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Rubino: Seahawks bitter Bay Area rivalry began with Raiders


There's something about those darn Seattle Seahawks.

Like a persistent itch that can't be scratched away, they have a nasty habit of getting under the skin of Bay Area pro football fans.

First it was the epidermis of Raiders fans. Now it's the 49ers faithful driven to distraction by the team from Seattle.

Of course you know about the current state of the nastiness. Niners vs. Seahawks, Act II in the 2013 season, takes place next Sunday at Candlestick Park, and between now and then the rivalry's robust rhetoric is sure to reach a fever pitch. Act I, as if players or fans of either team need to be reminded, ended with the Niners deafened, defeated and depressed.

The foundation of the Niners-Seahawks rivalry was built in 2002, when Seattle moved from the AFC West to the NFC West, where they had played for one season ("competed" might be too generous a description for an expansion team that managed to win just two games), in 1976, their first year of existence.

But the rivalry heated up (caught fire, really) in 2011 when Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers' head coach, a year after Pete Carroll took the coaching reins at Seattle. Carroll and Harbaugh added considerable spice, and their Pac-10 history, to the rivalry, Carroll having come from USC and Harbaugh from Stanford. And coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, with the arrival of their current head coaches, both teams instantly went from overlooked to high profile.

But you probably know all that, right? What you might not know, or even if you do it might be interesting to remember, is that long before the Seahawks became the Niners' nemesis they were spoiling, or trying awfully hard to spoil, Raiders' seasons.

Among the Raiders-Seahawks rivalry highlights, or lowlights, depending upon your perspective, are the following.

In 1978, what would be John Madden's final year as coach, the Raiders were just two seasons removed from their first Super Bowl championship and looking to advance to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. But they finished 9-7 (as did the upstart Seahawks), one game behind division-winning Denver and without a postseason invitation.

Two of those seven blemishes were to the Seahawks, who were in only their third year of existence. One of the losses was a 27-7 embarrassment at the Kingdome, the other a 17-16 heartbreaker at the Oakland Coliseum. In both games, Jim Zorn outplayed fellow lefty quarterback Ken Stabler. It was what's called an eye opener. Also, the birth of a bitter rivalry, accent on bitter.

The very next year, 1979, turned out to be, as Yogi Berra might say, d??vu all over again. Another 9-7 record for the Raiders (likewise for Seattle), again shut out of the postseason, again losing twice to the Seahawks, including a 29-24 setback in the season finale, Zorn again besting Stabler, in what turned out to be the Snake's final game for the Silver and Black.

The Raiders moved to Los Angeles after the 1981 season, leaving many fans in Oakland sad but still loyal, and the feud with the Seahawks, reduced from boiling to merely simmering, came along for the ride.

And then it reignited in 1983. Quarterback Jim Plunkett, the Raiders' Super Bowl hero from the 1980 season, was so rattled in a 38-36 loss at the Kingdome (a score that doesn't come close to indicating Seattle's dominance) that he was summarily demoted, even though the Raiders were still in first place in the division, and replaced by Marc Wilson, whom owner Al Davis envisioned as the Next Big Thing.

Two weeks later, though, the Seahawks intercepted Wilson four times, and the Raiders lost, 34-21. And two weeks after that, with Wilson injured, Plunkett was back under center.

The Raiders' performance in the 1983 postseason, though, can stand as an inspiration to any team (including the 49ers, if things don't work out next Sunday but they still earn a playoff berth) that has to face a division rival for a third time after losing twice in the regular season. In the AFC championship, the Raiders disposed of the Seahawks, rather handily, 30-14, and went on to win their third Super Bowl in an eight-year span.

The 49ers under Harbaugh are 3-2 against the Carroll-coached Seahawks. But the Seahawks have won the past two, and neither was pretty from a San Francisco point of view. A year ago in Seattle, the Seahawks won 42-13, and it wasn't as close as the score indicates. Then, three months ago, in Seattle, the Seahawks scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of a 29-3 win, and they've been riding high, mighty confident, ever since.

When it comes to those darn Seahawks, older Raiders fans can empathize with current 49ers fans' added excitement, and added anxiety, as this season's Act II of San Francisco vs. Seattle nears.

<i>Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.</i>