OAKLAND, Calif. – They are the most notorious fans in the NFL and they are proud of it, selling T-shirts that testify to their infamy.
The Raiders’ Black Hole grew amid the fans in the Oakland Coliseum’s south end zone. It has its own website and branded merchandise, and its members won’t be dressing up just because today’s game falls on Oct. 31. They dress up because the Raiders are playing the Seahawks at home today.
“Halloween in Oakland,” Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, pausing for effect. “It should be interesting.”
That’s one word for it.
There will be costumes, there will be face paint, and there will be a man wearing a full monkey costume. That would be Gorilla Rilla, a mascot of sorts.
In a league filled with copycats, the Raiders remain unrepentantly original – from their roster decisions to the dedication of their fan base.
They talk tough, play with a swagger and prize speed as the great trump card.
And while that approach hasn’t yielded many wins during a string of losing seasons, the Raiders are returning to Oakland after scoring a franchise-record 59 points in Denver last week. They are one win from .500, and they have a roster full of players capable of running away from you.
“You can’t get faster than their guys,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
That’s the result of two things:
• The Raiders have finished with five wins or fewer in seven consecutive seasons, meaning the roster is chock full of high-end draft picks such as running back Darren McFadden.
• This is a team for which 40-yard-dash times carry biblical importance. Darrius Heyward-Bey is a receiver most teams considered no higher than a third-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Raiders made him the seventh choice overall, in large part because he was so fast at the combine.
“Great speed at the skill positions, no doubt about it,” said Gus Bradley, Seattle’s defensive coordinator.
That extends to the defense, too. The Raiders don’t expect their corners to defend receivers man-to-man, they demand it. It has been that way for years.
“They’re confident in their coverage skills going back to the days of Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes,” Hasselbeck said.
Nnamdi Asomugha is now one of the premier defensive backs in the league, and free safety Michael Huff is a former top-10 pick.
For the past two games, Hasselbeck has tempered the riskiness of his decisions in the pocket. He has opted to stay safe, and it has been 10 quarters since he was picked off, a run of 97 consecutive pass attempts.
There’s a balance, though, and a quarterback can’t overlook all opportunities for fear of making a mistake. Hasselbeck said that a conversation with offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch after the team’s bye gave him a much better understanding of how to measure the risks against potential rewards.
“Going into that Chicago game, I felt a lot more free than any point I had earlier,” Hasselbeck said. “I feel better about that, but there’s still a fine line. There’s a balance there.”
A balance he will strive to maintain against a secondary built on speed and in front of a crowd that prides itself on a notorious reputation.