Four of the last five Super Bowl champions, the Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers, will resume their old Bay Area rivalry today on the unfamiliar turf of a sold-out Coliseum, looking for an emotional lift that only the demise of the other can provide.
Both are off to disappointing 1-1 starts. One of them is going home feeling great. One is going out 1-2, which will be even more disappointing.
The two organizations could not be more dissimilar, which could be said of any conventional football operation as opposed to the Raiders. But they have a great deal in common, too.
Both won Super Bowls--the Raiders in 1981, the 49ers in '82--with what each concedes may not have been the best team in football that season.
Both won subsequent Super Bowls--the Raiders in '84, the 49ers last January--with what each believed was a really powerful club, capable of winning more.
Each is struggling to get its offense together.
For the short-passing 49ers, continuity is everything, but it has been interrupted this season by interceptions, fumbles and dropped passes. Joe Montana has thrown three interceptions; the 49ers lost five fumbles in the opener, and Jerry Rice, the exhibition-season sensation, has dropped a couple of passes.
The Raiders are more interested in the long strike than in controlling the ball. But they seem to have decided that they had better diversify, too, lest enemy linebackers carry off their quarterbacks, one by one, while each is peering 25 yards downfield.
If the Raiders' record is a little unclear, after the Jets scrimmage and the Chiefs wipeout, there seems to be room for improvement.
In Kansas City, the Raider defense was left on the field most of the game. In a 32-minute stretch that started with the Raiders leading, 7-0, and ended with Kansas City ahead, 29-14, the Chiefs ran 69 plays to the Raiders' 29.
The Raiders' running game got 67 yards in 23 carries, and the Chiefs got three sacks, which sounds like a job for the offensive line. Today, Don Mosebar will go in at center for the long-time incumbent, Dave Dalby.
Both teams have great attacking defenses. Maybe the Raiders' is a little greater. The offense that puts it together first today will have a big step up. Maybe the 49ers' is better.
This being a rivalry where the combatants really feel something for each other, other pregame issues have emerged:
--Containment. We're talking Montana here, not the Soviet Union.
With all the marvels of Coach Bill Walsh's offense, Montana's ability to scramble and buy time in the pocket, or to turn sacks into rushing yardage, raises the 49ers another notch.
Opposing linemen are told to stay in their lanes and hope that Montana doesn't tunnel under. They are told this every week. Since he is quicker than they are, he has a certain advantage.
--Intimidation. This is a Raider game, after all.
Walsh, when asked if the Raiders try to intimidate foes, said:
"Oh, I think so, sure. They have a hell-for-leather approach to football. There isn't any question they play very bruising football, and we've got to deal with it. . . . We just have to play our football. We can't worry about the dialogue between plays."
Image apparently counting for more than reality, it has gone almost unnoticed that the Raiders haven't done much of that. There has been speculation that Coach Tom Flores cautioned them about bad penalties and irrelevant combat.
Of course, they're only 1-1. At any time, the blackshirts may decide: No more Mr. Nice Guy.
--Howie Long vs. Bubba Paris.
The game doesn't hinge on this matchup, since the 49ers will block Long not only with a tackle but also with a guard and perhaps the center, two halfbacks, a water boy and the chaplain.
Walsh said: "He's the prototype of a great defensive lineman--powerful, very, very quick and extremely aggressive. But we've held up against outstanding players before. I think we'll hold up against this team and this player."
Paris and Long met in the exhibition season. Once, Long blew past Paris, who tackled him from behind and was called for holding.
Long then swatted Paris' helmet off. Paris just chased it down.
"He didn't apologize," Long said. "I just wanted to let him know I wasn't real excited about the idea. He wrenched my back, and I have a bad back. The least I could do was come back and make at least a slight attempt to rip his head off.
"That was the one time I came off the ball that game. I just hope he gets me mad early this time."
Paris is a born-again Christian who even proselytizes opponents on the field. He seems to have passed on Long, though.
"He's never tried to save me," Long said, laughing. "I think he thinks I'm beyond that. When he sees this helmet, he doesn't see salvation. He sees retribution."
The 49ers are three-point favorites. . . . Raider tight end Todd Christensen, asked why no team repeats as Super Bowl champion anymore: "You can talk about complacency. You can talk about the fact that all the teams get up for you. If I had to pinpoint one thing, it's arrogance. You get delusions of grandeur. You're playing in the Super Bowl, in front of how many million people worldwide. And you conquer them, and all of a sudden you're on top of the world. And then when you come back six months later, you seem to feel like you've assimilated that and that everybody should honor that somehow and respect it, that you start off the game six points ahead because you're the champions. And that's not how it works. It takes reality to hit before you come to the conclusion that they still play 60 minutes and the game starts 0-0. . . . Delusions of grandeur, that's fairly common in our society for those that accrue a certain amount of success."