By CHRIS BATEMAN
For most of two decades they've been football's stepchildren, consoling each other season after dismal season.
But for Mother Lode Oakland Raider fans, those dreary days are gone: The Silver-and-Black are in Sunday's Super Bowl, taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
No longer in the shadows of their at-times smug San Francisco 49er counterparts, Raider backers here are savoring the team's long-promised return to glory:
Eric DuTemple, a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge and unabashed Raider backer, surprised his Niner-fan secretary by turning her office into a Silver-and-Black dungeon trimmed with posters, pennants, T-shirts and even a Raider pinata.
"It looks like the Black Hole in there," crowed DuTemple. His long-suffering secretary, Margaret Smith, had little comment.
Micki and Larry's Sports Pub, a self-styled Copperopolis Raider bar, is gearing up for a loud, raucous Silver-and-Black Sunday-afternoon crowd.
Kathy Sandelin, an otherwise normal 36-year-old Sonoran, will spend more than an hour Sunday morning transforming herself into "Skull Lady" a painted, chained and spiked regular at Oakland Coliseum. But this time Sandelin will watch her beloved Raiders on TV. "We're having a party," said Skull Lady. "But no Niner fans allowed. I don't want to have to hit anyone."
Dan Brown, an Oakland season ticket holder, lucked out by winning a pair of Super Bowl tickets in the team's lottery. He's since turned down an offer of $1,500 apiece and with his eternally grateful brother-in-law, Dave Crocker is San Diego bound.
Raider fever, indeed, is epidemic in the foothills.
And don't look for any orders from Judge Eric DuTemple to slow it down. When it comes to the Raiders, this guy is not objective.
Fans of other teams are "poor misguided fools" and those brazen enough to wear their colors do so at their own risk.
No, DuTemple doesn't discriminate against Niner-fan lawyers in court. And, no, you won't win favors by wearing silver and black.
"But if people want to believe otherwise, that's fine by me," DuTemple said with a grin. He also confessed to on occasion wearing Raider gear under his robe.
Then there is his secretary, Margaret Smith, whose allegiance to the Niners earned her office an after-hours redecorating job from the boss.
"He still lets me wear my Niner hat," said Smith. "It's a beacon in the Black Hole."
Among the courthouse staff there are whispers of a hostile work environment.
Commented court bailiff Candace Harmon: "It looks like (Raider owner) Al Davis vomited in there."