What? Where am I? I thought I was in The Black Hole, the field-level seats of section 105 just to the east of the southernmost end zone. Or is it the north of the easternmost? Anyway, it's got Coliseum cred as the fiercest, most dreaded region of every Oakland Raiders home game, its deep, dark gaping maw said to suck the living daylights out of opposing teams, their fans, happy sunbeams or even the Raiders themselves, depending on performance. Oh, the singularity!
Yet I am not experiencing fear. They're actually ... nice here. Sure, it's a little cramped in The Hole at this game against the Cleveland Browns. That's because no one sits in their actual seats in this section and instead converge in the front rows for intimidating impact. It's a rule.
So I've squeezed in -- with permission -- next to Papa, Feisty, Gorilla Rilla and his wife, Jungle Jane (they married in September with a huge Raider wedding). I cannot move forward or back, and the occasional blow of a furry black primate arm thuds down on my shoulders. Nearby, there's Voodoo Guy, Skull Lady and a man dressed as Pinhead, the "Hellraiser" harvester of human souls. I swoon to the pervading aroma of Budweiser and nachos. My ears ring with the F-word articulated in more variations than Santa has reindeer.
But I have a strange, perhaps misguided, sense of calm. Of protection. Of welcoming arms. Furry, black welcoming arms.
"You are in the heart, the artery, of The Black Hole," Gorilla Rilla mumbles through his mask, hugging me fiercely. He's actually the super nice superfan Mark Acasio, although you'd never know for sure. Even his Hole brethren haven't seen his actual face in about a decade, so it could be anybody inside that costume from John Madden to MC Hammer. No wait, Hammer's walking by on the field right now, shaking hands with Rilla over the wall! So that narrows it down.
Yes, on this day I have the honor of the whole Hole experience, thanks to friend-of-the-column Raider Rob, who was out of town and bestowed his ticket upon me. I've been to many Raiders games in my time, covering fan stuff, wandering around the stadium. But I've never had a seat, never been immersed in the dark side, never before worn ... green.
Yes, yes, I know, you're not even supposed to wear Raider white in The Black Hole. It's a rule. But it's been a monsoon all morning, and my only rain gear is the color of iceberg lettuce. So here I am, like a lone leaf adrift in the Black Sea. The Black Sea with chain mail and spikes on its shoulders. "At least it's sort of A's colors, so you're good," Jungle Jane consoles with a friendly fist bump, adjusting her black Santa hat.
Sure there's bad stuff at Raiders games. Duh. There are the beer-soaked dark alleys of troublemaking fans you need to avoid. Then there are the cool people, communities within communities, some as close knit as small towns in Nebraska. Why just now, one dude came over to hug Rilla. He's the brother-in-law of a Hole member who recently passed away. "The man who died, his little daughter was the flower girl in our wedding," Jane says. "It's so sad." Hugs all around.
Back in black
Back to the game and the full-body yelling. "What the (rhymes with luck) was that? Bring back the replacement refs! Don't (luck) this up!" I offered a supportive squeak with a very clever and creative, "Yeah!" which, if anyone could hear it at all, must have sounded like a wee Hobbit at an orgy of Orcs.
Papa, in the red-white-and-blue hard hat that he's been wearing here since 9/11, yells at the people behind him for not yelling enough. "What, are you guys from the wax museum?" For sure, the whole Coliseum is pretty subdued today. Lots of empty seats. Even Papa admits it's been a pretty bad year. The rainy morning didn't help.
But now it's halftime, and other weekend obligations call, so I have to take off, even before the Raiders lose (which they did, 20-17). Hugs all around. Warm and fuzzy. Especially from the gorilla.
On my way up the steps to the concourse, a female security guard is getting into it with some drunk dude.
"Why are you touching me?" she says to his wobbly, "I ain't toughing, tucking, I mean (burp) touching you, you (rhymes with glitch)," as two members of the Oakland Police Department head to the scene.
Ah, now I know where I am.