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Oakland Welcomes Raiders Back Home : Pro football: An estimated 46,000 turn out to see 27-22 exhibition victory over Rams.

August 13, 1995|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — When Mike White tried to walk onto the the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum field Saturday for the first time as Raider coach, he found his path barred by a security guard.

"Who are you?" the guard asked.

That guard, whose name will forever be lost in infamy, was in the minority among the estimated 46,000, who sounded at times like 90,000 in a stadium that seats 51,000 for football.

The first arrivals for the first game of the second era of the Oakland Raiders had no trouble recognizing the team when it first came into sight, arriving on three buses at 9 a.m. for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the St. Louis Rams.

That's when the first of many roars was heard, the excitement extending throughout the Raiders' 27-22 exhibition victory.

Raider defensive lineman Nolan Harrison, who has been highly critical of Los Angeles fans, felt the force of that roar as he got off the bus.

"I thought I had my game face on," Harrison said, "but I couldn't hold back the smile."

Even at that early hour, the parking lot was filled with vans and various other vehicles decorated with Raider decals, flags, pillows and other items blending into a sea of silver and black.

John Hannah of Concord, Calif., a Raider season-ticket holder in the 70s, brought a van he calls the Raidermobile, its sides painted with the signatures of former Raiders.

Gazing out his door at the footballs being tossed and the ribs being cooked in the rapidly filling parking lot, he said, "This is what life is about."

T-shirts proclaiming "They're back" were hotter than a personal-seat license.

One fan walked through the crowd wearing a Darth Vader costume, the cape on his back and the sword in one hand reading "Dark Raider," the shield in his other hand reading "Defense."

Jerry Chastain of the Northern California city of Fairfield was proudly displaying the gold Raider logo hanging on a chain around his neck and a tattoo to match.

"This is the longest road trip they've ever been on," he said, pointing to the players warming up on the field. "I'm glad they're home."

In another corner of the Coliseum, Lee Carpenter of Hayward, Calif., silver and black painted on his face, said, "I still don't know if it's going to happen until they get out there."

Mark Tadiello of Antioch marched through the stands displaying his personalized license plate containing the words "Rai Duhz."

Then came the pregame introductions, firing up the crowd once again.

"When I heard 'Your . . . Oakland . . . Raiders," Harrison said, "it made my heart skip. I knew it was real. It was time."

Quarterback Jeff Hostetler was equally impressed.

"It was amazing," he said. "It was the loudest crowd I've ever heard for a preseason game."

And how did Hostetler think it would be for the team's first regular-season home game Sept. 3 against the San Diego Chargers?

"There will be chills," Hostetler said. "I was with the New York Giants for nine years and we had some great crowds in New York, but this was special.

"When you have a crowd as loud and supportive as this one, that kind of a crowd will win a couple of games for us."

Before taking the field, Hostetler took it all in.

"I just sat on the sideline," he said, "looked around and thought, 'This is home.' "

While the Raiders couldn't seem to say enough good things about their new fans, they were hesitant to criticize their old ones in Los Angeles.

"I would never put the L.A. fans down," defensive lineman Anthony Smith said. "They came to fight and they came to cheer.

"But here, I was pumped at 9 a.m."

Raider executive assistant Al LoCasale, one of the holdovers from the Raiders' first stay here, was also careful not to point a finger at Los Angeles fans.

"We never complained about the L.A. fans," LoCasale said. "Our problems were with the facilities and the broken promises. We could have had more fans, but those that were there have to be credited."

Raider owner Al Davis declined comment, choosing to share his obvious pleasure over the day's events with old friends.

But as he walked through the crowd, fans reached out to pat him on the back and yell, "You made the right move, Al."

Raider Notes

Raider running back Greg Robinson scored the first touchdown for the new Oakland Raiders, racing into the end zone on a 10-yard run in the first quarter. . . . Calvin Jones was the Raiders' leading rusher with 64 yards, nearly double the total of the entire Ram squad. The Rams ran for only 35 yards and averaged 1.7 per carry. . . . Former Raider Alexander Wright was the game's leading pass receiver with five catches for 61 yards for the Rams.

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