1. It has three major teams — and three major sports — to choose from.
Oakland fields contenders for the three biggest of America’s pastimes: the Raiders (football), the Warriors (basketball), and the Athletics (you can just call them the A’s, baseball).
To put that in perspective, the NFL has 32 teams, and the NBA and MLB have 30 each. 92 teams total spread over the entire country. Most gravitate to the huge population centers: New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles. The others are sprinkled about the country, and most smaller cities and towns are lucky to attract just one sports franchise. Oakland gets all three.
A smaller city pulling that off says everything you need to know about how fanatical the city is about its sports.
2. The city actually rallies.
And fanatical they are. You should expect nothing less from the city that actually managed to make something out of the Occupy movement. Most cities of Oakland’s caliber rally around whatever sports team they have, but that’s simply because they only have one. With three, you’d expect some poaching of fan bases. Or at least directional apathy (you can only care so much, you’d think).
Not so for Oaktown. The city seemingly comes together for every sports game, every season, packing the bars (of which Oakland is packed — more on that next) and cheering on their boys no matter what kind of ball they’re throwing around. More than that, Oakland fans take their dedication to new and innovative heights. A’s fans were the first to perform a televised version of “the Wave,” during a game against the Yankees in 1981, and the foundations of the modern Fantasy Football craze were laid by Raiders supporters in the early ’60s.
The only thing better than watching sports is watching sports with an ice-cold beer in hand. And luckily, Oakland is a top-notch beer town. There’s the usual liquor-store fare, sure — and watching sports may be the only time grabbing a case of cheap brew is acceptable — but Oakland is also home to some of the best craft beer dispensaries in the country.
Good Hop Bottle Shop in particular is damn near all-encompassing, featuring 600 different kinds of craft beer and a chance to try them out in the store. Beer Revolution is another spot where you can order both “for here” and “to go.” For specialty taps you won’t find at your typical sports bar, hit up the Trappist in Old Oakland. And then you’ve got local brewing operations link Linden Street supplying dozens of bars in both the East and West Bay. All these quality craft beer options helped earn Oakland a spot on this year’s Forbes list of “America’s Coolest Cities.”
4. The weather is awesome.
Sure, it’s more a general statement about Oakland itself than it is about its sports. But have you ever watched a home game for the Green Bay Packers? There’s so much snow and mud on the field the players can hardly see. And that’s saying nothing about the fans — try cooking a hot dog in the stadium parking lot when it’s 3 degrees out the sleet’s coming down sideways.
Sure, it’s NorCal, and there are foggy days on the bay. But that -Cal suffix still stands for something, and even at its worst Oakland’s O.co Stadium doesn’t need to put a roof over its field, thanks to the city’s 265 days of sunshine a year. Going to a game there hits every romantic image that makes American sports great.
5. There’s fierce competition right next door.
They say competition spurs development. So you’d better believe Oakland, sitting right next to San Francisco, is gonna be driving that competition right up. The West Coast is lousy with great teams. There are the 49ers and the Giants right in Oakland’s backyard. The Chargers, Padres, Lakers, and Clippers are just a few hours south. All of those teams have a fierce following and a winning history, and Oakland faces all of them. Oakland is great by necessity.
Even when they’re not competing, the specter of rivalry hangs heavy. The comparisons will always happen, and Oakland has to work harder than anybody else to prove themselves. And they’ve proved themselves continuously through the gauntlet.
6. Everybody loves an underdog.
It’s not always about the king of the hill knocking down every chump who makes the mistake of coming for the high ground. People want an underdog story. They want to root for the guy climbing the hill.
San Francisco is good at sports. The Giants are obviously a major powerhouse, blowing away the baseball competition and winning the World Series twice in the last four years. But people want to see the city on the other side of the bay come on over and kick their ass for the sole reason that it’ll validate every struggle in their own lives. If the A’s can do it, so can they.
That extends far beyond the borders of Oakland — it puts the city on a pedestal to everyone who follows the game. So no matter where they’re playing, or whom, rooting for Oakland is a smart choice. When you’re in the city proper, it’s a choice you’ll never even have to make.
7. The teams (and fans) have badass nicknames.
This is a pretty shallow aspect of the sport, but if nicknames didn’t play some part in the development of a persona, we wouldn’t have the King, the Boss, the Windy City, or the Dark Knight. And then where would we be? Most teams go for the easy answer. The Cards. The Bolts. Come on. Anybody could come up with a nickname directly referencing the mascot. That’s eighth-grade quality. That’s naming the kid who peed his pants last year “Pee Pants.”
Oakland is better than that. Just look at the Raiders. Their nicknames are the Men in Black, the Team of the Decades, America’s Most Wanted. Throw those into a casual conversation and people are gonna wonder what they did to earn names like that. Even their fans, aka Raider Nation, get in on the action, taking on the moniker “the Black Hole.”
Mystique is a powerful succubus, and soon those same people will be proud supporters of America’s Most Wanted without even knowing quite why they’re called that.
8. And they’ll play the villain if they need to.
And they’ve earned their nicknames. On the inside, the Raiders are big puppies that use their considerable clout to support social causes, such as by playing charity basketball games against the 49ers (spoiler: the Raiders won) and visiting sick kids in children’s hospitals. But on the outside, they’re more than happy to play the villain. You don’t wrap yourself in black and silver and take on the Jolly Roger as a mascot unless you want that mystique to include just a touch of fear.
But look at the track record. The Joker. Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. The only thing people love rooting for more than an underdog is a villain. They’ve always got the better outfits, the grander plans, the cool disregard for the rules you have to abide by. So Oakland will be the villain if you want them to be. They don’t need your validation. They only need you staring in awe.
9. Just ask John Madden.
Pow! You know who this is. John Madden is famous now for the long series of NFL video games bearing his name, and for his colorful commentating style that makes it easy for the non-fan to understand the game. “If they want to win, they’re going to need to score more touchdowns than the other team in this second half,” and all that. With a fair amount of “bang” and “doink!” thrown in for good measure. The man is a national treasure.
But before all that, John Madden was a Raider. After a stint as an assistant coach at SDSU, the Raiders brought Madden on as a linebacker coach in 1967. He was head coach by 1969 (now that’s Madden-style mathematics) and finished his first season with a record of 12-1-1. In 1976, they got their first championship ring.
So these days it may be the video games and the “doink!”s that color Madden’s legacy. But the man led the Raiders for 10 years, and his overall winning percentage ranks second in the league’s history. He never had a losing season. Remember that the next time you play a game of Madden with your best friend at a party.
10. Its teams have winning pedigrees.
As rare as it is for a smaller city to have a major sports team, it’s even rarer to have a winning one. But even without Madden at the helm, Oakland has a history of taking home the Ws. The Raiders have won rings in ’76, ’80, and ’83, and that says nothing of their five conference championships, 15 divisional championships, and 21 playoff appearances.
The A’s have won the World Series nine times and have American League Pennant titles to their name. And though the Warriors haven’t always played in Oakland, the history of the franchise includes three championships. A city of underdogs, a city of champions.
11. The A’s have the highest MLB winning percentage this season.
Yes, the A’s last World Series win was in 1989. But as of this writing, the team is skyrocketing towards the playoffs with a win percentage of .574, third highest in the MLB. The Raiders are in preseason and looking pretty damn impressive themselves, and the Warriors are poised to improve on their sixth-seed slot in last season’s Western Conference standings.
People talk trash on bandwagon fans, the guys who start rooting for a team after they’re already successful and act like they’ve been in it since the beginning. Want to avoid that? Start rooting for Oakland now. Feature photo: Nicole Abalde