OAKLAND -- Andrew DiDomenico is a lifelong, diehard Raiders fan. The San Jose native was shattered when his favorite team left for Los Angeles after the 1981 season and so thrilled when the Silver and Black returned to Oakland that he threw down cash for season tickets in the Coliseum’s southern end zone.
That’s all it was back in 1995, just a ground floor seat in a huge stadium with a unique view of the action.
It quickly morphed into something truly unique, a fan section unlike any other.
“I have been down here for 23 years, I think,” DiDomenico said before Sunday’s loss to the Titans at Oakland Coliseum. “I see the same people that I’ve seen for so long now. There are just a few of us who have been around since they came back, when the Black Hole was actually invented.”
The Black Hole was formed by Rob Rivera and some friends back in 1996, who set the tone for a rowdy, at times aggressive group of Raiders loyalists that grew and grew and now dominates sections 104-107 along the southern end zone.
“This place is legendary,” said Rivera, the Black Hole president. “There are so many good times and good memories with good people that it’s hard to pick one, two or even three. …There are probably some that we can’t repeat.”
We won’t chronicle them here, not even the craziest from the 1990s, when the Black Hole was an anarchist’s paradise not to be trifled with. Yes, that includes the experience of one Raider -- Rivera wasn’t naming names, but it was Desmond Howard -- who got his car rocked back and forth after being too happy leaving the Coliseum after a heartbreaking loss.
Those anecdotes are interesting (and often R-rated), but that’s not what this story’s about.
This is about the end of an era.
The Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas in 2020 and bid farewell to Oakland Coliseum after Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a point of devastation that might send tears streaking through silver and black face paint.
“It’s like a second home,” Rivera said. “I feel like I’ve been here all my life. There are so many great memories in this place. It’s just unbelievable. This place should be revered like Green Bay or other legendary venues. Yeah, it’s old and torn down and it’s ugly, but it’s ours. Because of all the great teams and the great games that have taken place in this place, it’s beautiful to us.
“… The Raiders are on their way out of town, and we’re heartbroken.”
While residents of the Black Hole can be rough around the edges, they aren’t quite as scary as some costumes make them seem. Passion and unwavering loyalty pervade down there, as they always have. Troublemaking no longer is a defining Black Hole characteristic.
That’s especially true of those closest to the field, who enter the stadium early and line the rails before the game and stand and scream from kickoff to final whistle. They welcome players vaulting into the stands after a score. They revel in moments when coach Jon Gruden visits after a win. They love dressing up and creating a raucous homefield advantage.
There’s something else going on here that you don’t see in CBS celebration shots or images of scowling intimidators with spiked shoulder pads. This is a community bound by a love of the Raiders valued above all else, far more than its rough-and-tumble reputation. While tourists come and go, most of the members of the Black Hole have been sitting next to each other for years. They come together a few Sundays per year to eat and drink (a lot) and celebrate their team through wins and a whole lot of losses.
But, when the Raiders provide something to cheer, there’s nothing quite like being in the Black Hole.
“The energy here is electric,” DiDomenico said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get everybody going but once that happens, it shakes you inside. The energy comes from inside all the fans in the Black Hole. I’m nuts [when I’m] out here. I’ll try to get everybody yelling early to get things going. When the crowd gets going, it’s just crazy.
"All the people around here are wonderful.”
Bonds are superglue strong now, and it’s tough to imagine the family ripping apart after Sunday’s game.
“It’s sad,” DiDomenico said. “I’ve been a Raiders fan since their inception. I have been coming to all the games since they came back from L.A. and it’s really tough that a lot of us here won’t be making every game out there. I mean, it’s a trip.”
Some Black Hole residents have bought 2020 season tickets for when the Raiders move to Las Vegas. Many have not. Adding a flight and hotel to a full season pass isn’t as economically feasible and will limit the number of games attended by some. Count DiDomenico among them.
Those with seats could try to recongregate in one end zone, but there is no dedicated Black Hole section at Allegiant Stadium. There wasn’t one at Oakland Coliseum when the Raiders came back. The Black Hole grew organically and must do so again to carry on in Las Vegas.
While there’s some confusion among fans I spoke to about additional rules in the new stadium, a Raiders source said the team isn’t putting restrictions on fans wanting to costume up or put on face paint or form communities in the stands.
It’s undeniable that the fan experience in a state-of-the-art Las Vegas venue will be different. It surely will be sanitized somewhat. Some traditions will carry on. Others will cease on Sunday against the Jaguars, when this Oakland chapter of Raiders history comes to a close.
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DiDomenico plans to treat this Sunday like any other. The Gilroy resident will set up his American flag canopy in Oakland Coliseum’s A Lot, next to friends he has tailgated with over the last decade. He’ll make margaritas, lay out a spread and share food with anyone coming through.
Then he’ll don the construction hardhat with an American flag, an eagle and a Raiders shield that he has worn since 9/11, already sporting a similarly designed shirt that reads, “Fear This!” and head into the stadium. He’ll head down to the first row of the Black Hole, next to Gorilla Rilla and his friends for one last stay in a truly unique environment.
“Everybody wants to sit down here. And we don’t sit. We stand,” Didomenico said. “It’s a zoo, but it’s awesome.”