The Bay’s Final Battle – The New York Times

The Bay’s Final Battle – The New York Times

It’s a rivalry that never was.

The so-called Battle of the Bay between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night will serve as the last, and perhaps least impressive, of the meetings between these N.F.L. teams separated by a thin body of water.

But even in a season that is already lost for both teams — the Raiders are 1-6 and the 49ers are 1-7 — there remains a feeling that the game, which will be held at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, should matter.

“I wish the game had two 8-1 or 7-1 teams playing in it,” Coach Jon Gruden of the Raiders said on Monday. “Hopefully someday soon you’ll see a game like that.”

That would involve a different type of rivalry, as the Raiders could leave the Bay Area as soon as next season, and will certainly be gone by the time they would play the 49ers again. Yet the gravity of the situation is almost nonexistent, partially because the teams have done this dance before — they were separated by 390 miles from 1982 to 1995 when the Raiders were in Los Angeles — and mostly because there was not much to the rivalry anyway.

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Over 59 seasons in existence together, including one during which both teams called San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium home, the 49ers and the Raiders will have met just nine times in the years they shared the Bay Area. Each team has won four times so far, making Thursday’s game, despite its meager entertainment prospects, a rubber match.

There is a fierce rivalry among the fans, but not one to be proud of. It caused the teams to be barred from playing each other in the preseason after a 2011 game that resulted in multiple acts of violence, including a shooting, among fans.

As a result, the pinnacle of the rivalry, it seems, was its first incarnation. That came on Dec. 20, 1970, when the 49ers needed to beat a star-laden Raiders squad to make the playoffs. San Francisco delivered a 38-7 beatdown on a rain-soaked day when John Brodie completed only seven passes, but had three of them go for touchdowns.

In The San Francisco Examiner, Al Corona called it a meeting of “arch rival” teams, and the players acted accordingly. Corona chose not to reveal which one got the 49ers locker room rolling by saying, “Things started to go bad for Oakland when Al Davis ordered it to stop raining and nobody listened.”

Davis, the irascible owner of the Raiders, had told reporters earlier in the week that “the 49er game is no big deal for us” since Oakland had already clinched a playoff spot, but he was in no mood to expand on that thought after the game. He summed up his feelings with a one-word expletive and then added, “What can I say? I don’t want to discuss it.”

The matchups after that first one offered little to remember.

Ken Stabler took over for Daryle Lamonica as the Raiders quarterback, and he easily won his two games against the 49ers, besting Tom Owen in 1974 and Steve DeBerg in 1979.

The Battle of the Bay then went on an extended hiatus as a result of the intricacies of N.F.L. scheduling, as well as the Raiders’ sojourn in Los Angeles.

The teams played five times as intrastate, rather than Bay Area, rivals, with the Raiders winning three of the games despite it being an era dominated by the 49ers.

It was a gap long enough that neither Joe Montana nor Steve Young ever played in a Battle of the Bay game. The Hall of Famers had already given way to Jeff Garcia when the next Oakland-San Francisco game was played on Oct. 8, 2000.

Rich Gannon beat Garcia that day, and Garcia returned the favor with an overtime upset in 2002 — a speed bump on the Raiders’ journey to the Super Bowl that season.

Alex Smith beat Oakland twice (taking on the “I forgot that guy was on the Raiders” duo of Andrew Walter and Jason Campbell), and in the most recent installment of the rivalry, on Dec. 7, 2014, Derek Carr beat Colin Kaepernick.

Thanks to that unimpressive list of games, there is an argument to be made that the biggest blow of the rivalry came not on the field, but in an office in 2001, when Jerry Rice, the N.F.L.’s leader in all receiving statistics that matter, ignored San Francisco’s request that he retire and instead signed with Oakland. He was not the only 49ers great to leave for the Raiders — Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig did the same — but his defection was the most painful.

The last on-field chapter between the teams comes as the Raiders are fairly obviously tanking (even if they deny it), and after the 49ers’ high hopes for the season were dashed when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3.

Carr has enough talent to be a threat even with a paucity of quality teammates, and the 49ers have a roster good enough to somewhat mitigate the shortcomings of C.J. Beathard, or his backup, Nick Mullens, who may be pressed into duty because of a wrist injury to Beathard. As a result, Las Vegas, which the Raiders will soon call home, has made the 49ers 3-point favorites at home. That is the equivalent of oddsmakers shrugging at the concept of choosing an outcome.

Based on their relative job security, 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan has far more motivation to do well than Gruden. So perhaps that will be the deciding factor. But a rivalry that began with something of a roar will go out with more of a whimper.

Pick: 49ers -3

The game is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. Eastern, and will air on Fox and the NFL Network.

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