Wide receiver Laveranues Coles claims that an octogenarian woman gave him the finger from the stands the last time the New York Jets visited Oakland. "An old lady, about eighty-something," Coles told New York reporters this week, "and she shot me the bird."
Jets center Kevin Mawae says that in recent games at Oakland Coliseum, now called Network Associates Coliseum, he has been pelted by batteries, coins and even a chicken bone.
"When they throw chicken bones," Mawae said, "you know they have to be rabid fans."
Raiders fans, with their grotesque, gaudy outfits, are perhaps the NFL's most notorious -- none more so than the contingent comprising the Black Hole, behind the south end zone of the Coliseum. Yet in New York's past three games in Oakland, the Jets have done something unthinkable for other visiting teams: warmed up near the Black Hole instead of the less hostile north end, and even exchanged banter with spectators.
The unusual behavior by the Jets stems from a familiarity -- if not comfort -- with the Raiders' home arena. And when the Jets and Raiders play today in an AFC semifinal game, it will be their fourth meeting in Oakland in the past 20 games (or 53 weeks). They also met for a playoff game in Oakland last season, with the Raiders winning the first-round matchup.
"It almost feels like a home away from home," Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said this week. "We really enjoy playing in that atmosphere. I think our team feeds off that crowd, and we love a hostile atmosphere."
The Jets, who have lost three of four against the Raiders, have been forced into the hostile environment on a consistent basis. A quirk in scheduling and playoff pairing have made the clubs akin to NBA teams that play each other four times during the regular season.
The past five games between Jets and Raiders have been at the Coliseum. "It's kind of laughable when you think about it," said Jets Coach Herman Edwards, who grew up about two hours south of Oakland in Seaside, Calif.
"When we pull up in front of that [visiting team] hotel, they all know the players. The guy in the coffee place right up the street, they will have my table ready for me when I go up there Saturday morning."
If so, the coffee will be similar to the two teams: hot.
The Jets have won eight of their past 10 games, including the final three in the regular season to make the playoffs. After a midseason slump, the Raiders have won seven of their past eight to gain the top seed in the AFC.
There seems to be a perception that the Jets are the most sizzling team in the NFL. (The Titans, statistically, are the hottest team having won 10 of their past 11 games.) Perhaps many are beginning to believe in the Jets based on their past three games, which have seen them outscore opponents 113-34 -- all in must-win situations.
Don't count the Raiders among the believers.
This week, Raiders guard Frank Middleton played down New York's 41-0 victory over the Colts on Saturday. "I don't think the Colts should have been in the playoffs," Middleton scoffed.
Added Raiders tackle Lincoln Kennedy: "Just because we didn't play last week doesn't mean that we're cooling off."
The Raiders may have to take satisfaction in being 7-1-1 against the Jets at the Coliseum, including victories in the past two games. However, the Jets have played well recently against the Raiders: In their last meeting -- a Monday night game on Dec. 2 -- the Raiders won, 26-20. But that game wasn't decided until Pennington's desperation heave was intercepted at the 9-yard line on the final play. (The Jets got the ball on their 26-yard line with no timeouts yet drove into Raiders territory before the interception.)
Last season the Raiders defeated the Jets, 38-24, in a first-round playoff game. Just six days earlier, the Jets stunned the Raiders, 24-22, in the 2001 regular season finale to earn the postseason spot.
"You get a feel for their scheme and players," Raiders Coach Bill Callahan said. "You know their weakness and their strengths. But each game takes on a separate entity. And this will be no different."
Despite their recent meetings, this is a different Jets team than the one the Raiders are familiar with. Since that Monday night game last month, Pennington has thrown 145 passes without an interception. The Raiders converted eight of 16 third downs against the Jets last month, but New York's defense has allowed third-down conversion rates of 38 percent to the Colts, 29 percent to the Packers and 38 percent to the Patriots in its past three games.
"We're doing a lot of things better than we were at the time [of the 26-20 loss]," said safety Sam Garnes, part of a unit that has intercepted four passes in the past three games. "We're going full tilt."
Added Edwards: "I think we're better, and I think our confidence is a lot better."
The Jets will need more than confidence to beat the Raiders at the Coliseum, where Oakland has won four straight. And just because New York is more at ease than others playing in Oakland doesn't mean that the clubs don't dislike each other.
The Raiders have used comments by Jets guard Dave Szott as bulletin-board material. After the Jets defeated the Colts last week, Szott was asked about the previous game against the Raiders. "I think if you look at that game," Szott said, "we just ran out of time. It's not like they clearly beat us."
Some Raiders clipped out the quote and tacked it on the bulletin board in their locker room. In the Jets' locker room, tackle Josh Evans has accused Raiders guards Mo Collins and Middleton of employing illegal chop-blocking techniques in the last game. Middleton responded by saying, "If he didn't like it then, he's sure not going to like it now."
The teams have even traded insults this week because of the celebration for Tim Brown in that Monday night game after the wideout made his 1,000th career reception in the third quarter. The Raiders were down 10-6 when play was stopped for five minutes as several of Brown's relatives made appearances on the field. When play resumed with the Raiders facing third and 10, Rich Gannon threw a 26-yard touchdown to wideout Jerry Rice.
"What type of [expletive] is that? Aunts, cousins, they're running all over the field," Evans said this week.
Responded Brown: "That's something they're probably upset about now, but five, 10 years from now, they'll be telling their kids and grandkids."
One thing is certain for next season: these familiar opponents are scheduled to meet yet again -- in Oakland, of course.