|Sweetheart of the Hole|
By Alysse Minkoff
Special to Page 2
OAKLAND, Calif. -- It was high time to get back in touch with my "Inner Bad Girl." Lately, it would seem, my guilty pleasures had all been about watching "The Gilmore Girls" while sipping a Dr. Brown's Diet Cream Soda. I was a little too much DKNY, and not nearly enough UGK. I had grown tired of being the type of girl you brought to church on Sunday morning to meet your Mother -- I wanted to be the reason you had to sleep in on Sunday morning and miss church with your Mother, altogether.
I wanted sports -- preferably a sport that featured large amounts of physical violence coupled with a hint of danger in the parking lot. I was yearning for a venue where I would wear tight black pants and drink an ice-cold beer at 9 in the morning. I wanted loud Rock 'n' Roll. Sleep Deprivation. And Bar-B-Que. Let's face it: What I really wanted was an excuse to break out the spiked leather dog collar and the matching black leather thong that I hadn't been able to use since ... Well, we're not going to go there.
What we quickly learned is that Sunday afternoon games start Saturday night ... unless, of course, you are the 66th Mob. They are proud of the fact that they always are the first cars in the parking lot at every Raider home game -- they get there two nights before and camp out on 66th Street next to the Coliseum.
We began our search for Raider Nationals at Ricky's Sports Theater and Grill in San Leandro. This Raider Mecca is an amazing bar with seven rooms, 70 screens and, occasionally, 500 Neanderthals. I had heard that while the Raiders inspire envy, awe and fear, they are actually some of the nicest people on earth. Yet I remained unconvinced. The warm welcome from owners Ricky and Tina made us feel like family. We were greeted by StonerDude, drummer in the RaiderHed band who invited us to spend the night on 66th with the rest of the crew from The Black Hole. We declined.
Met Run-Run, (aka George Jones) a waterboy/man who has worked with the Raiders for 31 years, and sports three Super Bowl rings on his pleasantly roaming hands. Two Bay Area button-down types who just adore The Black Hole summed it up succinctly: "Of course we sit in The Black Hole -- it's a quality-of-life issue to sit there."
On a misty Bay Area morning, we made our way over to the Coliseum to get there before the gates opened. Tailgating at a Raiders home game is similar to just about any other tailgate in the world. The parking lot is filled with the familiar smell of charcoal lighter fluid and Porta-potties. (Memo to Mr. Davis: Please add at least five times as many Porta-Potties as you currently provide. If you had to stand in line for as long as I did, you would know exactly what I'm talking about.) The satellite dishes bring in the morning games. The gas-operated blenders crank out margaritas. The brats and the tri-tip marinate.
But the crowd is a whole lot more ... colorful.
We stopped by "The Living Room" to meet Blitz Chick and Blitz Dude, who put some of Sara's Black Hole fears to rest while trying to paint her face. "People think we're a totally awful bunch of drunken troglodytes looking for a fight," Blitz Dude said. "With a Raider Fan at your back, that's all you'll ever want."
Lord Mordrid (from Interstate 40 or Interstate 5, and there are still some places he can't go back to) introduced me to his 7-year-old daughter, PunkinStuff, who will turn 8 on Dec. 24. "Twenty-four -- just like Charles Woodson," she instructed me. When I asked her what the best part of sitting in The Black Hole is, PunkinStuff quickly corrected me. "You don't sit in The Black Hole; you stand," she said with the kind of withering look that only a 7-going-on-8-year-old can give you. "And the grown-ups use bad words. A lot of bad words. But I'm not allowed." Daddy (Lord) Mordrid offered, "Luckily, she is too bossy to marry a quarterback."
We then met up with Raider Maximus, Lady Chanz and Spike -- and I got into a cage with a fellow who looked a lot like an editor I used to work with. "Raider fans are not pretty," they cautioned us. We were getting hungry. "No wine and cheese," they told us. "Just dead animal flesh and beer." Bring it on.
As we wandered through the parking lot, everywhere we went we were offered something yummy. Crab-boils that smelled like a summer night in New Orleans. Crispy fried chicken, deep-fried on the spot. Ribs of all size -- rubbed, and drenched in homemade sauces. Brisket. Links. Tri-tip. Scrambled eggs. Scallop kebobs. Chicken bathed in Chaka's MMM Sauce. Homemade salsa.
