“The Town” vs. “The City”
The cities themselves claim a long-time rivalry that spans across cultures, cuisine, baseball, and ultimately two of the most historically relevant teams in the NFL; the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. The latter comes to an end in 2018. Headed into this finale, we thought it a good idea to give some historical context.
The two cities are separated by 4.5 miles of water and joined together by one of the longest spanning bridges in North America. While close in proximity, these two cities couldn’t be any more different.
The one time capital of California has a rich history that begins with the 1849 Gold Rush that saw travelers head west with a glimmer in their eye and a dream of striking it rich. “The City” quickly became the center of finance, business, and naval operations in Northern California. Devastated by the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt and became stronger and more popular than ever.
Just across the water, Oakland’s rise to fame was built upon a blue-collar ethic emanating from various ports, shipping yards, and warehouses. “The Town” has long been known for its deep history ranging from the birth of the Black Panthers and the Hell’s Angels to a wide variety of art, music, soul food, and a trifecta of east bay sports teams–an army of athletic clubs presided over by a Silver and Black clad king known as the Oakland Raiders.
Roots of the Rivalry
In the early 20th century, San Francisco experienced a near water crisis as Bay Area cities were struggling to get enough potable water to their quickly growing neighborhoods. With many options at their disposal, SF officials looked to one of the most expensive means of channeling water to the peninsula–Hetch Hetchy.
In order to fund the hefty $125 million price tag, San Francisco politicians sought consolidation by annexing surrounding territories to create a unified Bay Area. Make no mistake about it, SF’s envy of New York’s size was also a major factor in all of this. Manhattan’s annexation of Brooklyn in 1898 cemented the Big Apples five boroughs and catapulted the east coast metropolis to the second largest city in the world.
In 1912 it all came to a head when a local general election would decide the fate of the Bay Area’s landscape. SF’s dream of a Bay Area mega-city came to a halt when the amendment failed to garner two-thirds of the vote. In this article by Shan Downing, he sums up the sentiment of the east bay perfectly in one paragraph:
Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce reportedly viewed the movement as “a bare-faced attempt to reduce Oakland to the status of a borough of imperialistic San Francisco,”…and The Pasadena Star said that such an annexation would “…drag [Oakland] into the mire of San Francisco politics and despoil it of its individuality.”
One might say the rivalry started at this moment.
The Battle of the Bay Begins
Throughout the history of sports, teams have often come to embody the image and personality of the cities they represent. The Detroit Pistons’ hard-nosed mentality and the super-sized Dallas Cowboys (see AT&T stadium) are great examples of this. Additionally, the “classy” (questionable) Forty Niners and the “gritty” (bonafide) Oakland Raiders illustrate the dynamic well. Two cities so close in proximity, yet so different in culture, met on the gridiron for the first time in 1970 and thus, the Battle of the Bay was born.
The rivalry didn’t begin so well for Raider Nation. Coming off the heels of the AFL-NFL merger, the rivalry began with playoff implications. The Raiders had the opportunity to knock San Francisco out of the playoff hunt with a victory. However, the 49ers blew out Oakland 38-7. Daryle Lamonica was intercepted once in the tilt and San Francisco’s John Brodie threw for three touchdown passes to solidify the win. While both teams went on to compete in the playoffs, their respective fans were robbed of a potential Battle of the Bay Super Bowl as Oakland and San Francisco both lost their championship games.
Over the next half a decade, the Raiders would emerge as a perennial powerhouse while the Butterscotch and Crimson would begin a decade-long decline in relevance. Smack dab in the middle of the 70’s the two teams would meet again. This time the Silver and Black would get the best of a shootout that resulted in a 29-35 victory for the “The Town” at Candlestick Park.
In 1979, the Raiders would meet the Niners one last time at the Oakland Coliseum before moving to L.A. just three years later. Both teams had just transitioned their head coaches (Bill Walsh and Tom Flores) and the Raiders were still riding high off their 1976 Super Bowl victory against the Minnesota Vikings. The Raiders would best their cross-bay rivals 23-10 on the strength of Kenny Stabler’s arm and the blistering speed of Cliff Branch. These two Raider legends connected for two touchdowns on a day that spelled victory for the Boys in Black.
In 1980 and 1981, respectively, the Raiders and Forty Niners would bring Lombardi trophies back to the Bay. The Raiders became the first wild-card team to win it all and the 49ers would earn their first Super Bowl victory of the Walsh / Montana era. The Raiders would relocate in 1982 but remained in California and so did their rivalry.
