Time to venture into the Black Hole

The 49ers enter the Black Hole later this evening, and that's not such a bad thing, unless you're the 49ers. It's the latest version of that not-so-friendly neighborhood rivalry known around Northern California as the Battle of the Bay, and even though it's just a meaningless exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders, the Niners might be wise to keep their helmets on before, during and after the action at the Coliseum in Oakland.

Batteries have been known to be flying from the stands from these acidic and rabid Raiders fans. The end-zone fan sections in this stadium could be some of the worst in pro football for opposing players. And since it's the 49ers - a team loyal Raiders fans love to hate more than any other - the volume and vitriol will be turned up more than usual.

The 49ers have some interesting and varied anticipation for the event, which of course the team will be using as a final evaluation before Tuesday's mandatory NFL roster cutdown to 65 players.

Niners Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia, who grew up in the Bay Area as a fan of both teams, said: "I'm excited about it. I think it's a treat. I think that the atmosphere that is present at the Coliseum is unbelievable. I think it's something everybody looks forward to experiencing. Going into that type of situation, and just seeing all the creativity in the stands, I think it's going to be very interesting."

Just the same, Garcia is asking his loved ones to stay away from this game. "Nobody I know will be wearing No. 5 red jerseys in the stands," he said. "There's no reason to promote anything that's possibly going to be harmful to themselves. ... You hear stories. So I just want my family to be safe. So stay at home. I know my dad will have no problem making Raider friends, but they're going to be at home, so go ahead and keep it safe for this game."

Niners Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry, who also grew up in the Bay Area as a fan of both teams, says his proud family won't be backing down in the unique atmosphere. "You know my family is going to be there," he said. "I'll have 12 to 15 people there, and in the regular season even more. My sister and my dad will have their (No. 62 Niners jerseys) on, I know that."

Niners coach Steve Mariucci appreciates the conditions just because of the test it will give his team as it prepares for the regular season.

"I like going there for a preseason game," Mariucci said. "I hope it's a very hostile environment, loud and crazy and distracting and all of those sort of things. We need that. I like that. It's difficult to win on the road in this league, and that will help us prepare for those games. We need it."

And, they're about to get it.


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