OAKLAND – The Raiders celebrated a comeback victory over the longtime rival Pittsburgh Steelers two week ago on the field but, as his team up the tunnel to continue festivities in the locker room, head coach Jon Gruden jogged over to the Black Hole.
He shook hands and offered high fives to Raider Nation's most loyal sect, thanking them for unwavering support. They earned it after weathering another brutal season full of losing and controversial moves.
Gruden has a kinship with Black Hole residents. Always has. Gruden's a gritty, blue-collar type who understands these fans' devotion to the Raiders and the NFL game.
"It's just the loyalty…I'm here 20 years later and I still see those guys and still recognize a lot of them," Gruden said. "I appreciate them and hopefully we can keep that spirit alive wherever we play."
That's why Gruden as been so cautious when commenting about the new Las Vegas stadium set to open in 2020 while still playing in Oakland. He is sensitive to the fact that Monday could be an emotional night.
It's possible this is the last game ever in Oakland. The city is suing the Raiders and the NFL for antitrust violations and breach of contract, prompting owner Mark Davis to look elsewhere for a 2019 home.
Gruden has wisely stayed out of all the stadium talk, especially the prospect of leaving Oakland earlier than originally planned.
"I try not to speculate on things," Gruden said. "There have been a lot of things that happened this year. You can't control a lot of it. You just have to hope that that is not the case and hope that it works out. If it is the last game, it will certainly be a sad day."
That's why, win, lose or draw, Gruden will likely reach out to the Black Hole after Monday's game.
"Why not? Whether it's the last game there or not, I got a lot of respect and thankfulness for our fans," Gruden said. "It's Christmas Eve and the end of the season, we have a lot to be thankful for. We haven't won many games, but the people that know this football team know what is going on inside here and know that there has been some really cool foundation that has been laid. I think the fans appreciate the effort and they know we appreciate them."