If Oakland does one thing better than any other American city, it’s probably this: fighting back for what it believes in. Ask Occupy Wall Street, whose Oakland branch became the movement’s unlikely cleanup hitter a few years ago. Ask East Bay activists who’ve persuaded Oakland leaders to rethink their surveillance and privacy policy. Ask the protesters who demonstrated in the streets when Oscar Grant was killed by a BART police officer. Ask the surviving Oakland founders of the Black Panthers or the Hell’s Angels.

Two members of the “66th Avenue MOB” group of Raiders fans watch the 2015 postseason game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots on January 24, 2016. They are dressed in full regalia and would only give their Raider monikers: “Riot” and “Blitz.”

Two members of the “66th Avenue MOB” group of Raiders fans watch the 2015 postseason game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots on January 24, 2016. They are dressed in full regalia and would only give their Raider monikers: “Riot” and “Blitz.”

Or ask Greg “Griz” Jones, who has made a personal crusade out of keeping the Raiders, the city’s professional football team, in Oakland. Jones loves Oakland and its Raiders in a way that, frankly, everyone deserves to be loved: madly, deeply, purely, a little irrationally, and with enough heart to fill 1,000 stadiums.

That devotion may be needed more than ever, as Griz and many other fans have spent the past few years trying to stop the Raiders from abandoning Oakland yet again. After Oakland officials balked at providing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding for a new stadium, the team’s ownership has been lobbying the NFL for a move to LA, the latest chapter in the Raiders’ complex history. Founded in Oakland in 1960, the team played in LA from 1982 to 1994, before moving back to Oakland.

“You can’t duplicate that Raiders culture by picking them up out of Oakland and moving them someplace,” Griz said. “We learned that in the ’80s when the Raiders went to L.A. the first time and it didn’t work out.”

Griz Jones, founder of the 66th Avenue MOB, hugs a member of the group during a post-2015-season meet-up at a restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Griz Jones, founder of the 66th Avenue MOB, hugs a member of the group during a post-2015-season meet-up at a restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Known to all as “Griz” since his high school football days, when coaches were so impressed by his grizzly bear-like intensity that they started him at nose tackle despite his diminutive size, he is the leader of the 66th Avenue MOB, a group of Raiders fans who organize charity events and hold weekend-long tailgate parties sandwiched between a row of warehouses and the team’s Coliseum stadium in East Oakland. MOB stands for “Making Oakland Better.” They display their East Bay loyalty by wearing black T-shirts that read, “Forever Oakland” — the name of an offshoot group that works to keep the franchise in town.

Griz, 45, winces when he’s called a “superfan,” so perhaps he’s best described as a “preservationist.” He’s on a mission to preserve what he calls the “East Bay Mystique.”

The mystique is an almost indescribable way of life for Griz, mixing his love of the Raiders and the East Bay’s welcoming, unpretentious, and tough-but-cool vibe into one big nostalgic ball.

“The voice of [former Raiders announcer] Bill King coming from a radio and the smell of the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory near my home in San Leandro, they were always in the air,” says Griz, who has the charismatic air of a natural leader. With his stout build and dark thin mustache, he could have been cast as gunslinger in a Clint Eastwood western. “I grew up in a tough neighborhood. Back in the day, my uncle was well known on the roadster circuit and there’d be a bunch of H-A’s [Hell’s Angels] in his garage, as he worked on motorcycles. We’d watch Raiders games and, at halftime, I’d go outside and play ball, pretending to be Jack ‘The Assassin’ Tatum or Kenny ‘Snake’ Stabler until my hard-nosed Portuguese grandmother called us back in for the second half.”

He was a little boy when he attended his first Oakland home game in 1976, the year the Raiders won their first Super Bowl.

“The energy of the Coliseum, being around those fans, it felt like I was around my own family, only with 55,000 more people,” he says. “The roar of the Oakland Coliseum, it sounded like a volcano erupting.”

A fan wears a t-shirt commemorating one of the Raiders most beloved players, safety Charles Woodson, who retired this past season after playing eleven of his eighteen years in the NFL as a Raider.

A fan wears a t-shirt commemorating one of the Raiders most beloved players, safety Charles Woodson, who retired this past season after playing eleven of his eighteen years in the NFL as a Raider.

The fervor of Oakland fans is famous. But what makes them truly unique is their free-spirited culture, which mirrors the inspired weirdness pulsing through a city known for welcoming adventurous artists.

“Oakland has a beautiful soul,” Griz said one recent Sunday in January, as dozens of MOB members watched the NFL playoffs at a bar in the Jack London Square section of Oakland.

Long known for its mix of blue-collar industry, rebellion and political activism, almost overnight Oakland has become the Bay Area’s new capital of rapid change. Skyrocketing rents, a cool arts scene, and a growing tech sector led by Pandora and Uber have altered the face of this city. Those are big changes for a once unglamorous city that long shivered in San Francisco’s shadow.

While Oakland appears well on its way to an economic renaissance, many of its 400,000 residents fret that it will be a deal with the devil. As many San Franciscans get priced out of town and head east, can Oakland prevent displacing longtime residents and draining it of that mystique that Griz is working so hard to celebrate? After surviving decades of struggle, can Oakland handle success?

