I was standing near the goal-line pylon at the south end of Oakland Coliseum during the dying seconds of the last game the Raiders would play there last December.
That is the location of the infamous Black Hole cheering section, although cheering probably isn’t the right word to describe what the Black Hole does.
The Raiders had just blown a big lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and those adorned with face paint, spiked shoulder pads and spilled beer were none too pleased.
A beer can whizzed past my ear. It detonated with a dull thud, oozing a puddle of foam on the 8 yard line. That was followed by a salvo of nachos that fluttered to earth in the end zone, followed by a couple of intoxicated guys who basically did the same.
After the game, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr vacated the sanctuary of the locker room to return to the bubbling cauldron. His lovely parting gift to Raider Nation was signing autographs for those in the Black Hole who wanted one.
Carr had not played particularly well that day. He was booed without mercy.
Regardless of how Carr plays against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, he will not hear cheers or jeers. The Black Hole has yet to reunite at Allegiant Stadium amid the coronavirus threat and owner Mark Davis’ edict the new stadium should not welcome any spectators inside until it’s safe to welcome all inside.
But when the time arrives, it is assumed that pro football’s most colorful fan base will be ready.
Holding those responsible
“We’re family. Family have disagreements,” said Wayne Mabry, aka “Violator,” who has been putting on face paint and suiting up in an menacing uniform for Raiders games for much of his adult life — and says he will do the same in Las Vegas somehow, some way once the pandemic is past.
“We’re going to hold you to a certain level. So when you fall short, yes, there will be (repercussion),” Violator said, adding that Carr showed character and earned respect by shrugging off the boos.
The Black Hole takes losses as hard as the Raiders’ players do. Sometimes harder.
Those sporting body armor still speak of a game against the despised Kansas City Chiefs in 1997 when Elvis Grbac threw a 32-yard TD pass to Andre Rison with three seconds left, handing the Raiders a bitter one-point defeat.
But after that loss, when Raiders punt returner Desmond Howard turned up his music within earshot of the Black Hole in parking lot D, he didn’t seem all that bitter. That didn’t sit well with its denizens. Howard’s rig was nearly turned onto its side with him still inside before gendarmes intervened.
Down in front
The unofficial fan club, which has been aptly described as part biker gang, part fraternity and part congregation of football evangelists, began organically in 1995 when the Raiders returned to gritty Oakland from not-so-gritty Los Angeles. Black Hole co-founder Rob Rivera said the original members initially were as despised as the Chiefs, NFL referees and Derek Carr when he has a bad game.
Charter members stood in the front row of Section 105 at the Coliseum. They were promptly told to sit by those in the second and third rows.
“It wasn’t even kickoff yet,” Rivera told The Ringer website. “ ‘Sit the (expletive) down!’ Throwing peanuts, water bottles, everything you can imagine (at us).”
After the group began to go forth and multiply, that apparently gave those in the Black Hole an idea.
“Batteries, chicken bones, coins, you name it,” Kevin Mawae told the New York Times about peltings he had received over 16 years as a visiting offensive lineman.
But the Black Hole has mellowed somewhat. Where it once fired batteries and other projectiles indiscriminately, it now chucks nachos.
Rivera said the Hole’s original mission statement was “What can we do to piss off as many people as possible?”
“If we lose, man, stuff is going down — you could feel that in the first few years,” he told The Ringer. “Then it turned into a positive, passionate, ferocious fan base, which was what we were about since the beginning.”
In 2011, the Black Hole even hired a public relations specialist to emphasize the good deeds many of its members performed within the Oakland community.
But it remains to be seen if the Black Hole will remain an organized force in Las Vegas, at least inside swanky $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
No tickets in the south end zone were set aside for Gorilla Rilla, Dr. Death, Oaktown Pirate, Voodoo Man, Senor Raider, Raider Gloria, Skulllady and other Black Hole members with aliases. Most have been priced out by steep seat license fees.
“A lot of the folks that sit in the Black Hole in Oakland bought tickets in the south end zone at Allegiant,” Raiders president Marc Badain said in slight disagreement.
Well, not exactly a lot, at least not according to Cisco Ortega, a Black Hole vice president. More like eight.
But, Ortega said, “There will be Black Hole members in different sections in the stadium. I know that area (south end zone) is known as the Black Hole, but the entire Coliseum in Oakland had Black Hole members.”
Such as Violator. Though it was assumed his mail was delivered to Sections 104 through 107, his assigned seat was on the 50-yard line where the players ran from the tunnel onto the field.
“It’s broader than any one section,” Violator said about the Black Hole. “To me, it’s a mindset.”
Violator’s alter ego is a mild-mannered and retired 63-year-old union carpenter living on a fixed income. He cannot afford tickets on the 50-yard line at Allegiant Stadium, or even a pair in the nosebleed section for himself and Mrs. Violator — VIOLATED it says on back of his wife Bertha’s Raiders jersey.
But with no fans allowed inside the new stadium because of the coronavirus threat, Violator says he hasn’t given up on finding his way inside for its 2021 grand opening.
“I’m looking at it like it’s kind of on hold,” he said of the Black Hole reuniting under a translucent dome and abiding by most of the rules established by the stadium security force.