"Not too many vegetables," Sara muttered. "Probably should have had that Bloody Mary." We knew nary a soul in Raider Nation; but every time we turned around, we were fed, fondled, high-fived, plied with liquor and fed some more. We were, quite literally embraced by the entire Raider Nation. Hey -- What happened to those Scary Raider Nationals that I had read so much about?
The Raider Die-Hard Club has an awesome sound system ... the Beer Bong, we passed on. Ditto the concoction of Grand Marnier and Hennessey (yikes -- hangover) we were offered. We also managed to pass up about 73 free beers between 8 and 10:15. At 10:20, I was (loudly) encouraged to attempt "The Shot Block": -- a frozen block of ice carved with a zig-zag pattern. Tequila is poured into the top; and by the time it snakes its way through the ice and into your mouth, it's quite cold and smooth. And when I was handed a black Raider Thong, I wasn't at all disappointed that it sported the Raider logo instead of "Commitment to Excellence" or "Just Win, Baby."
I was hit in the head by a football at 11. I looked around and took in Raider Nation in all of its Silver-and-Black, leather-and-chain, face-painted glory. And that's when it dawned on me: The great thing about Raider Nation is that it transcends everything -- race, religion, gender, and age. Raider Nation encompasses everything that manages to divide us everywhere but at a football game. Everyone is welcome, and no one is a stranger for longer than it takes to crack open a cold one.
The Skull Patrol handed me my second shot of tequila at 11:20 a.m., and I knew I was home. "You don't choose the Raiders; they Raiders choose you." Clearly, I was chosen, and I had reunited with my Inner Bad Girl. It was time to head into The Black Hole.
For the uninitiated, The Black Hole encompasses the lowest level of the stadium in the south end zone. The great news is that the security guards don't really check to see if your fanny is sitting in the correct seat -- which makes for a great deal of moving around and allows you to explore both the terrain and its inhabitants, which is a must-do.
Paul and I ran into Lord Mordrid and PunkinStuff, and they invited us to join them. PunkinStuff made every call correctly, including hand signals, about nine seconds before the referees did. Knew every Raider and most of their stats. Lord Mordrid did have to occasionally remind his daughter, "Stop chewing on your spikes, honey." I'm certain there were fights -- there are always fights when alcohol and sports are combined -- but the only violence I witnessed was when 9-year-old Little Brown from Portland, Ore., tried to get PunkinStuff into a headlock and she strangled him back. There I was, in the most feared and reviled section in all of the NFL, and the only fans who were behaving like children ... were, in fact, the children. No one threw up on me, or Sara. One of our seatmates even brought us a hot dog, gratis, when they heard we were hungry. Everyone was there to have a great time, and they were remarkably well behaved.
And then, when a sensational punt by the Raiders rolled dead on the 1-yard line and forced the Chargers to huddle perilously close to our end zone, within (you should pardon the expression) spitting distance of The Black Hole, I was able to grasp the real significance of this vocal fan base. San Diego quarterback Drew Brees couldn't hear the play-call through his helmet audio equipment. The result: Brees was forced to burn a timeout, which came back to haunt the Chargers in the last minute of the game.
Of course, the only thing better than four quarters in The Black Hole is overtime in The Black Hole. The music gets louder, the song choices get more raunchy and the clothing gets peeled off more quickly. Fortunately for Raider Nation (especially after a humiliating Monday Night Football debacle in Denver), Oakland won the game 34-31.
Walking back to the car, Sara said she'd heard the F-word more times in one day then she'd heard it in the last 72 years. And she had never seen so many men grabbing themselves, so I guess I missed something. "All's well that ends well," some members of The Skull Patrol yelled to us.
As the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge across the Bay and we slipped into the Jacuzzi at the spa at the Claremont, Sara looked at me and asked, "Do you think they could bring us a Bloody Mary?" She took a theatrical pause. "We need to get our vegetables early if I'm going to fit into that thong."
Raider Nation helped a 72-year-old woman get in touch with her Inner Bad Girl, too.
Alysse Minkoff has written for Ladies Home Journal, Cigar Aficionado and MSNBC.com and can be reached at AGirlReporter@aol.com.