Justin Parrish’s friends call it his “dark, hidden secret.”
On most Kansas City Chiefs game days, the 38-year-old fan’s secret remains just where it should, tucked in the shadows of the shed outside his Waldo home where — by every rule of home-team honor — should hang red and gold.
Instead — prepare for the late Lamar Hunt to start spinning — there is silver and back.
Hi, my name is Justin from Kansas City and I am, gulp, a Raiders fan!
Here’s the rub. On Thursday — the day in which the arch-rival 9-3 Chiefs and the 10-2 Oakland Raiders are to go helmet-to-helmet in what ranks among the most important games of their decades-long bitter history (the winner will lead the AFC West) — Parrish refuses to demur or be cowed.
Instead, when he watches the game at home with a friend who is a Chiefs fan, he plans to slip one of his Raiders jerseys over his head, press a Raiders cap to his pirate skull and hold his Raiders flag high.
“Man, honestly, this is the biggest Raiders-Chiefs game I remember in my lifetime,” Parrish said, while also declaring of Oakland, “I hope they win.”
So, too, does 24-year-old Andrew Brodnick, who also lives in Kansas City. And 33-year-old Michael Gomez, defiant in his Raiders fanaticism against a huge and extended family of Chiefs faithful. And 34-year-old Will Casner of Carrollton, Mo., who recently posted a photo of his 3-month-old son, Keenan, dressed in Raiders gear with a skull mask. Casner’s Twitter handle couldn’t be more clear: MissouriRaidersFan@MoRaiderFan.
“I mean, my mailbox has a Raiders cover on it,” Casner said. “I’m not shy about it at all.”
Jeer at them if you want. Leer at them, too.
Gomez, who handles baggage at Kansas City International Airport, has been getting grief from his family for years.
“I don’t mind being the villain,” he said.
Mind it? They relish it.
These, after all, are the fans inside Arrowhead Stadium who bob in their black jerseys, looking like buoys in an ocean of red if the Raiders are doing well.
“Yeah, sometimes it’s really odd,” Casner said. “You’re the only one standing. Everyone else is sitting. Then you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, wait. I’m going to get hit in the back of the head with a beer or something. …
“It’s never the other way around. As soon as the Chiefs do something good, they look at the field first. Then they turn and look at you and they start pointing at you, ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ ”
Parrish said that, in general, he is most often stung with Chiefs arrows — verbally, that is — in the parking lot as opposed to inside the stadium. All are variations on a theme, he said: “Raiders suck!”
Violence, he said, is incredibly rare. Although after one memorable Raiders win, Parrish recalled a drunk and angry Raiders-hating Chiefs fan shoving his buddy in the back as they left the game.
“Really hard, trying to start a fight,” Parrish said, although it turned out OK and with heartening and weird twist.
“Another Chiefs fan stood up for my buddy,” Parrish said. “Next thing you know, they’re duking it out. Two Chiefs fans are going at it.”
But how, at all, could these Kansas Citians even dare to raise the enemy’s flag, turn their backs on the home team?
Chalk the explanation up to two values that tolerant Chiefs fans might understand: family and loyalty.
Parrish, employed as the digital media director for a radio station, grew up in Baring, Mo., a small town near Kirksville in the northeast part of the state, closer to St. Louis than to Kansas City.
Forgive him. He grew up a Cardinals fan who now, when the Cards aren’t in town, roots for the Royals. He’ll also wear Chiefs gear if they’re not playing the Raiders.
His Raiders love developed from trips he would take to visit his older brother (who, ironically, is a massive Chiefs and Royals fan) after his brother moved away years ago to the Bay Area, where he still lives.
“I didn’t really have a football team to root for,” Parrish said.
The St. Louis Cardinals football team had already moved to Arizona by the time he was forming his football fanaticism. Out in California, his brother took him to Giants games and Oakland A’s games and Raiders games.
