INDIANAPOLIS — “When you go to Oakland, it’s The Black Hole, man. It’s The Black Hole. It’s not really an explanation about that situation.”
There is so much that can be said about the atmosphere on a gameday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and the famed (or infamous?) “Black Hole.” Perhaps Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle and former Oakland Raider Jihad Ward said it best.
“The fans are crazy down there," Ward said. "It’s crazy fans down there."
Ward’s Colts will travel west to California this weekend to take on the Raiders in what will likely be the Colts’ final visit to Oakland before the Raiders are expected to move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
Ward — who injured his ankle in last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills — was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He spent the first two years of his career in Oakland before being traded to the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, and then picked up by the Colts.
“The atmosphere. The fans — it’s nice fans out there. Every game is just a roar,” Ward said as he reflected on his time in Oakland. “Everybody knew I played with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and all them guys. It was just good times. It was a team, it was a brotherhood there.”
That brotherhood isn't exclusive to just Oakland, however. Ward still keeps in touch with some of his former Raiders teammates, including quarterback Derek Carr, and said they've relayed how proud they are of him and his success here with the Colts, which has included a career-best three sacks through just six games played.
Outside of Ward, the Colts are not without other Oakland transplants. Tenth-year safety Mike Mitchell, whom the Colts signed a couple weeks ago, was also a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2009.
“They have a lot of pride in that organization. I believe they had three Super Bowls. They want to win,” Mitchell said. “I can tell you the fan base is amazing. It’s been one of the best fan bases I’ve been around — win or lose — they do a pretty good job showing up and supporting the team. I always remember it being a hostile environment.”
Mitchell was in Oakland for a very odd time in their history, seeing the roller coaster of the Jamarcus Russell saga, the Tom Cable and Hue Jackson head coaching debuts as well as the death of former owner Al Davis.
“Fond memories — I don’t really have a whole lot," Mitchell admitted. "Obviously always grateful to the Davis family (for) giving me my first opportunity to play in this league. Everytime I see Mark Davis, I give him a hug and tell him, ‘Thank you for what your father did for me and my family.’
“I know they hadn’t beaten San Diego in a long time when I was there. It was my second year there, we ended up getting a good home win against them,” Mitchell said, referring to the 13-game losing streak the Raiders snapped against the Chargers, which dated back to 2003. “That’s probably one of the better moments.”
Defensive lineman Denico Autry also spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders before becoming a Colt this offseason.
“The fans. The passion and love that they have for the game. Once a year you’d get a guy run out on the field and stuff like that,” Autry said with a laugh when asked about his memories of playing for the Raiders.
BLACK HOLE ‘HOSPITALITY’?
The Colts still have some players in the locker room from the last time the two teams played in 2016. However, they also have someone who used to play in Oakland once a year.
Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman was with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers from 2014-17 along with Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and head coach Frank Reich. Inman made the trip to Oakland three times.
“It is a crazy place, The Black Hole. I love playing in The Black Hole,” Inman said. “The fans are crazy, for sure. The costumes, there’s no place that can compare to the costumes that you see in Oakland. It gives you a little more edge. It gives you a little for excitement and humbleness to it. You’re in this place where — it’s different. It’s different.
“Sad to see the Raiders leave ‘cause you always look forward to pulling to the stadium, all you see is the smoke from the grills, (and) the fans showing you no love whatsoever. I’m gonna miss that for sure.”
Given the atmosphere at Raiders home games, Inman was asked if Halloween weekend might make things interesting for the Colts on Sunday.
“Every week is Halloween week in Oakland.”
COLTS-RAIDERS PAST AND PRESENT
In their 47-year history of matchups, the Colts are 3-2 against the Raiders in Oakland, not counting the period from 1982-94 when the Raiders were located in Los Angeles.
Likely the most notable of the Colts' matchups with the Raiders was the "Ghost to the Post" game, a double-overtime AFC divisional playoff on Christmas Eve in 1977 played at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
The last time the Colts visited the Raiders was Week 16 of 2016, a 33-25 Raiders victory that ultimately spoiled the Colts’ chances of earning a playoff spot that year. The Colts bested the Raiders in their previous showdown in Oakland, however, with Peyton Manning’s team winning, 31-26, in Week 16 of 2010.