EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For a brief moment on Sunday morning in the parking lot outside MetLife Stadium, it looked as if several dozen Oakland Raiders fans were in the process of "Tebowing." It turns out they were being knighted.
Yes, you read that right.
The Raiders may have lost on Sunday to the New York Jets 37-27, but one thing that the faithful of the "Silver & Black" do well is represent. Raiders faithful travel in large numbers and the tailgate scene prior to the Jets game showed the wild costumes and outlandishness of the Oakland fans. Masks, painted faces and spikes coming out of weird places were the norm.
One especially rabid fan flew from England to New York City on Friday afternoon to catch the game and then will leave on a trans-Atlantic flight on Monday morning. His name is Keith Smith, and the rather gentile Londoner transforms himself into the "Crusader Raider" on Sundays. He has a passion for the NFL that was spawned in the late 1970s and has grown since.
On Sunday he wore full knight regalia, perhaps the only person among the several hundred fans at the joint tailgate held by the Jersey Shore Raiders Boosters and the New York City Black Hole fan organizations who was not dressed in silver and black. Instead, Smith wore a red cape and a white tunic along with a sword and shield, a Raiders logo prominently centered on his chest.
Three hours before the game, Smith knighted several dozen fans as “Knights of the Shield of Raider Nation.”
After the fans on bended knee swore their devotion to the club, the whole group broke out into cheers and dancing as Smith went around and touched his sword to their shoulders.
“I was asked to do that before by the Knights of the Shield in Fresno and it got a great response. We swear an oath to her majesty, the queen,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “And then of course our undying devotion to the great Oakland Raiders!”
Smith raised his voice at the end to a shout to emphasize the team's name, drawing cheers from dozens of fans. It is one giant party for these fans, many from California who travel the country with the Raiders. They pour in from all angles, some like Derek Frazier, a lifelong fan and a local to the New York City area, who smokes a cigar and rolls around the parking lot giving out high fives. There's even a "Sir Hitman," who was known simply as "Hitman" before Smith had knighted him at a previous ceremony.
Others like Chris Marrone and Scott Pimentel organized the event and and crank tunes such as "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg over loud speakers. A tall man, likely in his early 50s, stopped to ask, “Can you turn this up a little bit more?”
This isn't your grandmother's tailgate, and no one more than Smith knows it.
By day, he works with children with autism. On the weekends, he counts himself a supporter of English soccer club Leyton Orient. He says a number of the club's fans are also Raiders fans, in large part due to the almost hooligan-like zeal that Raiders fans have for their team.
“A couple weeks ago I was at a Leyton match when I got (news) over my phone that the Raiders were playing next year at Wembley,” Smith said of the news that the team will be playing in London next year. “I let out a scream. It is great, I can't wait. We're going to give them great support.”
Smith said he plans on being available next fall for another knighting ceremony when the Raiders play in London.
“Maybe a bigger one,” Smith said with a smile.
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Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo Sports. He can be followed for news and random tweetingson Twitter @KristianRDyer