From reading reactions to my last column about rivalries, it is clear that most football fans don’t realize the extent of the San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider rivalry.
Now, I'm not saying that it is the most high-profile rivalry in the NFL, or even close to it—but I'd like to shed some light on the under-the-radar bitterness between the two teams.
As with most great rivalries, there is unfathomable love for one team and absolute loathing for the other. It doesn't help that fans for both squads live in close proximity to one another in the breathtaking Bay Area of Northern California.
And by close, I mean Oakland is a mere 12 miles across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco.
Yet even closer are the friends and neighbors (heck, the wives and husbands!) whose allegiances are split. While it's true that you're more likely to find clumps of Raider fans in East Bay towns like Richmond, Danville, and Vallejo, there are just as many diehard fans supporting the Maroon and Gold in the North and South bay, like in San Mateo, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara.
Some areas, though, mixed loyalties, and here is where you find a majority of the heated rivalries. Take San Jose, for instance. Located in the South Bay (so, geographically speaking, 49er territory), San Jose is home to a plethora of proud Raider fans.
The 49ers are currently in the progress of building a new stadium in Santa Clara. While suggestions for a name change have been floated, I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of the “Silicon Valley 49ers.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, we now have the nerds of the NFL.
One hardly ever sees Niner jerseys (especially in the era after Rice, Young, and Montana) on fans outside of Monster Park—but Raiders tops are easy to spot.
Still, both teams share a similarity: The fans have an unwavering loyalty to their team despite disappointing seasons.
Both Bay Area teams failed to make the playoffs this season, but the true supporters in Northern California never leave their teams behind.
Locals joke that you don’t want to be in Oakland when they lose; Raider fans storm the streets, looking for cars to smash and mayhem to cause.
You don’t want to be in Oakland when the team wins either, because fans are wont to smash beer bottles in celebration.
While this Bay Area rivalry may not get the national attention or credit it deserves, the fans on both sides do their part to ensure bitter loathing for each respective team.
Many outsiders would argue that the teams don’t even play in the same conferences (AFC West for Oakland; NFC West for San Francisco), so the rivarly couldn’t possibly be as fierce as the between other NFL teams.
But the lack of games between the two squads ensures a big turnout when they finally do play each other. The built-up tension can end in a banner win or embarrassing loss on either side.
The Raiders lead the series 6-5. The rivalry stems from 1970, when the SF Niners dominated the turf to clinch the NFC West Title (their first).
Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 was a big deal for Northern California football fans. It had been eight years since a Bay Area team was in the big game (SF in 1995, who beat the Chargers)—and both Niner and Raider fans were geared up for kickoff.
I was at a watching party in Santa Clara, with a considerable number of San Francisco and Oakland fans. The San Francisco fans wanted nothing more than for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to slaughter the Raiders.
At one point, I asked the Niners fans in the room why they didn’t want to root for the Raiders. After all, I said, “It’s all in the Bay Area anyway…”
Dead silence, a couple eye-rolls, and snickers were the quick reply.
The Niners fans were so passionate about the Raiders losing that they would have rooted for any other team in the Super Bowl—the Seahawks, the Cowboys, the Rams, anyone.
If you want to make peace with fans in the Bay Area, try some sport other than football. The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics don't share a notably heated rivalry, and the whole Bay can bask in the glory of the Golden State Warriors.
I passed a memorable bus stop advertisement a few years ago. It read, “No Nation is strong enough to defeat the Faithful.”
If that doesn’t scream "RIVALRY!"...I don’t know what else would.