Rob Rivera, co-founder of Black Hole section of Raiders fans, dies of COVID-19

LAS VEGAS -- Rob Rivera, co-founder of the iconic Black Hole section of Raiders fans when the team called Oakland home, died this week from complications of COVID-19.

"Sad day for Raider Nation," Raiders coach Jon Gruden told ESPN in a text. "He was The Original. Most importantly, a great man who loved life."

Rivera, who was in his 50s, was inspired to create the section after seeing the Cleveland Browns' Dawg Pound on television in 1994.

"But let's do it on rabies," Rivera recalled for ESPN's E-60 in 2019.

The Black Hole was in the southern end zone of the Oakland Coliseum and has now taken root in the southern end zone of Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium.

"He is arguably the most important fan in Raiders history, building and growing the Black Hole in Oakland," said radio host John Tournour, aka J.T. The Brick, who will host a tribute show in Rivera's honor Wednesday. "There's a lot of guys who put on a costume, and no slight to them, but he was so proud of the Black Hole. He lived it.

"The sad thing is he never got a chance to come to Vegas to see a game. He had plans to come out later this season and sit in my seats. But he passed away because of this awful pandemic, which should get everyone's attention. If it can happen to Black Hole Rob, it can happen to anyone."

The Black Hole, one of the most iconic fan sections in the NFL that referred to itself as football's most notorious fans, has 28 chapters across the country, as well as outposts in Mexico, Australia and Germany.

Rivera told ESPN the Black Hole was a "fan phenomenon" and took off with fans painting their faces and dressing up in costumes.

"We've had to battle a negative stereotype of the Raider Nation," Rivera said. "If ever you wanted the best football fan experience, step into the Black Hole, because that's what we'll give you."

The Raiders, who called Oakland home from 1960 through 1981 before moving to Los Angeles from 1982 through 1994, returned to Oakland in 1995. A handful of superfans have made the trek from the Bay Area to Las Vegas, where the team moved in 2020. Fans were not allowed in the stadium last season because of pandemic regulations, and only vaccinated fans are allowed in now.

"His vision was that one day, with the blimp overhead looking down, the entire stadium would be the Black Hole, but the heartbeat would be Section 105," said Mark Acasio, who also goes by the costumed superfan persona "Gorilla Rilla" on game day and who has made the transition to Las Vegas.

"He sold me his personal seat to sit in the Black Hole back in 1996 and he took me under his wing to be a part of it all, and it grew from there," Acasio said. "With the reboot and restart in Las Vegas, his legacy and his aloha spirit will continue to grow."