With apologies to Dr. Death, Storm Raider and the other face-painted members of the Black Hole at Oakland Coliseum, most Carolina Panthers players claimed to know little about the most raucous fan base in the NFL.
They will soon.
While the Panthers prepare for their first trip to Oakland since 2008, they’ve received the scouting reports on Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s fourth-quarter heroics and the Raiders’ bend-but-don’t-break defense.
But it sounds like Panthers coach and Northern California native Ron Rivera will have to give his team a primer on Raider Nation.
I don’t care about no Black Hole, man.
Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy
Defensive end Kony Ealy was among several players Wednesday who responded to questions about the Black Hole – specifically Section 105 at the crumbling Coliseum – with blank stares or silence.
“I don’t care about no Black Hole, man. This is the first time for me hearing it,” Ealy said. “We’ve just got to go out there and do our job. The environment changes, we don’t. I’ve been saying that for weeks.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he’d heard of the Black Hole, but did not expand.
Wide receiver Philly Brown didn’t know much about the Raiders growing up in Philadelphia, and said Sunday’s game afforded him the first opportunity to study their team.
But Brown seemed intrigued when told about Raiders fans who wear elaborate, silver-and-black face paint, spiked shoulder pads and lots of skull-and-crossbones regalia to games.
“It sounds like a fun environment to play in,” Brown said. “But I’ve never heard of it.”
Rivera, who grew up about 100 miles from Oakland, has relatives who are still diehard Raiders fans. He expects some of them to show up Sunday in Raiders’ colors.
“I’m not kidding. I’m serious,” Rivera said. “They love me. But they’ll have their Raiders’ (gear) underneath their Panthers’ gear.”
Michael Griffin knows
Panthers veteran safety Michael Griffin has advised teammates to have their friends and family members leave their Panthers’ gear at home.
“I always tell people, if you have any family members, whatever you do, tell them do not wear anything outside of black,” Griffin said. “Because they can point you out.”
Griffin could have a hard time blending in Sunday.
The last time Griffin played at Oakland – in 2013 as a member of the Tennessee Titans – he leveled Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera with a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Rivera out of the game with a concussion.
The NFL suspended Griffin for one game and fined him a whopping $205,000 as a repeat offender, Griffin said Wednesday.
Griffin hopes Raiders’ fans have short memories.
“They don’t like me out there, I don’t think,” Griffin said. “We’ll see.”
Griffin said he’s always enjoyed playing at Oakland, no matter the noise or nuttiness.
“It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a hostile environment. They’ve got great fans. I love ‘em,” Griffin said. “You like those type of fans. They get in there. They’re very loyal fans. It’s the Black Hole.”
Griffin said every NFL player should get the chance to experience playing in Oakland. But those opportunities might be dwindling.
Raiders owner Mark Davis told fellow owners last month he plans to seek their approval to move the team to Las Vegas, where state lawmakers recently agreed to increase hotel taxes to provide $750 million toward a new stadium for the Raiders.
Rivera was a linebacker at Cal when the Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982. Rivera didn’t like the prospects of Oakland losing its team then – or now.
“I was sad to see them go the first time because I was at Cal when it initially happened. And it was sad because there was so much tradition and history,” Rivera said. “You hope that they can work something out. I’ve heard there’s been some talk that may have sparked up. For (deceased owner Al) Davis, I’d love to see that team stay, because there’s a tremendous fan base.”
One that the Panthers will become much more familiar with by late Sunday afternoon.
“If they are in Vegas, I still think those fans will be there. There’s Oakland Raiders fans everywhere,” Griffin said. “It’s a great fan base. They’re one of the best fan bases that are out there.”