COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made his first start as pro in 2006 against the Oakland Raiders at the Black Hole, a 27-0 win on Monday Night Football for the Chargers in which he completed 8 of 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Gates.
Now in his 16th NFL season, Rivers will complete the cycle Thursday when he faces the Raiders for the last time at the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders will move to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in 2020.
“I think I can talk [Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen] into more than 11 attempts on Thursday,” joked Rivers. “It will be awesome. I think any time you go to these division places that you’ve been a lot, there’s a lot of familiarity there, and it is special because of how many times you’ve been there.
“So I’m excited. I think our guys are excited. The fact that it’s a night game and it is a big game, the aura of what that place has meant over the years will be alive I’m sure on Thursday night.”
Rivers has had success in Oakland over the years, with a 9-4 record in the 53-year-old Coliseum. He’s 18-8 all-time against the Raiders. Rivers and his teammates appreciate the unique environment that is the Coliseum.
“It was definitely a testament to who they are as a fan base,” Okung said. “They’re rabid, they’re crazy and they love their team.”
Former Chargers edge rusher Shawne Merriman shares a similar experience. Merriman, who totaled a career-high 8.5 sacks against the Raiders in his eight-year career, said he got hit in the helmet with a battery on the sideline after delivering a big hit to then-Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins during his rookie season in 2005.
“I did the ‘lights out’ dance and was celebrating and whatnot,” Merriman said. “I got back to the sideline and I was just about to take my helmet off — but I didn’t, thank God — and somebody threw one of those square, 9-volt batteries at me.
“I’ll never forget that walk to the stadium. They’ve got those tight hallways, the old locker room, the double stairs walking down and that hard baseball field that you would always tear your elbows on after sliding around on it.”
Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson had 2,055 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns against the Raiders over his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s really about the fan base and how dedicated they were,” Tomlinson said. “Just seeing guys like Ice Cube at that game. Personally, that was my first time ever meeting Ice Cube in Oakland. For him to call me over and want to take a picture, I felt like a superstar. He’s a huge Raiders fan, like one of the biggest, but he wanted to take a picture with a Charger.
“So that’s where I was like, ‘Raiders fans are crazy but they show respect to guys they enjoy watching.’ They always were creative, not only in their costumes, but I remember the time they had their little doll of me. And some of the great players that played there, they would always have that doll, kind of like a voodoo doll. So just their passion is what sticks out to me.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is 4-0 against the Raiders during his tenure, having swept the season series the last two seasons.
“I have a lot of memories of the ‘Black Hole,'” Lynn said. “That’s a fun place to play football. Every game is like Halloween. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement. It’s a good place to go play.”
While Lynn fondly remembers competing at the Coliseum as a player and a coach, he also understands that he has to keep a watchful eye on the stands.
“That’s what they are known for,” Lynn said. “I’ve been hit with beers, batteries, you name it. I’m going to miss it. No doubt.”