San Francisco’s squad faltered after their ’81 season and the Los Angeles Raiders took advantage. On the eve of Halloween, Marcus Allen ran for 116 yards–good enough to defeat their California counterpart 23-10.
Coming off a phenomenal 15-1 season in 1984, the dominant Niner defense stifled the Oakland Raiders 23-10 in 1985. Jim Plunkett became well acquainted with L.A. soil after getting sacked nine times in the tilt. Three years later, the Silver and Black sailed back to the Bay Area to exact revenge in a low-scoring affair that resulted in a 9-3 victory for the Silver Pillagers.
After battling with the NFL to get what he wanted in Los Angeles (a state of the art stadium and the short-lived promise of hosting two Super Bowls), Al Davis announced he was planning on moving his team back to the Bay Area in 1991.
While the move wouldn’t happen until 1995, these two Bay Area born clubs would meet again in 1991. On the heels of that announcement, the Raiders hosted SF in L.A. while blanking newly-minted starter Steve Young on the day, and beating the tan legged 49ers 12-6.
After decimating the Raiders (14-44) in 1994, the 49ers had their sights set on a three-peat. The Raiders were aimed at earning one more Lombardi for the city of Los Angeles on the back of the Silver and Black draped phenom: Bo Jackson. Neither team would succeed in their journey. The Silver and Gold clad teams lost their championship games and, once again, deprived their fan bases of Bay Area Super Bowl matchup.
Fast forward to the new millennium. The internet didn’t crash, digital clocks took one on the chin and kept ticking, and the battle of the bay was truly back in effect. The A’s, yes the Oakland Athletics, were in the playoffs on the strength of the Bash Bros redux and the arms of their three-headed monster. The Raiders were also back in the mix under the leadership of Jon Gruden and the resurrection of Rich Gannon. This inaugural millennial matchup was a shootout with the Raiders emerging victorious. Gannon connected with Tim Brown in overtime to defeat the Jeff Garcia / Terrell Owens led 49ers 34-28.
In 2006, SF would fire back against an Oakland team devoid of quarterback talent. The 49ers defeated Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo 34-20. Four years later, the 49ers held Jason Campbell to just 83-yards passing to earn their first win of the year, 17-9. SF had lost five straight games going into this matchup.
Fast forward four more years and the two teams met once again. This game would signal the rise of the Oakland Raiders new regime, and the end of the 49ers run under Kaepernick and Harbaugh. The Raiders ended a three-game losing streak in a very convincing victory against the 49ers in their first Oakland-hosted Battle of the Bay in twelve years.
The Exhibition Tradition
While these regular season games meant something to both players and fans, these pre-season tilts always meant something to fans of both teams. Bragging rights are everything to fan bases and these exhibition matches held just as much meaning to some fans as a playoff game. Due to their proximity, their scrimmages were practically an annual event as were their joint practices.
This tradition came to an end in 2011 when the tension manifested in physical violence. While fights at NFL games aren’t uncommon, this tailgate proved near fatal. Fights in the parking lot, bathrooms, and stands erupted all throughout the day. The final straw came after the game when two men were shot in the parking lot. The Raiders and Niners have not met in the pre-season ever since.
In 2018, the Battle of the Bay comes to a definitive end. Some fans have yet to consider this while most have (ticket prices confirm this). The NFL has definitely taken this into consideration as the Battle of the Bay concludes on National Television.
This rivalry ends its run at a time where both teams appear to be on the rise. Oakland seeks to right the wrongs of the 2017 season under the helm of a matured version of the man whose scowl earned him the nickname Chucky. The Forty Niners secured what they hope is their answer to an unstable parade of post-Steve Young quarterbacks (Jeff Garcia, Tim Rattay, Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, Trent Dilfer, Colin Kaepernick, Blain Gabbert, Brian Hoyer, and C.J. Bethard) in Jimmy Garoppolo. While both fan bases are brimming with optimism, this should be a clash for the ages.
Tale of the Tape
Headed into this year’s Battle of the Bay finale, the Raiders own overall bragging rights with seven wins in 13 regular season contests. Final Bay Area bragging rights are on the table this year as Raiders fans will either leave Levi Stadium with the last word or an even record against the “South Bay Gold Panners.” For what it’s worth, there’s no gold in Santa Clara. But this year, there’ll be plenty of Silver!
Postscript: Should both clubs fulfill their fans optimism, the Finale could be extended. The best-case scenario would parlay the rivalry into a long-awaited Bay Area Super Bowl.
Written by: Kenny Stapler