Mariano Hernandez and his wife at the San Diego vs. Raiders game in 2003.
I got back from my first tour in Iraq on September 11, 2003, nine days before my birthday. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, surprised me with tickets to the Raiders-Chargers game to celebrate my birthday and homecoming. I was excited to be back home and celebrate my birthday with my girl and watch my favorite team battle their arch rival live. It couldn't have gotten better!
This was my girlfriend's first football game and she knew nothing about the sport, so I tried to explain the basics to her. It was no use. She decided to take in the sights and sounds that Raider fans are notorious for. She enjoyed the fans booing the opposition and the characters that typically dressed up to support our favorite team. She was well distracted and I was able to enjoy my Raiders playing ball.
The game was close and exciting. Through three quarters the teams battled back and forth and the Silver and Black started the fourth quarter down by 10. Not an impossible hill to climb since we had Gannon, Brown, Rice and Garner. Janikowski brought us closer and hope remained. Then, the Chargers scored and we were down by 14 with about seven minutes left. I could feel the excitement drain from the stadium and started to see the fans head for the exits. I told my girlfriend that we should get going to beat the traffic and we started making our way to the exit as well.
As we were leaving, Gannon tossed a touchdown to bring us closer. At that point I thought maybe we should stay. My girlfriend said, "lets go, there's no way the Raiders were going to come back." I wasn't going anywhere! We stood by the exits and watched as the defense held and we got the ball back with less than five minutes to go. Gannon and the offense brought us back to tie it up and send the game to overtime! What a way to finish regulation! In overtime we were able to get the ball and Janikowski did what he does best and kicked a 46-47 yard field goal to give the Raiders the victory! I thought the day was awesome to begin with, but that finish made the day even better!
That game stayed with me for so many good reasons and also because it was the last time the Raiders beat the Chargers. For the next seven years we would lose to the Chargers and endure the agony of each loss, over and over again for 13 games.
Mariano Hernandez with his brother and best friend at the Chargers vs. Raiders game on October 10, 2010.
I was there again this year when the streak ended! This time I was there with my brother and my best friend. We spent the morning in the parking lot enjoying our first tailgate of the season. This time it was memorable because we were lucky enough to get seats in the Raiders Mecca -The Black Hole! The game was just as exciting. Again it came down to the last five minutes. This time it was the defense that put the game out of reach. Michael Huff caused a Phillip Rivers fumble, Tyvon Branch scooped it up for a touchdown, and the party was on.
Once the game was won, a guy proposed to his girlfriend and of course she said yes! Who can resist a Raider fan? It was awesome to hear "RAAAAI-DERS" resonate through the stadium as we walked to the gates. It was tremendous to end the streak and to be there to celebrate the win just like I did in 2003. It was fitting that I was there to experience the end of a 13-game losing streak, the end of frustration. It was great to see the team come full circle and to have been there both times!
These two games hold a special place for me because I was there to witness both with friends and family and got to be a part of Raiders history as the team moved forward to establish a new chapter of Commitment to Excellence!
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