THE RAIDERS: BACK TO OAKLAND : Fans Forgive, Welcome Team Back : Oakland: East Bay celebrates, proves its ardor for Raiders hasn't cooled.


Raider fans in Oakland cheered the announcement that the team is coming home.

"Tell those L.A. fans we're sorry they left, but the Raiders belong here in Oakland," said Stuart Sturges of Los Altos. "We won't have to call them the 'Traitors' anymore."

Wearing an Oakland Raider jacket, Mayor Lionel J. Wilson made the announcement in his City Hall office shortly after noon on Monday. As soon as the announcement was made, he was handed a T-shirt bearing the slogan: The Silver and Black are back.

David Green, a T-shirt distributor from Lafayette, Calif., said he had 10,000 T-shirts printed.

"The Raiders have a deep fan base," Green said. "We've always sold more Raider T-shirts than 49er, Washington Redskin or Dallas Cowboy T-shirts."

The announcement of the Raiders' return touched off a wild celebration at Ricky's Sports Lounge in San Leandro, Calif., a longtime Raider stronghold, where a huge banner--Welcome Home Raiders--was unfurled from the roof. A crowd of 150 jammed the lounge to watch Wilson's news conference on a wide-screen TV.

"I've been waiting 10 years for this day," said Gary Franklin of Livermore, the first customer in the door when Ricky's opened at 10:30 a.m. "How can you work on a day like this. This is a Raider holiday."

With "The Boys Are Back in Town," a raucous rock song, blasting from speakers and a Raider highlight film being replayed over and over, the Raider faithful hoisted free Raider beer mugs to welcome back their team. There was even a chair reserved for Raider owner Al Davis in the bar, which has a silver and black decor featuring pictures and mementos, such as the jerseys of George Blanda and Ken Stabler, on the walls.

"I can't say how happy I am," said Ricky Ricardo Jr., Ricky's owner. "It's a great, great time and a great feeling for the Oakland fans who've waited 10 years (actually eight) for them to come back. It was a long haul, but we didn't give up. It's a Northern California football team that got lost in Southern California, but they've come back up here to find their soul.

"The people here were supposed to be working, but this is a holiday. March 12 is going to go down as the most memorable day in the history of Oakland. It's going to be a holiday from now on."

Ricardo's patrons shared his joy. Many said they had called in sick to work to come to the bar.

Tom Cochran, a stockbroker from Los Altos, said he left the Wall Street ticker to check on the Raiders.

"I said, '(forget) the market,' let's see if the Raiders are coming back. The clients might not understand, but I did," Cochran said. "Look at this place, this is a Monday, these people aren't all alcoholics."

Karen Geesaman of San Leandro, who was wearing a Raider T-shirt and a Raider watch, said she scheduled her day off to be able to be at Ricky's for the celebration.

"I've always been a Raider fan," Geesaman said. "My dad raised me a Raider fan since I was knee-high. He's moved to Indiana, but I called him to let him know that the boys were back."

Although the Raiders failed to make the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Raider faithful has not lost the faith.

"The Raiders have been down south where Disneyland is and they've been playing fantasy football," said Jim Silver of Hayward, Calif. "But we're going to watch fantasy become reality when they come back to Oakland. You think the 49ers had a good decade in the 1980s? You wait, the Raiders are going to be the team of the '90s."

Although Raider season tickets are expected to be priced from $300 for end-zone seats to $2,000 for choice seats between the 45-yard lines, with luxury suites going for $45,000, fans aren't scared away by the high prices.

"I may have to go out to get a loan for my tickets, but I'll do whatever it takes," said Mike Smith of Oakland.

Although Oakland has made a financial commitment of $660 million to lure the Raiders back, fans don't think the money could be better spent on on other issues, such as improving the schools, helping the homeless and eradicating drugs and gangs.

"None of this money would even be earmarked for the schools or police," said Tom Edwards of Oakland. "If they want to float bonds for the schools and police we can do that too. Oakland has a lot of problems, but the Raiders will help us come together as a community. I think we're headed in the right direction."

Although Raider fans were angry with Davis for leaving Oakland, they were quick to forgive.

"The Raiders are like an old girlfriend that you're always willing to take back," said Kurt Christophersen of San Leandro. "The relationship might fizzle for a while but it's still there.

"I told my fiancee that our honeymoon is on hold now. The money is going for season tickets. She'll understand. I had season tickets when they left, and I'll have season tickets when they come back."

David Varnier, a student at the University of California, said he's willing to invest all of his money to acquire Raider season tickets.

"'If I had a chance to get season tickets, I'm going to get together as much money as I can and buy them," Varnier said. "It would involve my whole bankroll, but I could count on getting all of that back plus a lot more."

The scene was more low-key at Francesco's, an Italian restaurant where Raider players hung out when the team was based in Oakland.

"All the players came in and the coaches used to come in and Al used to come in and we're hoping to see them back again," said Dewey Bargiacchi, restaurant owner. "I'm happy to have them back. When I announced it over the microphone a cheer went up."

But not everyone in the Bay Area was cheering for the Raiders, particularly fans of the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.

"I think the Raiders see dollar signs," said Marcus Garcia, a 49er fan from Hayward. "They're money hungry. They sold out on us before, and they'll do it again. They sold out on L.A. If the money was in Sacramento, they'd go to Sacramento. Al Davis, he's greedy.

"Al Davis left because he's a businessman, and he's coming home because he's a businessman."

The announcement of the Raider return was greeted with apparent indifference in North Oakland, where residents are more concerned with a high-crime rate in the deteriorating neighborhood north of City Hall.

"They can stay where they're at," John Brooks said. "They were here and they didn't stay. I wouldn't spent a penny to go out there and see them. I'll do anything I can to help keep (them) out of here.

"The money they're spending on the Raiders could be spent on the homeless and feeding hungry kids."

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