When last Kerry Collins saw Raiders fans (and when last they saw him), they were pelting him with the kind of boos that can bend a face mask, and he was giving them the international gesture for, "Bring it on, you PSL-purchasing scum."
Since that day nearly four weeks ago, the Raiders have lost in San Diego, won at Carolina and taken the week off. Collins has completed 62 percent of his passes, and Raiders fans have whipped up two new batches of face paint.
Sunday they meet again, in the undercard to the Raiders-Chargers rematch. From here it's a pick-'em as to which contest will generate the most bad blood.
At this point it hardly matters whether or not Collins deserves the verbal abuse with which he has been showered the past two Raiders home games. He's getting it, and he might as well try to stop the rain. For the record: Since inheriting Oakland's starting quarterback job after Rich Gannon's season-ending neck injury, Collins has polished off a Sunday night win over Tampa Bay, lost five consecutive starts, and won a nail-biter over a 1-6 team.
He has been evocative of Marc Wilson, both artistically and statistically -- seemingly a half-step behind most every play, tending toward the interception rather than the touchdown, more promise than payoff. On the other hand, he has hung tough in the pocket, has refrained from making excuses, and even took a shot at team leadership after the loss in San Diego.
"I'm angry," he said. "I hope other guys are."
Just a hunch: About 40,000 Raiders fans are right where he wants them.
Collins ought to be careful what he requests of the Oakland faithful. Once they pick you as their pin cushion, you tend to stay picked. You want boos? They'll knock you to your knees with the kind of dissatisfaction that wells up from the diaphragm.
Maybe you've heard: Raiders fans are a different breed.
Except it's not as simple as that. Brooklyn fans, it was said, booed their Dodgers as a sign of endearment. Philadelphia fans boo because they'll boo anything up to and including the miracle of childbirth.
Oakland fans are only too happy to boo Raiders players and teams that put forth a lousy effort (see the Bugel boys of 1997). They'll also boo when they think teams and/or players are capable of better than they're doing (see Daryle Lamonica, who was booed in 1970 as a reigning MVP). They'll go so far as to withhold affection from successful Raiders who don't conform to the perceived Raiders image (does anyone truly believe that Gannon was fully appreciated here?).
A lot of times how they respond to a player depends on whether or not they like the cut of his jib. Wilson, for example, was judged as a fraud from the get-go, and was booed accordingly. Tim Brown could do no wrong, even as he was putting his own agenda neck-and-neck with the team's. Jerry Rice was accepted unconditionally the minute he crossed the bridge from San Francisco to Oakland.
Oakland fans hit bottom in the sad saga of quarterback Dan Pastorini. Pastorini was acquired by the Raiders before the 1980 season, and he came to Oakland with seemingly everything he needed to be embraced as a fan favorite -- he was big, strong, handsome, he'd had success with the Houston Oilers, he had local ties, having played collegiately at Santa Clara.
But he'd been acquired for popular Ken Stabler, and sometimes that's all it takes. Pastorini struggled early, and fans had no patience. When he suffered a broken leg in the season's sixth game, Coliseum fans cheered as he lay on the ground. That display would have been in exceptionally poor taste even had fans known what was to come that season -- namely, Jim Plunkett's ascent from bench warmer to Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Collins' situation hasn't become that ugly, but it has turned dark in a hurry. Perhaps it's a cut-of-his-jib thing. Outwardly, Collins seems to have a lot of Raider in him. He's the kind of pocket-passing big arm who has historically played well with Raiders fans.
He's had just seven games to show what he can do, and it's not as if he's the only problem the Raiders have right now. Outside of the kickers, this team has no outstanding feature.
And yet Raiders fans seem intent on holding Collins responsible for every frustration that has come their way since the coin flip before Super Bowl XXXVII.
On Sunday the people and the pin cushion get their next shot at each other. And while it's possible Collins could play his way into the crowd's favor, however temporarily, history and the oddsmakers suggest a different outcome.