It is a rivalry that never was.
The so-called Battle of the Bay between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders Thursday will serve as the last, and perhaps least impressive, of the meetings between these NFL 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.
In the future, it will be 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.
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 NFL 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.