Usebo Congaro, 42, wore a Raiders jersey, black leather pants with the left side rolled up to his knee and a grim expression as he walked downtown with his 39-year-old friend, Masebo Ayala. Congaro's outfit, which included a red baseball cap, was far from the more ghoulish garb, highlighted with fake swords, that many Raiders fans sport, especially in the Black Hole, a section in Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum, which is famous -- or infamous -- for its exuberant fans.
But as Ayala and Congaro strolled past restaurants like De' Medici and Great Fine Wine and Spirits near midnight Tuesday in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter, the tension was palpable. Some pedestrians seemed to give extra space to the Raiders fans.
"Animals," said John DeJonge, a 56-year-old salesman a few blocks away, when asked his view of all Raiders fans. They'll be coming into hostile territory Sunday, when the Raiders play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Qualcomm Stadium in Super Bowl XXXVII. It may be the first appearance for the Raiders in a Super Bowl since 1984 (when the team was in Los Angeles and it beat the Redskins), but San Diegans see the Raiders and their fans once a year when they play the Chargers at Qualcomm.
Over the next few days, swarms of fans who form Raider Nation are expected to descend on a town that has a strong military and conservative presence. It's about a 10-hour drive from Oakland, a blue-collar city that elected former governor Jerry Brown mayor in 1998.
And because of the rowdy image of Raiders fans, cemented here by incidents involving violence during Raiders-Chargers games, some residents have expressed concern while bracing themselves for the worst.
"I don't care if they tear the city up," said Steven Rosenberg, the owner of En Fuego, a cigar distributorship, walking to his car. "In fact, property values need to go down in this town."
Rosenberg's concerns are serious enough that he plans to head for Las Vegas for the weekend.
"They go over the top," Rosenberg said. "I moved here from Buffalo, and they [Bills fans] live and die for that team. But [Raiders fans] come out like freaks."
The most serious incident occurred Oct. 29, 2000, in a Raiders-Chargers game at Qualcomm. A Chargers fan, Daniel Napier, was stabbed by a Raiders fan in an act taped by a local television station. Napier survived and his assailant, Luise Fernand Uribe, from a Los Angeles suburb, was sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated assault. Another fan, Dan Garcia, received probation.
In a 1996 incident, a Raiders fan bit part of a Chargers fan's ear at an Ocean Beach bar after an argument.
Those incidents have been hard for San Diegans to shake.
"I don't like the Raider fans. They are obnoxious and crazy," said DeJonge. "It's not the Raiders; it's the fans. They are troublemakers because if they lose, forget about it: All hell will break loose."
Cab driver Roy Patrick recalls a less violent incident but one that has left a mark. Patrick, 37, said he was in the parking lot of Qualcomm after a Raiders-Chargers game when a fan jumped on the hood of his car.
"I was getting ready to get out the car and say something," said Patrick, who yesterday pointed out the marks on the hood. "I looked around. I didn't have no teammates out there. You'd think you were in Oakland. It was all silver and black. So I rolled my windows up and drove off. Sometimes it's just in fun. But a lot of times they can get out of hand."
John Weipert, who considers himself the quintessential member of Raider Nation, bristles at the mention of the past. Weipert, a 30-year-old waiter from Santa Rosa, wore a replica of Jerry Rice's No. 80 Raiders jersey, with several black, white and silver beads draped around his neck. The screen of Weipert's cell phone displays Raiders owner Al Davis's famous mantra, "Just win, baby."
Weipert believes that the media contributes to the unsavory image of Raiders fans by highlighting isolated acts.
"The media can make the story whatever it wants to make it," said Weipert. "If you want to make it that the Raiders fans are loud, obnoxious, drunk, cheap, you can say that. But my Raiders friends, they are classy people. They are businessmen. Raider Nation is one nation. Me, you, everybody."
But not San Diegans. On Friday, the San Diego Union-Tribune carried a front-page headline: "What If You Threw a Party and the Raider Nation Came?" with a sub-headline: "Oakland fans likely to get wary welcome in San Diego."
On Tuesday, the Oakland Tribune countered with a front-page headline: "San Diego Full of Raider Haters," with local merchants accusing the Raiders fans of being cheap tippers, among their lesser actions.
Today, the Union-Tribune published a letter to the editor by Marcie Churchill of San Diego, who wrote: "So the Raiders are finally here to play in the Super Bowl. As bad as that may be for San Diego fans, it will be great news for John Walsh [host of 'America's Most Wanted']. Think of it. All of America's most wanted will be gathered together at Qualcomm Stadium."
This week, Chargers players found the Raiders' presence unwelcome again. Their rivals were assigned their locker room at Qualcomm.
"It's like -- I can't even explain the feeling that you get knowing they're going to be in there, using our facility," running back LaDainian Tomlinson told the Union-Tribune. "It's kind of like someone you don't know coming into your home -- your rival, your worst enemy -- and you can't do anything about it."
While San Diegans may not look kindly on Raiders fans, their team loves them.
When the Raiders arrived Monday night at their hotel in La Jolla, they were greeted by a mob of Raiders fans wearing jerseys of their favorite players. The fans hovered by the lobby and politely asked for autographs.
"I think we need to put away this perception that you have all bad Raiders fans," said Rice, Congaro's favorite player. "You're going to have a few knuckleheads that are going to go out there and cause some madness."
The players say they draw inspiration from all those painted faces and everything that goes on in the stands.
According to Raiders fans, Rice's description makes them little different from other spectators around the league. Since arriving here this week, Weipert says that he has occasionally been harassed by Chargers fans. And Monday, the situation got dicey, Weipert said, when he had to escape six Chargers fans who tried to jump him. "You can't say that all Chargers fans are idiots," said Weipert. "It works both ways."