Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Deconstructing the 49ers-Raiders "Rivalry"

            Pop quiz, folks:  Raise your hands if you can tell me, off the top of your head, the last San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders game that meant anything.   Stop lying, put those hands down.

In the last twenty years, these teams haven't played a single game of significance.  I did a little research -

The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995.  Since the move back, the 49ers and Raiders have met in regular season play 4 times.  The following is a chronological list of these inter conference match ups:

2010: 49ers 17, Raiders 6
Raiders final record: 8-8
Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Raiders missed winning their division by two games.

2006: 49ers 34, Raiders 20
Raiders final record: 2-14
Division Winner: San Diego Chargers (14-2)
The Raiders missed winning their division by 12 games.

2002: 49ers 23, Raiders 20
Raiders final record: 11-5
The Raiders won their division and went on to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2000: Raiders 34, 49ers 28
49ers final record: 6-10
Division Winner: New Orleans Saints (10-6)
The 49ers missed winning their division by 4 games.

I don't feel the need to dig much further - what happened when the Raiders played in Los Angeles doesn't matter, and most of the people reading this weren't even alive before the Raiders moved south.

What exactly defines a rivalry in football?

 There are a few different types, the first of which is an intradivision rivalry.

The Raiders should know a thing or two about division rivalries - the entire AFC West is like one dysfunctional family at Thanksgiving dinner.  The Raiders and Chiefs have hated each other for decades.  Raiders fans despise the Broncos after the year of Tebow.  And most Raiders fans wouldn't piss on Philip Rivers if his powder blues were on fire.  These rivalries are born out of familiarity, out of years of facing the same team twice in one season.  The Giants and the Eagles, the Ravens and the Steelers, the Packers and the Bears - these are all teams that truly know the meaning of a rivalry.

Then there is the interdivision rivalry, or more specifically, the playoff rivalry.  The 49ers know about those because of their historically weak division.  They have faced off with the Cowboys in the playoffs seven different times.  49ers-Packers was a pretty hot rivalry in the 90s, and 49ers-Giants is a rivalry renewed after this last season.

So then what we have here is an inter-conference rivalry, right?  How did these inter-conference foes develop their rivalry?  Heated battles of years past?  Super Bowl match ups? Neither.

The 49ers-Raiders rivalry is an illusion - a pissing contest between two groups with gang mentalities.  Two neighboring cities battling for superiority, for bragging rights.  Unfortunately, Oakland and San Francisco can't behave.  We rarely get to settle things on the field so we'd rather settle it in the parking lot with guns.  We have never played a game with meaning. Beyond the preseason match ups (which won't happen anymore thanks to the violence that this "rivalry" creates), we only meet once every four years, and we have never met in the Super Bowl.  Before 2011, both teams inhabited the dredges of the NFL for the same amount of time. In other words, neither fan base has any reason to boast.
In fact, we should actually be rooting for one another to succeed.  The most coverage that the Bay Area has gotten nationally in years occurred early in the 2011 season when both the Niners and Raiders were upstart and hot.
It's your choice, bay area football fans.  If you want to trash talk the other side of the bay and call it a rivalry, go right ahead.  I'd suggest saving your breath, because it'll be another two years before this rivalry reignites on the field anyway. 

Photo Credit: Ben Margot (AP)

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