into the Oakland Coliseum.
With 10,000 other fans, he cheered the team when it flew back from San Diego last Sunday night after what one local sports commentator, struggling to express his shock, called the biggest upset since the English defeated the Spanish Armada.
For the moment, the bitterness and anger of the Raiders' threatened move to Los Angeles was forgotten in the bliss of achieving another Super Bowl. It was almost a schizophrenic reaction: the fans loved the Raiders. The team was theirs, even if Raider owner Al Davis was a hated carpetbagger who wanted to steal the team away.
City officials promptly declared "Oakland Raider Week" and hastily began planning a brass band parade for when the team returns from meeting the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in New Orleans next Sunday.
"Nobody was expecting them to go this far," said George Dini, the assisstant city manager. "The Raiders were born and nurtured here since their inception. We don't have any other feeling other than pride."
Explaining the devotion of Raider fans is not difficult. Oakland and the Raiders have a bond that goes beyond pride. Ever since gold rush pioneer Moses Chase pitched the first squatters tent in the mud of the rancho of Spanish grandee Don Luis Maria Peralta and gazed across the fog-draped bay at the booming settlement of Yerba Buena, Oaklanders have had an inferiority complex about San Francisco.
Theirs was a prim, bland town while San Francisco was lurid and sinful. Early mayors sent for school-teachers, not madames, and Oakland's first mayor praised his domain in 1854 as a "favorable place to rest and residences for families who can escape the dust and turmoil of San Francisco."
Those wicked guys in black and silver always seem to be the underdogs to their loyal fans. They are the Cinderellas whom nobody favored in any playoff game this season -- although the Raiders have had 16 consecutive winning seasons and mauled the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl in 1977.
At the start of the season, they were a homeless team of aging players, a stable of misfits and an expensive quarterback, Dan Pastorini, who was soon to break a leg.
Yet, as the Raiders defeated team after team and increased the legion of Raider haters, their fans put aside their rage over the move and responded with glee. It was the little guys versus the big guys, the way they had always felt about their city.
Cliff Boston, savoring last Sunday's surprise victory over his beer, explained it: "The fans like the idea of the Raiders doing it to more glamorous teams. Their style of play suits Oakland. They play dirty and tough, and you've got to be tough to survive in Oakland."
Judged purely by appearances, Oakland is a pleasant city, unlike the blighted older cities of the East. With a backdrop of lush, wooded hills bordering 10,000 acres of regional parks within easy commuting time from San Francisco, it is beginning to attract families who can find reasonable homes at prices much lower than elsewhere in the Bay area.
It has a black mayor, former judge Lionel Wilson, and strong neighborhood organizations that gave a festive kickoff last November to a community project with the theme "Let's Get the Hell out of Oakland and put more Love Back In."
Says Don Kechely, director of the Chamber of Commerce: "Oakland is often demeaned as being a second-rate city that just anchors the east end of the Bay bridge. In reality, we
The raiders have helped to change attitudes about their city.
"the team has put us on the map, and helped us identify Oakland," Kechely explained. "It attracts new business to the city, and gives us a sense of community pride and cohesiveness."
But it is a symbiotic relationship: Oakland built the Coliseum for the Raiders and gave Davis 12 years of sellout crowds. Now the community resents Davis' lack of appreciation.
Davis was called contemptible and even immoral in the frothings that followed last January's $17 million deal with Los Angeles.
Yet last year, while pointing out that the Oakland Coliseum will soon be the second-smallest stadium in the league, he insisted:
"Loyalty is big with me. I feel we owe something to the fans who have supported us for so long . . . Money isn't everything. Honest to God."
Six months later in July, he was saying: "I'm still heading for Los Angles. I made the decision to stay in Oakland for now because I had to minimize the damage to our football team for this season. So for now, I'll stay as hostage of the NFL. But in the end we will win. Sure some fans are angry and I would expect them to be . . . but, above all, we are going to stay competitive no matter what it takes."
And last week, despite fan Milo Tichacek's daily biplane flights over his Piedmont home towing a huge banner that says, "Al Davis -- Have a Heart. Don't Tear our Raiders and Oakland Apart," Davis was still unrelenting.
Davis and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle met in San Francisco to try to settle their differences before next month's federal court trial in the Raiders' antitrust suit.
The meeting was intense and frosty. And both Rozelle and Davis' attorney, former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto, agreed that hope for a settlement was unrealistic.
If the Raiders win the Super Bowl, Oakland may find itself celebrating a hollow victory.