“In Honor of Azel’s birthday 10/5; RIP”
Today was just one of those days where not much goes right. Nothing seemed to work and go well. I came home, opened up an ice cold Bass beer and read the news hoping for a story that would make me smile. I first found out that one of my favorite Hispanic actresses Elizabeth Pena was dead at 55. What a great career and what a cool lady. I then got another shocker. One of the all time iconic Oakland Raider fans had also passed. I couldn’t relax before writing a little about him. His name was Azel Grasty Sr., AKA the Oaktown Pirate (Raider).
The Oakland Coliseum; (I’m not calling it that other name) is the most unique environment in the NFL. I’ve been to other stadiums and what I love about Oakland is the diversity of the fans. Let’s be real; if you watch a game in places like New England, Denver, and New York; most of the fans are white. In Oakland, all walks of life are there. Black, brown, white, red; and with so many that dress up, silver and grey too.
Raider fans are like no other so when one of the iconic fans passes on, I always remember the glory days. I love history and the Raiders history is of legend, and in those times there was no place like the Oakland Coliseum. During the fall the overcast gray skies, the fans dressed in black, and the enclosed stadium made it more like a thunderous tomb than somewhere to play football. Don Shula and the Dolphins players hated everything Raider; the fans, the players, the colors. Don Shula once called Oakland hell, and Chiefs head coach Hank Stram said he was going to call the governor of California and make him stop allowing inmates from San Quentin to be released on Sundays so that they couldn’t come to any more games. Steelers coach Chuck Noll hated the Raiders so much in time he refused to mention them. He felt the Raiders were the criminal element and evil and so were their fans. He once called John Madden before a game to complain about rats in their dressing room. Coach Madden laughed and said, “really? There are some in our dressing room too!”
In the first 11 years at the Oakland Coliseum the Raiders were 66-9-2. The House of Thrills was not the place to be for opponents.
I remember many years later being on a business trip in Denver and Cincinnati and wearing a Raider sweater and people by the dozens booing me at the mall. It was so much fun being hated. Now I know what Ty Cobb meant. It was wonderful!
Even though I’m a writer trying to be honest and un-biased, my family’s roots are deep in the tradition of Oakland Raider football. My father as a young man would go to the Raiders games at Candlestick Park and Frank Youell Field and told me stories of how the Raiders front office staff would go to local restaurants and give away tickets just so people would come. Their fan base was built from the ground up and in time, the waiting list for tickets was in the thousands. Many of the players didn’t make a lot of money and most had off season jobs and many became friends with the fans and even work with them. My dad became friends with a few of them and in his dealings as a Teamster; he had the opportunity to get to know them better. The bond between Oakland Fan and player was as deep rooted as any sports relationship in history. The “gatherings” among fans and players in Santa Rosa during training camp still would make a truck driver blush. It was just a special time. To many fans the Raiders were their team. In Oakland they were our family.
No place was louder and more intimidating than the Oakland Coliseum. As the great George Atkinson once said, “you come into our house you better be prepared to fight, and fight all of us”. No team had a better fan base.
That’s why every year when I hear the news of a great long time Raider fan passing, it really hurts deep. As the years go by we are losing more and more of them. Time can be a cruel mistress.
One of those iconic fans was Azel Grasty Sr. who passed away at the age of 57; much too young of a man to leave us.
Azel was like most Raider fans that dress up; he was unique. His Raider fan persona was the Oaktown Pirate, dressed up in full silver and black pirate gear. He even had contacts that made his pupils look different. Many major news outlets like ESPN and Yahoo sports did stories about him and other fans and showed photos of them. Azel enjoyed kids, and fans of all ages, and loved having a good time. Azel donated a lot of his time to others and was very proud of his involvement in youth football. There is a sweet video on Youtube of Azel meeting some youth football players at the Oakland Coliseum. I met him a couple of times and he couldn’t have been nicer and funnier. He really loved people. He also served our country and was a U.S Veteran.
I think what is funny too is that the more menacing, evil, and scary some of the Raider fans make themselves up to be, they usually end up being the complete opposite. Azel was that way too. When he was dressed up as the Oaktown Pirate, you would think little kids would be scared of him, but every game kids were coming up to give him high fives, or take a picture with him. His heart was as big as his smile.
There are so many photos of him on Yahoo, ESPN, facebook and Twitter that you could fill a book. He never took himself too seriously and loved mingling with others. He was kind, fun, and showed what being a fan is all about.
I was really appreciative of all of the great things people said about Azel on social media. Even with the frustration, anger and rants of some Raider fans through all of the losing, they still remain some of the kindest, warm hearted and down to earth people you’d ever meet; especially during bad times. Azel would be touched I’m sure.
One Twitter follower direct messaged me and said that the Coliseum is going to be a little darker with another one of it’s fun bright lights gone. I thought about it and messaged her back and said that she was probably right. But doesn’t the sky look a little brighter. Rest in Peace Azel; you were a good Raider fan who made people of all ages smile; but more importantly you were a good man indeed.