Heading For The Black Hole

The walk from my parking spot to the media entrance to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was a long one. I could barely make out the stadium in the distance and between me and the press box was a gauntlet of tailgating Raiders fans.

I survived unscathed. In fact, it was one of the more enjoyable strolls into a stadium that I’ve taken over the last few seasons. Even though their team was terrible and they were playing a terrible team in the 2009 Chiefs, these fans were having a good time. They enjoyed the morning California sunshine, with music and pre-game shows playing over radios. Kids were everywhere, chasing after each other or a thrown football. I’m not talking about teenagers, but kids around 10 years old.

This parking lot could have been at the Truman Sports Complex, or in Green Bay, or Pittsburgh, or Denver. This is not what anybody from those cities would have expected from stereotypical Raiders fans. Don’t get me wrong – there are those who call the Black Hole home who are complete, blithering idiots. Whether they are in costume or not, they are there to cause mischief in any manner possible.

But those types of people inhabit every NFL stadium, and yes, even Arrowhead. It was just a few years ago that the mother of an NFL superstar filed a complaint with the NFL league office over how she was treated by some fans in the stands at Arrowhead. Stuff happens and it goes down everywhere.

Still, nobody has the reputation of Raiders fans. It’s not all a media creation, believe me. The first time I saw the Oakland Coliseum was 1981, when the Chiefs won a remarkable game with a defensive touchdown when LB Gary Spani returned a fumble 94 yards for a score. The Chiefs took that game 28-17 to go 6-2 on the season and in first place in the AFC West.  

At that time there was no “Black Hole.” Raiders fans had not yet risen to a level of celebrity. Costumes were not a part of the day. The bodies in the stands were like any other fans in another other working class city like Oakland. They loudly expressed themselves and they loved their Raiders.

But the next year the Raiders left town, moving to Los Angeles and it seemed while they were there, they picked up the crazy fans in costume. They returned to Oakland for the 1995 season, and let me tell you the first Chiefs-Raiders game back at the Coliseum was one to remember.

The Chiefs walked in the door that day with a 10-2 record. The Raiders were 8-4. The fans accurately analyzed that this was a victory their team had to have. Earlier that season the Chiefs had won in overtime at Arrowhead.

The visitor’s bench sits on the east side of the stadium and it’s only a few feet between the players and the first row of the stands. That day, the fans in those stands peppered the Chiefs with batteries, enough that had they all been scooped up it would have taken care of a few kids toys at Christmas. At least two golf balls were thrown, as was a bullet. Yes a bullet. It wasn’t shot, it was thrown.

Water bottles clattered on to the sidelines. Some were filled with water. Others were filled with another substance, yellowish in color. Yes, they were throwing bottles filled with urine. In fact, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen fans publicly acknowledge they had thrown the bottle. Most times, it comes out of the crowd and when you turn and look into the stands, the perpetrator is hiding. In Oakland they were standing on their seats, pointing to themselves and making sure those of us on the sideline knew who threw the bottle.

It was truly a zoo and Chiefs players learned that taking off their helmets was not a very good idea when they were on the bench. But it was not an atmosphere that was only caused by the Chiefs. Every team had that problem, and by the next season the Raiders and stadium authorities cleaned up those sections behind the visiting team’s bench. Undercover police were placed in the stands and it was never again as bad as that first season back in Oakland.

That atmosphere caused problems not only for visiting teams, but the Raiders. The money-end of the deal that brought the Raiders back from Los Angeles was going to bring riches to the franchise through the sale of suites and club seats. The problem caused by the rowdy fans kept away many of the folks in the Bay Area who had the type of money that could buy suites and pricey seats.

The Raiders went to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, but were crushed by Tampa Bay and since then they’ve been a disaster. That chased away even more fans. As we’ve learned from the figures used by the Chiefs when it comes to attendance, it’s hard to know just how many tickets were sold and how many people came through the turnstiles. But with a capacity of 63,132, last year, only one game drew more than 50,000 fans.

It hasn’t always been ugly at the Coliseum. Back in 1996 for a Monday night game, actress Bo Derek watched the game from the Chiefs sideline, and after the game she made a visit to their locker room. Let me assure you if she was a “10″ as a youngster, she’s held it together over the next 20 years.

That’s one of the attractions of dropping off the Nimitz Freeway in the East Bay and rolling into the complex that the stadium shares with the Oracle Arena – you never know what you are going to see. Some of it is funny, some of it sad. At times it’s scary, and other moments it’s like watching Saturday morning cartoons with the kids.

After the struggles of the last seven years, the Raiders should be thrilled that they still show up. Whether dressed as Darth Vader, or simply wearing the silver and black colors, they love their team.

And yes, sometimes love is blind.

5 Responses to “Heading For The Black Hole”

  • November 6, 2010  - TDKC says:

    Good stuff Bob. I almost started to feel bad for the Raiders……….but I’m over it now. My daughter is a Raiders fan but only as an act of tweenage rebellion. Good thing the game is on a Sunday. Maybe God can forgive her.

  • November 6, 2010  - Zac says:

    awesome awesome story bob. not sure i’d ever go to a chiefs/raiders game in oakland though, i like being alive and unmugged.

  • November 6, 2010  - bhive01 says:

    @TDKC my little sister and cousin did the same in the 90s to spite my father and I. She’s now moved on to the Cowboys… see what good that did them.

  • November 6, 2010  - Albert says:

    I went to a Chiefs Raiders game in Oakland in 2001. The sense was of literally going into hell. Everyone dressed in black, even Santa Claus. Black everywhere. An overall feeling of blackness. Not feeling exactly safe to root for the opposition, I kept my Chiefs cheers quiet. The Raiders won that day,on their way to the tuck rule playoff loss against the emerging Patriots. The Chiefs weren’t very good in Dick Vermeil’s first year. Still, they played a competitive game that day. Priest Holmes had a big rushing day. You could tell he was a special player and the Chiefs were going to come back. Though I live in Northern California, I haven’t been back. None of the non-Raider football fans I know wants to go to the Black Hole. Luckily the blackout is lifted for tomorrow and I can watch the game on TV.

  • November 6, 2010  - Petey says:

    What I’ve always been amused at is the fact that the raider ‘fans’ who dress up in costumes believe that they acutally intimidate the players. You know, as a good Chiefs fan, I mock and make fun of ole’ Al Davis and how poor he is for that team. However, I always try to tell myself that when ole’ Al goes away, the team will no doubtidly get better.

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