Driving down Coliseum way in East Oakland on a Sunday afternoon in mid-September, it looked as if housing had raptured away from the Town along with the Raiders, and Oakland had been left behind to fend for itself on the streets.
Along 66th avenue, the Oakland Raider fan group “66th Mob” was giving out free food to the unhoused, but I was here to talk to a member of another fan group a block away.
Twenty-four hours before the Raiders would play their first ever game at their shiny new stadium in Las Vegas, Kalvin Lathan, one of the founders of “Da Kreww Tailgaterz,” agreed to meet me at the spot where Da Kreww used to rendezvous before heading into every Oakland Raider home game.
“You can feel the abandonment and desolation like a scene out of Star Wars with the ravaged vehicles and junk,” he remarked about the current state of Coliseum way.
The story of Oakland Raiders fans parallels the story of Oakland. Oaklanders have lost their homes because other people with more money wanted to claim their city, and Oakland Raiders fans have lost their team because another city was willing to spend more money to claim their identity.
Dressed in his Raiders fan costume of a baseball cap, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, Lathan was in his feelings about not organizing a home opening game tailgate party for the first time since 1994. “It feels like being a 16 year-old boy who got dumped, and she ran off with the captain of the football team,” he admitted.
The first home game of the season is special throughout the NFL, but it was extra special in Oakland because there was always hope that the team might be good.
Unfortunately, since returning from their brief stay in Los Angeles, the Raiders only won 40% of their games. More often than not, they weren’t good, and in some years, they were bad in epic ways.
Despite that lack of on-field success, Oakland Raiders fans have supported the team with a passion unrivaled in the professional sports world, and the Raider Nation has only grown in size all around the globe. The Raiders franchise has a rabid fan base in three different cities (Oakland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas), and have successfully hosted games in 5 different countries over the past three decades (they are 2-6 in international games).
In fact, the worldwide passion of the Raider Nation is why the NFL felt comfortable making the move into a smaller media market, and Lathan epitomizes that passion.
In previous years, he would have been very busy the week prior to the home opener organizing one of the best tailgate parties in the entire NFL. In addition to personally spending over $800 on premium alcohol that would be given out for free, he would have also been helping coordinate the food menu for a group involving 20 cars and over 100 more people who arrive on foot.
But in 2020, for the first time since 1995, Lathan and Da Kreww did not tailgate in East Oakland before the Raiders home opener.
Tailgating in East Oakland was different. First of all, Oakland had the best weather in the league. Also, Raiders fans are incredibly diverse, yet also inclusive to the point of feeding you and getting you drunk. Throw in the best pre-game soundtrack in the entire NFL, and the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum was lit before Raiders games.
Lathan is a lifelong die-hard Raiders fan who was born and raised in East Oakland. His parents were Raiders season ticket holders during the team’s first stint in Oakland, and he says, “It’s in my DNA.”
The Castlemont High alumnus says that his first Raiders memory was the “Immaculate Reception” playoff game in 1972. He was just 5 years old. “There were some upset people in my household,” he reminisces about the blown call by the referees that ushered in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty.
Da Kreww’s first tailgate party occurred before a preseason game in 1995, the first game of the Raiders’ second stint in Oakland. It was Lathan, his brother Michael, and his Airborne Express coworkers Tony Fumar, Chris Corby, and Belden Granada.
Lathan describes that first tailgate as “Five guys with a hibachi grill, chicken adobo, and Alizé.”
Da Kreww has grown considerably in the 25 years since then. They added a full bar, several incredible “grill-ologists,” bakers, DJs, and television sets for watching other NFL games. At one point, they even had pole dancing.
In the two years following the Raiders’ announcement that they would leave Oakland for the second time, many fans severed their ties with the team completely, yet Da Kreww was still bringing out 100-200 people before every home game. Lathan estimates that about one third of Da Kreww stopped going into the game, but still came out for the tailgate parties.
A lifelong, die-hard fan like Lathan, Myra Gloria was one of the “Bartenderonis” who ran the bar during Da Kreww tailgate parties.
Gloria, who was in utero during the 1974 “Sea of Hands” game that ended the Miami Dolphins’ dynasty, grew up on Naval Air Station Alameda, and recently moved out of Oakland. Her tailgate specialty was Everclear jello shots, which she brought to every game.
Gloria says that her favorite memories were the AFC Championship victory in 2003 and the New Orleans season opener in 2016.
Da Kreww organized one road trip every year. 2016 was the Raiders’ most successful year in the past two decades, and the team opened that season in New Orleans with a thrilling one point comeback victory in the final minute of the game.
Having traveled to other stadiums around the league, Gloria says that she liked the “nostalgic” vibe of the Oakland Coliseum, and was even proud of the baseball diamond that was on the field for every home opener. The Coliseum in East Oakland was the last stadium that was shared by professional football and baseball teams.
Like Lathan, Gloria is in her feelings about the team’s move. “I’m bitter,” she says.
As a coping mechanism, she has been “infiltrating” Las Vegas fan groups online, and has even attended some of their Zoom parties. “They’re lame,” she surmises, noting that these groups are all asking for membership fees, something that Da Kreww never did.
Gloria has also found an ad circulating online charging $400 to tailgate in the Las Vegas stadium parking lot on game days, even though fans are not allowed into the stadium this year.
When asked if she had a Raider name or game day costume, she laughed heartily, adding “I didn’t need one.”
“I like bougie stuff so I definitely gave out bougie stuff,” says Lathan about the food and drink available at Da Kreww tailgate parties. The chefs had a different theme for every game, and they were all competitive. They even had a popular rib cook off every year.
“It was for bragging rights,” Lathan says about Da Kreww’s ongoing quest to impress. “Some of it was showmanship.”
Despite the emphasis on quality product, he says that whenever the subject of charging money for the parties came up, he was always opposed.
So why did Lathan organize 10 free parties every year for 25 years? According to him, “It has everything to do with the people.”
Lathan says that he loved the camaraderie at East Oakland tailgate parties, where people treated each other like family. “I love the game day experience. I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces.”
It is worth noting that Lathan’s game day experience involved waking up at the crack of dawn, hauling the bar to the game, packing it all up while everyone else watched the kickoff and first quarter, and often ending up disappointed by the outcome of the game itself.
He is also very proud of the inclusiveness of Da Kreww tailgate parties. “We never turned anyone away,” he boasts. “I love the euphoria of doing this. It’s therapeutic to give and not ask for anything in return.”
In addition to the annual rib cook off and road trip to a Raiders away game, Da Kreww also held successful toy drives and coat drives every year around the holidays.
Lathan watched last Monday’s Las Vegas opener at a bar in East Oakland, and Gloria watched the game at a friend’s house. They are both still Raiders fans who are still loyal to Oakland, and they are both still active members of Da Kreww.
There won’t be any road trips this year, but Lathan says that there are plans to resume them in the future. When asked if she would go on a road trip to Las Vegas, Gloria quickly responded, “Not anytime soon.”
However, Lathan not only plans to go on a road trip to Las Vegas, he could also see himself moving there after his retirement. But, he says that there is a waiting list for season tickets, and he is not sure whether he will be able to afford them anyway. Las Vegas Raiders tickets are 527% more expensive than Oakland Raiders tickets were.
Gloria says that she was not happy about ESPN fawning over Las Vegas during pre-game television coverage. When asked via text how she was feeling, she replied with multiple crying emojis.
Watching pre-game coverage on television was “surreal” for Lathan. Via text, he told me, “Right now, there’s an emptiness.”
“I’ve spent 80% of my adult life devoted to this team. Yet I know that this team is, like The Jeffersons, movin’ on up.”