St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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    The black hole

    Fans like Violator and Spike uphold the Raiders mystique.

    By MARC TOPKIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- They start preparing midweek, working on their technique, checking their equipment, brushing up on opponents' weaknesses.

    photo
    [AP photo]
    Oakland's fans put as much energy into preparing for each football game as the Raiders – and at times are feared more by opposing teams.
    Raiders' players? Well, sure. But to them it's still just a game.

    To Oakland's fans, to the Glad-A-Raider, the Violator, Spike, Darth and Goth Raider, BlitzChick, Shield Head, Chain and the lovely Lady Chain, to the thousands who sit in the Black Hole section of the end zone, who make up the Skull Patrol, who post the WELCOME TO HELL signs, it is much, much more than that.

    "It's a passion," said Raider Mort, a k a Steve Mortara, chairman of the board of Raider Nation, the unofficial fan umbrella group. "A passion, and a way of life."

    By far, Oakland's fans are the most crazed, creative, cacophonous and coarse in the league, and that's just the C's. And they can't wait for the stage Sunday's AFC Championship Game will provide.

    What's it like in the stands? There are painted faces, leather jackets and spiked hair. And that about covers the children.

    The adults? Just your usual collection of spikes, skulls, chains, studs, tattoos, masks and eye patches, with a few hand grenades mixed in.

    "If I come back in the next life, I want to come back as a Raiders fan," Baltimore's Tony Siragusa said. "Some of those outfits are unbelievable. These people are like crazy sickos. And I love that."

    To what does it compare? That depends on your frame of reference. A Hell's Angels reunion? A jailbreak? Scenes from the Road Warrior movie? A Marilyn Manson concert?

    "It's like Halloween every Sunday," safety Marquez Pope said.

    The Raiders love it. They love the show, they love the energy, they love what they say is an unparalleled home-field advantage.

    "It's a little bit intimidating," said tackle Barry Sims, who didn't see a lot of people dressed that way in his native Utah. "I can only imagine what it's like to be on the visiting team."

    "To be honest with you, I would rather be in prison for a day," Baltimore's Shannon Sharpe said. "It's a lot safer.

    "Going out there, everything is fair game. I've been hit in the head with some nails and batteries. I've had beer thrown on me. Hopefully we'll have security there, but I don't know. They might be in on this thing, so I'm not going to put too much trust in those guys."

    Actually, the core fans say they're not trying to attack or injure anyone, just trying to help their beloved team.

    At least that's the way Joe Tuccinardi looks at it. During the week, Tuccinardi is a successful bay area businessman and happy family man.

    But on Sunday, he is the Glad-A-Raider. The transformation actually begins Saturday, when Tuccinardi puts on the silver and black face paint, the football pants, the shoulder pads, the shield, the sword and the rest of his accessories.

    He and the rest of the gang like to get an early start, so they usually meet around 2 in the morning before a game. But the playoffs are more demanding, so they're planning to gather on Raiders Street outside Network Associates Coliseum at about 8 p.m. Saturday, about 17 hours before kickoff.

    "We've got a lot of passion, that's what it is. That's the main thing," Tuccinardi said. "Everyone thinks we're a dangerous bunch, but we're just having a good time.

    "What people need to know is that a guy like me, I go to church, I'm a family man, I've got two kids, I make six figures. We're not a bunch of punks and skells. We're family guys who love football."

    Raiders coach Jon Gruden remembers his first trip to the Coliseum. He was a coach with the Eagles in 1995, and he and a few of the assistants rode the team bus through the parking lot. "It was a little different than anything we'd seen," Gruden said. "But I've really grown to appreciate and enjoy playing at home. I really look forward to the presentation our fans put on. It's exciting."

    Even more exciting was the Oct. 22 Seattle game, when Gruden looked up and saw his very own 3-year-old son, Michael, being passed around by the fans in the Black Hole.

    His mother had accepted an invitation from a neighbor to sit there for a game and brought Gruden's wife and son with her. Now Gruden makes it a point to venture into the Black Hole section each game. All week, he has lauded the fans for their "relentless support" and has asked them to turn it up even more Sunday.

    "I've met the Terminator, the Alienator and Darth Raider," Gruden said. "There's all kinds of them up there. There's all kinds of costumes and silver-and-black creatures in the stands. It's exciting to take a look up there after a win and see it."

    And after a loss?

    "I just try to get the hell out of there," Gruden said.

    Fortunately for all parties, the Raiders have lost only once at home all season. And, needless to say, all of Raider Nation is expecting another victory Sunday.

    If it happens, Gasparilla may look like the St. Petersburg Christmas Parade compared with to the invasion being planned.

    "We're ready to go to Tampa," the Glad-A-Raider said, "and take over the ship."

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