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Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Updated: January 17, 12:29 PM ET
The Big Gang theory

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

That thing, in the shroud, spiked shoulder pads and rubber skeleton mask -- at least, we think it's a mask -- clanging a cowbell, looking like Death warmed over? That's a true believer. That's a disciple of the Lord of the Bling-Blings, Emperor Al Davis. And this, pilgrims, is the Black Hole.

Technically, the Black Hole is what they call the southwest end zone, including the player runways, at the Network Asso-- ... what am I saying? I know better. I've been there. I just sent Dog out there. It's the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It's also known as the Black Hole.

Painted fans
Jersey: $80. Face paint: $10. Bandana: $3. Pouring your soul into the Black Hole: Priceless.

If you think there's no there there, try wearing a New York Jets jersey and a fireman's hard hat into the Black Hole, or some Tennessee Titans' hook-up this Sunday.

You won't be wondering if there's a there there. But you will be wondering if there's a hospital there.

There isn't. Not on that side of town.

Getting there? A giddy maddening descent. The Black Hole is bracketed on one side by what was California Highway 17, also known as the Nimitz Freeway, or the Numnutz, to those of us who dared it in a compact or even a poorly built mid-size car, or sporty model. Twisted and mangled steel is often piled up on the sides of it, until the wreckers and the ambulances can get there. Tiny crosses dot its history. Now it is part Interstate 880, also known as the NorCal autobahn for 18-wheelers with drivers specializing in riding bumpers and crystal meth. Trucks carrying metal parts, live animals, California produce and contraband rumble up and down the road incessantly, along with cars, and vans, and SUVs, with loads of strange alien beings on Raider game days. During the Loma Prieta earthquake, part of it was the freeway that collapsed. Denizens of the Black Hole take the Hamburger Hill exit (Hegenberger Rd.) or the Coliseum and 666th (66th) exit, in search of fellow extra-terrestrials.

On either side of the freeway is just one big industrial park. The green residential part of Oakland is five miles due east, on either side of the rolling swales of Interstate 580, where trucks and illegal aliens are not allowed, and where Laker Brian Shaw can look down from his palatial hillside digs at the distant Mothership -- but we are not talking about that.

Tattoo fan
Don't wear any Titans garb into the Black Hole, or you'll get tattooed by the crazies.

On the other side of the saucer known as the Coliseum rises a concrete river called BART, or, Bay Area Rapid Transit. Many Black Holeians arrive at the game this way. I told Dog not to take the BART train to the game, although, being a New Yorker, he is comfortable on trains, accustomed to taking the 7 to Shea, or the 5 or 6 up toward Yankee Stadium. But BART, particularly in the East Bay on game day at the Coliseum stop, is reserved for One Nation. People walk across the concrete connector en masse, roiling, rolling, Hell's Angels singing their death songs, Deadheads playing their music, habitues of Raider haunts like Ricky's, in Hayward, utility workers of all hues, shades, suasions and continental origin and Bay Area counties; money managers and shot-out dot.comers from across the Bay, made up like they were of the Nation, and acting like they're in "Fight Club," trying to see what it is to live on the edge, even as a fake alien being. All of One Nation is not adverse to heckling -- if not outright punching -- recalcitrant strangers, promising death to all other invaders.

On the rare occasions when the Raiders lose at home, they all walk back across to the BART trains in both somber and occasionally dangerous moods, if any joy or hilarity about the occasion is sensed in an outlander. They be serious, bro.

Inside the Coliseum bowl -- more concrete. Every thing is hard around there. To bring in a pillow is to admit you have a candy ass, and makes you suspect, because all denizens of the Black Hole are hard-asses, even women -- a good thing, too, because the seats are hard; the denizens of the Black Hole rarely sit down in them. Luxury suites are for human beings, not the denizens of the Black Hole.

Once inside, you would think they'd be temporarily sated from their pregame "tailgating" -- grilling hunks of flesh, sliced off with serrated machetes extending from the wrists of Predator over there. Some extend dentures and denature corn on the cob inside 10 seconds, like Alien there. They are the wildest crowd you've ever seen, their individuality subsumed into One Nation. They are like the Borg, but they are not the Borg. They are better. Real. Scarier. Much. Blacks paint their faces white, whites paint their faces black, Asian men and Latina women combine to look like Gene Simmons of Kiss after a three-day bender. They are one contiguous mass and live to submerge themselves into One Nation like this. And truth be told, it makes us smile, too.

If we are smiling from afar, that is.

Fans & Jerry
The Black Hole hates the enemy, but treats Jerry Rice with love and respect.

Some people say these cannot be humans at all, that the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum was built by alien beings from outer space, just like the Egyptian pyramids. I don't know about all that, but then again, there is Pharaoh, applying even more mascara, screaming something about the head of Eddie George being mounted on his staff. Hey, don't ask. Smoke ascends constantly. Something unholy is being barbequed. It's either "Escape from New York," or the cast of "Star Wars." Look, there's Chewbacca, painted silver and black! Chewy! Get off me! Who you got with you ... is that ... is that ... a man in there, or some Thing? My God ... it's, it's some new kind of life form. Sentient, organic life ... either some weird recombinant form of Jabba the Hutt, or ... no ... it can't be ... Jason Whitlock!

As I just told Dog, when you go to the Black Hole, not on the field with a mike covering your ass, but actually up in there, and you are asked if you are there with a team, then trust me: Say you are with the Oakland Raiders. I don't care if you're with the Red Cross, there to tender first aid to the busted-up guys in the Jets' jerseys lying in a pool of their own blood. Say you're with the Raiders anyway.

A somewhat cantilevered flying wedge -- true alien architecture -- was constructed over the original bowl. More seats, at the demand of the Emperor of California. Up there, that's the safest place. It's either that or down in the lower bowl, and the Black Hole, itself. You must wear the alien silver-and-black camouflage there. It can be mild, just some face paint or dark wraparound shades and a Raider cap and a black T will get you by, although you will draw looks.

On the mez level, the Emperor, Al Davis, and his trusty leftenant, Jim Otto, creaking when he walks on inhuman, alloyed hinges. Nothing has changed in this picture in 25 years. No one has moved. Or aged. Like the little girl in "A Beautiful Mind." Does them being there mean we're mad?

Not as mad as them, apparently.

There are other saucers spun off from the Mothership Coliseum in East Oakland (even as we speak, the extra-terrestrials of the Black Hole are slowly assembling, and are demanding to devour the entrails of Jeff Fisher, and sharing some kind of weird plant life with a Mr. Hunter S. Thompson, who appears to be right at home, and saying unkind things about what we presume would be Fisher's surviving widow). There is a Coliseum in a seedier part of Los Angeles that was appropriated by One Nation for its own nefarious purposes several years ago. And One Nation has even infested what was once called Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. Now it's called "Qualcomm," no doubt some bizarre alien word for "imminent invasion," or at least "eminent domain." And they do have strange tongues in the Black Hole. Listen to them flick and fork, lizard-like. Isn't that -- yes, it's Dusty Baker! Or a clone, made up in white greasepaint like he's in "Dead Presidents" or something.

Nothing escapes the Black Hole. Not heat. Not light. And certainly not the Tennessee Titans.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."