Fifteen passionate Oakland Raider fans in New York City fly over 'Fly-over Territory' to the 'Promise Land' of Oakland, California, to root for the Silver and Black. What will they think of Oaktown's notorious Black Hole?
John Lauro of New York City could hardly contain his excitement as he boarded a plane at JFK for SFO en route to what he describes as 'the Promise Land of Oakland'.
As Head Honcho, Man in Charge, Supreme Dictator, and Head Bartener at Silver and Black Empire: the NYC Home of Raider Nation in New York City, John was leading 15 Oakland Raider fans, which he describes as "the craziest bunch of die hards this side of Oakland".
The Oakland Raiders have die-hard fans all over the United States and around the world. Some of their most passionate fans reside in the Tri State Area.
Their hangout is Peter Dillion's, which is located at 130 Easst 40th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue in mid-town Manhattan.
Reppin the Raiders at MetLife Stadium
John and his crew were flying over Fly-over Territory to attend the Raiders Fan Convention and root for the Raiders as they took on the Denver Broncos at Oaktown's notorious Black Hole.
John had already led larger groups of NYC Raider fans to games between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
"This was my first trip across the country and defintely my first game in Oakland," John says.
"Taking the BART, and seeing the Coliseum for the first time, gave me chills of pride. When I saw that big 'Commitment to Excellence' banner ... no words!"
John was rolling with about 15 club guys from New York plus some friends from 'all over', as well, including a die-hard Raiders fan from across the pond.
They stayed at the Oakland Airport Hilton on Hegenberger Road, which connects Oakland International Airport with the Black Hole.
Shortly after checking in to their hotel, they were headed for Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill in nearby San Leandro, which has been ranked the second best sports bar in the United States.
Established in 1946, the sports bar has more than 90 TVs and mutliple satellite dishes. It is all chock full of Raiders memorabilia.
Ricky's is known as Raider Mecca. All Raider fans must make a pilgrimage there at least once in their lives.
"Ricky's ... what can I say?" John enthuses a bit awestruck.
"Ricky's IS the place! I can only hope to make Peter Dillon's half the bar that Ricky's is."
Stars and Stripes Forever
"I was on the field looking out over the stadium on the Black Hole side of the field," John says.
"I stared back into the End Zone at all the Raider friends I've met throughout the past few years. I spent more time in the End Zone then the Raiders did!"
Because of his role helping to unfurl the Stars and Stripes, John missed out on the tailgating before the game.
But he has no regrets, calling it 'a great experience'.
"After that, it was time to enter the Stadium," John says.
"Walking into the Black Hole was a feeling that I don't have the words to describe. It was awe inspiring!"
Hangin' Out With the Nation
The best part of the trip for John was the time he spent with the Raider Nation, connecting with fans from all over the country, and the time he spent with his crew from NYC.
"We've grown together, this being my fifth year doing this," John says.
"I thought we were tight before, but our bond is iron now. Will I be going back? Not soon enough! We have already started planning our next trip, same time next year. The Fred Biletnikoff Charity event is a great charity that we support, and it always coincides with the weekend that the Raiders Fan Convention is held."
The Oakland Raider fans that made the trip this year have all said they plan on doing an encore next year. And some of the guys that didn't go say they are planning on going next time around.
"My crew is already all in, and some of the guys we left back home are planning on joining us next year!" John says.
"The Raider feeling is something that can't be defined and must be experienced! Hey ... how bout you come with us next year. It's time to come home. Mike!"
Sounds like an invitation I can't refuse! As soon as next year's NFL schedule is announced, I'll start making my plans. California, here I come!
Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill, 15028 Hesperian Boulevard, San Leandro, California. Telephone: (510) 317-0200.
Ricky's is located in San Leandro, California - which is just south of Oakland. It is 2 BART stations from Oaktown's notorious Black Hole. You can hoof it if you don't mind walking a few blocks. Or you can call a cab.