As an Oakland gospel singer echoed the final words of the national anthem through an old coliseum, employees rolled up an oversized American flag covering the middle of the field. A plane flew overhead, and in the north end of the stadium, fans tilted their beers toward the sky as a salute.
An act of kindness and obedience.
A really brief one.
Before the flag had departed the field, the chants began, soft in the first verse but growing louder with each ensuing repetition.
“(Bleep) the Chiefs! ... (Bleep) the Chiefs!”
Welcome to Oakland.
Welcome to the Black Hole.
Welcome to a four-section cutout inside the lower level of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, housing among the most infamous fans in all of football.
Those ingrained in this sea of havoc say it has simmered. You should’ve seen it in the ‘90s, they’ll tell you, back when the Raiders were more competitive on an annual basis.
But they remain loud. They still freely yell and boo, and the cuss words and middle fingers still flow, perhaps never more often when the Chiefs occupy the visitor’s sideline. And they will happily shower an opposing player with beer. (Remember Jamaal Charles, anyone?)
“It’s like Sunday church here, man,” says Nark Acasio, a 24-year season-ticket holder.
In its final year as the Raiders’ home, this coliseum has produced history, including 43 iterations of the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry, the most recent a 28-10 Kansas City victory Sunday.
But among its most lasting memories will be these Chiefs-hating fans, a culture within a culture. The Black Hole, recognized with signage draping over the lower-level ledge, is a melting pot of backgrounds, people from all walks of life coming together to echo rap verses during timeouts, to push and shove in an effort to fire one another up and to curse anyone who dares wear red.
“It’s a different vibe down here,” says Andres Banuelos, a season-ticket holder in the Black Hole. “It keeps you on your toes.”
It’s become a collection of low-budget horror film characters. Faces painted. Mouths covered with bandanas.
Acasio calls himself Gorilla Rilla. Owns a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram account with that moniker, totaling more than 25,000 followers. He wears a gorilla mask (of course), a necklace with gigantic silver beads, a Dr. Seuss hat and dark sunglasses.
Then there’s The Dark Side, a man who dresses as Darth Vader with Raiders logos. There’s a Dracula, a joker, a man who calls himself Raider Nation and a whole host of people who you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly they’re going for.
“It’s all cultures, but it’s a family,” Acasio says, adding, “I’ve been to Arrowhead — it’s loud over there. In Oakland, it’s a different type of pride.”
One that will soon be shipping eight hours southeast to Sin City. The Raiders are scheduled to move to Las Vegas next season. That leaves five games games in Oakland, five in this tradition-rich section.
Will its fans follow? Perhaps. Will the Black Hole? Maybe in name. Unlikely in environment.
“The Black Hole is a special place, which Vegas is not going to have” Banuelos says. “That’s just reality. This is home. I got a lot of personal history here. We all do. Unfortunately after this year, that’s going to end. You think the Vegas fans are going to hate the Chiefs the way we do? They don’t have the history.”
Oh, yes, there’s that.
See, to enter the Black Hole, you had better be dressed exclusively in silver and black. Or enter at your own risk. The fans alternate between “(Bleep) the Chiefs” and “(Bleep) KC” chants. After all, as one pointed out, they have to keep it fresh.
A handful of people wore Chiefs gear into the enemy’s most prized territory Sunday, fewer than a dozen of them sprinkled throughout the north stands. Most know better. Or just don’t have the courage. Antonio Ubaldo, who grew up in Independence, Missouri, prepared himself by bringing three co-workers, all of them Raiders fans, though one pointed out, “If you get your ass kicked, I’m not jumping in.”
“They’ll boo me. They’ll taunt me,” Ubaldo says. “But I can take it.”
Part of the shtick of the section is to instill fear in the opponent, a mantra that trickles into the stands. But find one dressed with spikes on his shoulder pads, and you just might get an honest admission.
“I kinda like Mahomes,” he says, before looking around, checking his surroundings. “(Crap), I probably shouldn’t say that too loud.”
And then he thinks better of it.
“You know what? Leave my name out of that.”