Oakland Raiders: How the Black Hole saved my life (well, sort of)

If Dec. 24 is the last Coliseum game, then it's time for a tale about this storied end zone

An Oakland Raiders fan shows his homemade “Stay in Oakland” sign while in the “black hole” during the Oakland Raiders game against the Arizona Cardinals in the second quarter of their NFL preseason game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif, on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
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Will the Dec. 24 Raiders game be the last one played at the Oakland Coliseum? That prospect has me thinking about a surreal day many years ago.

I had bought into a season ticket group when the Raiders were heading back from Los Angeles to Oakland. A reporter who worked for me, the late great Dan Reed, was pulling together some buddies to pay for one of Al Davis’ PSLs. But he needed one more to make the financing work for the personal seat license and season tickets.

I overheard him in our Mercury News bureau and said count me in. I needed an in-person NFL fix. With the Bay Area a one-team region for years, it had been tough during the Montana era to get tickets to watch the Niners in person. Plus, I had relatives who were huge Raiders fans and I knew they’d love going to a couple of games.

One Saturday during the early years of our season tickets I was on my way to my dry cleaners in Hayward to pick up my order. I parked in the lot and started walking toward the door. I had a long list of errands for the day, so my mind was occupied and I wasn’t paying attention to anything going on around me.

All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by four young men. They encircled me and stared me down menacingly. No one said a word.

My heart started racing. I realized I must have said or done something wrong. Did I accidentally walk in front of them or between them? Had I somehow cut them off in the parking lot? Inadvertently cast an unfriendly look their way?

I struggled to apologize. “I’m sorry. What did I do??”

They all took a step closer.

I knew this was going to end badly, with them scaring me, hitting me or worse. My mind raced as they all took another step toward me in the parking lot.

Keep apologizing, I told myself. Maybe they’ll realize I’m old enough to be their mother. Maybe they’ll see they made a mistake.

They came closer.

Then, all of a sudden, the young man to my front right issued a directive.

“Wait, you guys,” he said. “I think I know her.”

They stood down.

I took a good look at him and desperately searched my memory. Where could he know me from? He wasn’t a neighbor or the son of a friend. I didn’t recognize him as a store clerk or waiter.

He studied me, then finally spoke again. “Don’t I know you from the Black Hole?”

At first I was stunned by the question. The “Black Hole” had only recently become affixed in the public’s mind as the nickname for the home of the NFL’s most crazed, er, devoted fans. But yes, when our PSL group had voted for end-zone seats vs. 20-yard-line seats, we landed in what was to become the most infamous section of any NFL stadium. Our seats were in the back, far enough from the fray but close enough to enjoy the notoriety of sitting in the Black Hole — and to earn me “coolest aunt ever” honors with the nephews I took to games.

Once I realized my parking lot tormentor was talking about the Raiders games, I let out a scream of “Yes, that’s it!”

He ran toward me, arms extended, for high-fives and hugs. Frankly, I was so relieved there may have been belly bumps involved.

We talked about which recent games we’d been at — had I seen him at a Chiefs or Chargers game? — and shared some “How about that Tim Brown?” raves and thoughts about the team’s prospects.

And then he wished me well, yelled “Go Raiders!” and walked away. He was all grins, his friends absolutely perplexed.

I never saw that fan again at a game or in the neighborhood. And I never found out what I had done to offend those guys.

But when I remember that day I always remind myself of one thing: Buying into that ridiculously expensive PSL was the smartest money I ever spent.

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