Raiders' `Black Hole' universally dreaded

Oakland fans build a scary reputation on behavior, attitude

January 11, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Warning to Ravens: Playing at Oakland may be hazardous to your health.

To win Sunday's AFC championship game, the Ravens must first survive The Black Hole, the scariest collection of fans in the NFL. Think of the Dawg Pound with a nastier attitude. Much nastier.

Network Associates Coliseum isn't as much a football stadium as it is a post-apocalyptic war zone. While other fans boo, Raiders fans assault.

They wear all black, spiked shoulder pads and more face paint than members of Marilyn Manson. They wave mock swords, taunting and spitting on opposing teams. They throw everything from batteries to chicken bones.

Welcome to Raider Nation. The Dark Side. Every opponent's worst nightmare.

"To be honest with you, I'd rather be in prison for a day," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "It's a lot safer."

Sharpe, who used to play at Oakland each year with Denver, is one of a handful of Ravens with horror stories from the land of Silver and Black.

Special teams ace Billy Davis remembers his only trip to Oakland as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. The Raiders fans greeted the Cowboys buses at the stadium by dumping full beers on them.

"I thought we were getting attacked by Mad Max or a big transvestite party," Davis said.

The Raiders have thrived off their fans, going 13-4 at home the past two seasons.

During their current seven-game winning streak there, they have outscored opponents 267-76, an average margin of 27.2 points. In the city's first playoff game in two decades, the Raiders routed the Miami Dolphins, 27-0, last Sunday.

"It's the fans," Oakland coach Jon Gruden said after the game. "These people are unbelievable. They get us going."

But the Ravens, who have won nine of their past 12 on the road, won't be intimidated. Actually, some admire the fans' blue-collar style.

"I'm looking to take my helmet off," said defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who played in Oakland twice with the Colts. "I want to put a big bull's-eye on the back of my head to see if I can catch a couple bottles of gin coming at me.

"If I come back in the next life, I want to come back as a Raider fan. Some of the outfits, it's unbelievable. These people are like crazy sickos. And I love that."

The rowdiest fans hang out in The Black Hole, the lower-deck, end-zone section located on the south side of the stadium. Since Network Associates Coliseum doubles as a baseball ballpark, the football configuration puts the end-zone seats closer to the field than anywhere in the NFL.

And they take full advantage of the up-close and personal location. Earlier this season, Raiders fans spat on unconscious Seahawks quarterback Brock Huard as he was taken off the field.

It's a "don't turn your back" mentality as fans have hit players with nails, golf balls, bottle caps and coins. Last year, former New York Jets coach Al Groh wandered past The Black Hole before the game and heard, "You don't want to come down here. We kill coaches."

They may not have been kidding. In years past, a Chargers fan has been reportedly stabbed, and a Steelers fan has been severely beaten.

Some Ravens have wavered on bringing their families to the game. An article about the viciousness of Raiders fans was posted just outside the locker room.

"I believe they let San Quentin [prison] out for a day. They say, `Look guys, go watch the football game for three or four hours and come back by nine o'clock,' " Sharpe said. "It's wild."

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "I am not going to walk from the hotel to the stadium, I'll tell you that."

Ravens backup quarterback Tony Banks gave his father and brother field passes when the St. Louis Rams played in Oakland three seasons ago. Not only did Raiders fans harass his family, but they were constantly beating up a dummy wearing Banks' No. 12.

"They were on me so bad. That's the only game of my career where I actually got back at the fans," Banks said. "[Coach] Dick Vermeil had to come grab me from behind."

The Ravens' road to the Super Bowl goes through The Black Hole.

It's enter at your own risk and be prepared for anything. For the Ravens, it's all about winning and surviving.

"Hopefully, we'll have security there, but I don't know. They might be on this thing," Sharpe said. "I'm not going to put too much trust in those guys. It's fair game out there.

"It's OK to cheer and be loud. But at some point in time, you can go over the edge. And I think every game, they go over the edge."

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