“I’m not worried because the fear of what gentrification might be won’t be the reality,” Griz said without hesitation. “More people and businesses are coming, and what’s bringing them is the soul of Oakland. The locals have to embrace it because it’s going to help the Oakland cause. A city can’t stay the same or it’s going to be stagnant.”

Amidst all that change, Oakland’s loud and loyal sports fans are a constant. Equal parts passionate, devoted and masochistic, Raiders fans (along with A’s fans — but that’s another tale for another time) just keep showing up to sell out  the half-century-old Oakland Coliseum, no matter the state of their city or the Raiders franchise.

Those rugged fanatics in silver and black keep going to games, doing their level best to be the one piece of stability for a franchise that has been maddeningly unstable. When the Raiders became NFL icons in the 1970s, cultivating an image of long-haired, hard-partying rebels, Oakland fans sold out the Coliseum for thirteen straight seasons. When the franchise returned to Oakland in 1995 after breaking fans’ hearts with that regrettable move to L.A. — one MOB member calls the thirteen seasons down south, “that stupid road trip” — Oakland fans just kept showing up. When then-owner Al Davis chased away star coach Jon Gruden in 2002 and the team went into a long tailspin, Oakland fans just kept showing up. When the Raiders threatened to move again to L.A. over the past two years, as the team failed to make the playoffs for the twelfth and thirteenth consecutive years, the fans just kept showing up.

Griz Jones wears a 66th Avenue MOB shirt while watching the playoff game. MOB stands for Making Oakland Better.

Griz Jones wears a 66th Avenue MOB shirt while watching the playoff game. MOB stands for Making Oakland Better.

Which brings us back to Griz. As a teenager in the 1980s, he said he “was on the wrong path” and got into some trouble. One day, he decided to break off from his circle of friends and pulled himself out of a bad scene.

He got a job at a bread factory and, after his shift, began handing out free loaves to homeless people in downtown Oakland and to shelters. The fulfillment he got from helping others fed his soul, and fuels the MOB’s charity work and his sense of brotherhood with fellow fans to this day.

In early January, a week after the Raiders filed for the chance at another relocation to Los Angeles, Griz and his group flew to the NFL owners meeting in Houston, where the die-hards waved “Stay in Oakland” signs and gave media interviews outside the meeting site. Later that day, the NFL owners voted to instead send the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles and give the San Diego Chargers an option to join them, denying the Raiders’ the chance to move down south.

“I walked down the street to step away for a minute because I had tears in my eyes,” he says.

Since then, many an unnamed source have touted several cities as possible future homes for the Raiders. San Antonio? San Diego? Timbuktu? But Griz and his cohorts hold fast to the hope that they will stay here in Oakland instead. Even after thirteen losing seasons, the Raiders remain a national brand.

“Raiders fans have been through hell — with the move to L.A., with the new threats to move, with all the losing,” he says. “But this is who I am. This is my love. Our Oakland Raiders culture is very special to us. This is why we fight for it. We fight for Oakland.”

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At the last regular season Raiders game in 2014, photographer Aaron Adler created portraits of fans in the Coliseum parking lot.

Kristina Cortez of Sacramento.

Kristina Cortez of Sacramento.
The four brothers who make up the 4 Brothers Tailgate, a constant presence in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.

The four brothers who make up the 4 Brothers Tailgate, a constant presence in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.
“My buddy did it years ago…It’s homemade.” - Ethan Moss from Oakland

“My buddy did it years ago…It’s homemade.” – Ethan Moss from Oakland
Muna Ibrahim of Oakland.

Muna Ibrahim of Oakland.
A young raider fan exhales smoke at the 4 Brothers Tailgate area in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.

A young raider fan exhales smoke at the 4 Brothers Tailgate area in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.
“Yeah, it was a bad season. But…it’s almost over.” - Brad Bender of Hayward, California

“Yeah, it was a bad season. But…it’s almost over.” – Brad Bender of Hayward, California
“I fly out to at least one game a year. We’re one big happy family here.” - Petite Proutsos of Nevada

“I fly out to at least one game a year. We’re one big happy family here.” – Petite Proutsos of Nevada
A “Stay In Oakland flyer” in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum.

A “Stay In Oakland flyer” in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum.
Raider Nation members hang out at the 4 Brothers Tailgate in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.

Raider Nation members hang out at the 4 Brothers Tailgate in the A section of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot.
A bootleg t-shirt vender sells Raiders gear. “If you take my picture you have to buy a shirt.” (The photographer did not purchase a shirt.)

A bootleg t-shirt vender sells Raiders gear. “If you take my picture you have to buy a shirt.” (The photographer did not purchase a shirt.)
The Raiders flag.

The Raiders flag.
“Well, I currently live in Fairfield, but I’m pure Oakland man!” - Keith Jefferson from Oakland

“Well, I currently live in Fairfield, but I’m pure Oakland man!” – Keith Jefferson from Oakland
A couple give their best game faces.

A couple give their best game faces.
A young Raiders fan.

A young Raiders fan.

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Chris De Benedetti is a former East Bay reporter and an Oakland resident.