One final dispatch from Raider Nation

Tailgating took on an added dimension before the January 13 AFC Championship game in Oakland. Naturally, the adrenaline was sky-high to begin with, as only the Tennessee Titans stood between Raider Nation and a trip to San Diego. Raiders fans began lining up their cars and partying as early as Thursday while waiting for a parking space.

Every one of the faithful in attendance carried bitter, disappointing memories of a championship loss to the Baltimore Ravens just two years earlier, and a palpable sense of urgency was in the air. One of those fans was Metallica frontman James Hetfield, who has been a regular at Raiders games since the early 1980s in Los Angeles.

So, buoyed by a chance to give the fans the little extra something they might need, Hetfield and bandmates all donned Raiders jerseys and played a ripping pre-game parking-lot set that had all the energy of a Charlie Garner burst into the secondary.

Hetfield, looking fit in a Jon Ritchie jersey after a lengthy stay in rehab (insert your Raiders fan joke here), led the group through a six-song set that focused on a universal theme: kicking Titan ass!

Playing on the same semi-trailer stage that it hauled to Tower Records on Watt Avenue in Sacramento for a free show in 1996, Metallica opened with “Fuel,” followed by “Master of Puppets.” Hetfield seemed particularly touched when, during the slow part of the latter tune, the crowd improvised its own chorus of “Raiii-derrrs! Raiii-derrrs!”

While seasoned vets Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett manned their respective positions on drums and guitar with Brown- and Rice-like expertise, there was a new face on bass. Actually, it was longtime Metallica producer Bob Rock, who some time back became the “temporary” bassist for the group after Jason Newstead left to test the waters of music free agency. Rock filled in aptly, like Clarence Love in the banged-up Raiders secondary.

After cranking out “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Sad but True,” Metallica dusted off the Bill Romanowski theme song, “Seek and Destroy.” This prompted one fan, clad in Hall of Famer Dave Casper’s jersey with “Ghost” emblazoned across the back, to approach another fan wearing a Casper jersey. In the midst of the ever-growing throng, the ghost said to Casper, “How about a friendly pit?”

Suddenly, there were swarms of silver-and-black-clad bodies hurtling around like Eric Barton on a blindside blitz. The band closed with “Battery,” and the masses made their way inside. Oh, and the Raiders put on a good show, too.

Too bad the next game was held so close to Tijuana, a risky proposition with such a hard-partying team.