s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

Return with me to an age long ago, when weed wasn’t legal in California and Oprah Winfrey was not a viable presidential candidate. Back, back, through the mists of time — to Oct. 29, 2017.

It’s an era that people now refer to simply as “The Bad Time.” Ask an old woman about The Bad Time, and she will drop her eyes and nervously shake her head. No one wants to talk about it, because NFL football in the Bay Area was a nightmare.

And now? Now spring has returned to the fields of Santa Clara and Oakland. Blades of grass are poking out of the turf, and the song of birds has returned to the air. You can say it has been only 2½ months. I say it’s a lifetime.

In a season filled with failures at both ends of I-880, Oct. 29 was a low point.

The 49ers played at Philadelphia that day, and it was ugly. The Eagles won 33-10 and physically pummeled the visitors, knocking at least six 49ers out of the game. Somehow, C.J. Beathard was not one of them. The rookie quarterback was sacked four times and hit repeatedly as the Niners fell to 0-8 for the first time in team history.

At the same time the 49ers sank to their new low, the Raiders were getting throttled in Buffalo. This was another in a series of “must wins” for Jack Del Rio’s team, but the players didn’t get the text. A week earlier the Raiders had appeared to save their season with a stirring, last-play victory against the Chiefs, but they were dreadful in the 34-14 loss to the Bills. They turned over the ball four times, watched the Bills score 27 consecutive points and moped home with a 3-5 record.

Think about where the teams stood at that point.

Yes, the 49ers had shown some life over those eight losses. Beathard looked under-resourced but tough, and people were warming up to the idea of his getting a shot at the starting job in 2018. There wasn’t a high degree of frustration among 49ers fans; we all knew the ’17 season would be a long and forgettable one.

But man, it was getting hard to watch. The roster was tattered by injuries. (Tight end Garrett Celek was one fallen comrade away from playing offensive tackle in that Eagles game.) And the 49ers were inert. After a string of close, competitive losses, they had been crushed by a cumulative score of 73-20 in back-to-back games against Dallas and Philadelphia.

Faith remained high in the ability of rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan, but not in the timetable. It was starting to look like the 49ers were years away from success.

In Alameda, things were even gloomier. Analysts were calling the Raiders the most disappointing NFL team of 2017, and the Buffalo game justified the insult. At the midway point of the season, reality had made its bitter return to Oakland. The Raiders would be leaving for Las Vegas in a couple of years, and the dream of one final Super Bowl for the original locals had become a taunt.

Then came Oct. 30, and the first rumblings of the tectonic shift to follow.

That was the day the 49ers announced their trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. Even then, it was a pick-me-up. The quarterback was largely an unknown quantity, but a lot of NFL teams wanted him, and the Niners got him for the reasonable price of a high second-round pick.

So what if the team was winless and defenseless? The 49ers might have just landed the quarterback of Shanahan’s future.

Of course, we had no idea. No one did, except for Garoppolo and God. And when I say God, I mean Bill Belichick, who apparently has become even unhappier after Jimmy G’s departure from New England.

After starting the final five games of the season and directing wins in all of them, Garoppolo hasn’t given the 49ers a step up. He has built them an elevator. By the new year, San Francisco players were openly discussing how no team would want to face them in the postseason. Consider how bizarre those sentiments would have sounded on Oct. 29.

The 49ers’ late-season arc had its negative image in Oakland. The Raiders dropped their final four games to meet the Niners at 6-10, and looked meek in the process. Nothing could sugarcoat this mess.

Well, almost nothing.

There was probably one person in the world who could lift Raiders fans out of their deep funk. And he will burst through the doors at noon today, at a press conference in Alameda. The press release said, “Flat-soled shoes are recommended,” so there may be dancing. Saying the Raiders will “introduce” Jon Gruden is silly, because everyone who lived around here before 2002 knows what he brought to this franchise.

Somehow — wait, I remember now, it was a promise of $100 million from team owner Mark Davis — Chucky is coming back to Oakland.

For 16 years, since patriarch Al Davis traded Gruden to Tampa Bay and started the Raiders down their road to ruin, Oakland fans have pined for the coach like a loyal dog whose master has gone to sea. Every year there were rumors of Gruden’s return to coaching. Every year they fell apart as we remembered how much money he was making to work half as hard in the TV booth.

When Del Rio was fired and the Grumors started anew, they still didn’t seem real. There was no way the biggest personality in the business would return to the city that loved him most, to the team that sent him packing all those years ago.

But here we are, hours away from “Jon Gruden, head coach, Oakland Raiders.”

And so Oct. 29, 2017, may as well be Oct. 29, 1917, it’s so far removed from our current reality. Relics like Brian Hoyer and Todd Downing have gone the way of the horse and buggy.

In fact, I’m hard pressed to recall the last time the 49ers and Raiders collectively entered a season with such pep. Was it 2011? No. Jim Harbaugh brought Grudenesque fanfare to San Francisco that year. But while Hue Jackson was a nice hire, Raiders fans needed convincing. Was it 2002, when both teams were coming off of playoff appearances? No, because Gruden had just been sent to Tampa Bay like a player-to-be-named-later, and successor Bill Callahan had yet to prove he could sustain the momentum. Maybe 2001? No, that would be a playoff year for both squads, but the 49ers were surprises after finishing 6-10 in 2000.

To find this level of offseason anticipation among our gently warring fan bases, you have to go back to 1981. The Raiders had just won their second Super Bowl in five years. (Curiously, or maybe not, the team had one foot out of Oakland then, too.) And the 49ers had wrapped up a 6-10 season under Bill Walsh that felt a lot like this past 6-10 season. You could sense the shift in momentum, the feeling that greatness might be on the horizon.

And so what if 1981 didn’t turn out as expected, at least for one of our teams. The 49ers accelerated their rise and won their first Super Bowl. But the Raiders dipped to 7-9 that year, their last before they moved to Los Angeles for a 13-year fling.

The 2018 season might bring disappointment to one of these teams, too. Or even both. But that hardly matters at the moment. Thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo, Jon Gruden and the 10 weeks that changed Bay Area football, we have achieved a state of temporary bliss.

You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment