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When it Hits the Fan
by Chris De Benedetti
Previous Columns

'Second Chances' - 02/04/2003

The Barret Robbins saga this week reminded me of one of my favorite moments in sports -- and it happened BEFORE a game.

It was Game 3 of the 1988 World Series, A's vs. Dodgers. My favorite moment came not on Mark McGwire's thrilling walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th, rather, it came in the introductions. See, that was the first game played in Oakland after the Game 1 Kirk Gibson home run off of Dennis Eckersely in Los Angeles that all but ended the series. But when they introduced Eckersley to his home fans in Oakland before Game 3, a beautiful thing happened.

He got a standing ovation.

It was more than just a classy gesture from the Oakland fans. It was a supportive and, ultimately hopeful, response. It said to Eckersley and to the sports world that Oakland is a loyal town, and it said to Eckersley, a recovering alcoholic at that time, and every other player out there who has struggled, that no matter what, as long as you compete and give it your best, you're our guy and we'll back you -- right down to the bitter, painful end, as that series proved.

I've thought of that night in the last couple of days as the Barret Robbins situation has played itself out. Granted, the Robbins case doesn't match perfectly with Eckersley's, but I'd like to think that, 14 1/2 years later, that part of Oakland fans hasn't changed much.

Through his agent, Robbins apologized for his disappearance and expressed "remorse and deep sadness" for missing the Super Bowl. It's the first step on what will be a long, arduous -- and hopefully redemptive -- journey back to respectability for the 29-year-old player.

Without sounding too corny, hopefully, I think Robbins should be allowed to make amends and come back to play for the Raiders. Why? When you think about it, the city of Oakland and its teams are all about comebacks.

Of course, Robbins' illness is so darkly debilitating, it may be silly to compare it to any on-field glories. If and when Robbins does come back, it will be a great story. But he won't be the first to battle back from personal demons to excel in an Oakland uniform.

Whether it's Dave Stewart coming back home to Oakland to soaring success after mistakes made on and off the field, or Eckersley and Bob Welch beating alcoholism to enjoy a World Series victory and Cy Young awards, or Jim Plunkett shaking off the physical beating and confidence-destroying years on awful teams in New England and San Francisco only to be revived in Oakland to lead the Raiders to Super Bowl titles, well, comebacks just seem to be in Oakland's DNA. The city itself has been written off, underrated, and insulted umpteen times.

But guess what? Oakland's still standing.

The city's heroes have had flaws, all of them. But they've been loved with open arms by Oaklanders, nonetheless. Now, Robbins can join their ranks. Granted, a lot of people have to forgive him first. Himself. His teammates. Bill Callahan and Al Davis.

But there's also the fans. Here's where we can lead.

Let's be the first to unequivocably forgive him.

Robbins made some regrettable decisions leading up to his disappearance on Super Bowl eve, true. But at the same time, it can't be emphasized enough that his medical condition often puts him into a private hell that 99 percent of us probably can't even fathom.

And though some frustrated teammates spoke out against him minutes after the Super Bowl ended, I bet all of them wish they could take those words back.

Robbins is like all of us. A human being. Fallible. Capable of doing incredible things, when perspiration matches inspiration. And yes, capable of egregious mistakes. Within one week, the whole sporting world saw him hit both marks -- high and low, with the stranger than fiction complexities of a mental illness weighing on him -- all in the unforgiving glare of TV lights. His situation, hopefully, showed everyone that winning and losing (as loathe as we are to admit it) really isn't the name of the game. Rather, it's simply to endure. Through every high and every low.

I think we all love sports so much because it's a metaphor for our lives. These guys get knocked down -- literally -- but they get back up again. Here's hoping that Barret Robbins can shake off the infamy that came with his Super Bowl suspension and he can come back to be a productive, healthy person, first and foremost. But, also, here's to hoping he can come back and be healthy and productive and enjoy prosperity by doing what he's as good at as anyone else in the world: Playing football.

But that's for a later day. Firstly, as disappointing as the end result was on Sunday, the guy deserves our sympathy, and our prayers.

And just like the city in which he works, he deserves a second chance. Robbins has been raked over the coals for Sunday's transgressions. And just like the city he's called home for the last 7 years, he deserves a chance to make amends. Just like Oakland, I hope Robbins is coming back from Sunday's bad day. I hope he comes back stronger than ever.

He may not make it back to the Super Bowl. He may never have that shot at external glory again. But, if he endures through this, Robbins will have a better chance to atone for what happened in San Diego, and maybe a better chance come to terms with his more crucial, private battles.

Now, that would be a victory worth more than a 1,000 Super Bowls.

Let's help Robbins and show him some support when he most needs it. It's the Oakland way.

If you want to e-mail Barret Robbins your own personal message of support and well-wishing, please send your e-mail to:

The OAFC will make sure it gets to Barret Robbins and his family in order to let Oakland fans express their support for him and his speedy recovery.

by Chris De Benedetti

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