Parrish became enthralled with a number of players, particularly Bo Jackson, the two-sport slugger (running back for the Raiders, outfielder for the Royals); defensive end Howie Long; wide receiver Tim Brown; and quarterback Jay Schroeder.
“There was a lot to like about the Raiders back then,” Parrish said. Brotherly love fostered football love. And it stuck.
In many ways, fans think they are due success after enduring 13 years of losing seasons. Their last winning season was 11-5 in 2002, the same season the Raiders went to the Super Bowl, at which they were overwhelmed, 48-21, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I mean, this game is the biggest game to date for me in my 33 years of liking the Raiders and hating the Chiefs,” Michael Gomez said. Then he modified his position. Maybe hate was too strong a word.
“I’m rooting against the Chiefs every week. Put it that way,” he said.
Gomez, unlike Parrish, is not from elsewhere.
“I’m a Kansas Citian. Born and raised here, day one,” he said. But his Raiders faith is also family-based.
Most of his relatives are Chiefs fans, but one of his closest uncles, Gabriel, has always been a Raiders fan.
“I was always around him. He took me everywhere,” Gomez said. “When I got old enough to know what football and the Raiders were, I liked the Raiders. I liked everything about them.”
He talked about what he called the Raiders’ bad-boy, black-clad, pirate mystique.
“To me, it’s about loyalty. I never changed,” Gomez said.
Casner, although now living in Carrollton and working for the Missouri Department of Conservation, was born in Independence.
Want to blame someone for his Raiders fealty? Blame Bo Jackson. Blame Casner’s dad, who also liked Jackson, especially as a Kansas City Royal.
“I was a big Bo Jackson fan,” he said.
Jackson, he said, made the silver and black exciting and endearing to him. Yes, that’s the word he used, “endearing.”
“It seems like the Raiders always try to find the fastest guys,” Casner said. “I loved Bo. That was always something I liked. Even after they lost Bo Jackson, they went out and found (wide receiver Raghib) “Rocket” Ismail, (wide receiver) Alexander Wright, (wide receiver) James Jett. I always just liked the fact that (owner) Al Davis, right or wrong, always got the speed guys.”
At the time he was a University of Michigan fan, Casner followed corner and safety Charles Woodson.
“When the Raiders drafted him, I was in heaven,” he said.
Brodnick, who consults on software for Cerner Corp., also comes to the Raiders through loyalty, but in a different way. A St. Louis native and lifelong fan of the Rams, Brodnick felt utterly betrayed when the team uprooted from St. Louis in 2015, after 20 years in the city, and moved back to Los Angeles.
“I had a huge pit in my stomach … felt like your childhood was taken away almost,” Brodnick said.
He moved to Kansas City after graduating from college. With the Rams gone, he had to pick another team. He went with youth and lists off some of what he sees as the Raiders’ young and dynamic core players: quarterback Derek Carr, running back Latavious Murray, defensive end and linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
He likes the team’s passing game. “The Chiefs are not exactly known for airing the ball out. The Raiders are pretty comfortable with that,” Brodnick said. “So they are an exciting team to watch.”
Of course, he could have just as easily picked the Chiefs as his new team. In Kansas City, the “devil’s advocate” part of him also played a role.
“I had to pick a team that would, at least, play here once a year,” he said, “and also cheer against my friends a little bit.”
Brodnick will be at the game Thursday night, sitting with friends.
With their 10-2 record, the Raiders would still be in a prime position to make the playoffs even if they lose to the Chiefs. While some Raiders fans said that they would be OK with that, Brodnick is not one of them.
“It matters a bunch,” he said. “I’ll be pretty upset about it, especially since I’m spending money.”
Fully expecting to be heckled as a Raiders fan, his plan is not to be outdone.
“Of course not,” Brodnick said. “I’m heckling back. Raiders fans have their reputation of being wild, so I’ve got to help stimulate that reputation.”
OK, Andrew. Good luck with that.