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49ers, Raiders Stagger Into Battle of the Bay

October 08, 2006|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Nobody will be bragging after this Battle of the Bay.

By almost any measure, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders have never been this bad at the same time in their 34 seasons of Bay Area cohabitation.

Both of these franchises seem well on the way to their fourth consecutive losing season. They're two hapless organizations beset with underachieving stars, struggling coaching staffs and pervading disgust from their respective faithful, who hand down allegiance as a birthright in this otherwise low-key sports metropolis.

Bragging rights are worth less than most of former 49ers general manager Terry Donahue's draft choices when the teams meet at Candlestick Park today. The Raiders are on their longest losing streak in more than four decades, while the 49ers are coming off the biggest shutout loss in franchise history.

Yes, this weekend just might be the absolute nadir of the history of Bay Area pro football. But the lowly 49ers (1-3) and the miserable Raiders (0-3) also know this might be their best chance in several weeks for a victory that could breathe some life into their season.

"We're in no place to underestimate anybody," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "We have to right our own ship first. We're less focused on this rivalry and more about just getting ourselves together."

Though San Francisco and Oakland have faced off in six straight preseasons, this is only the clubs' 11th regular-season meeting since 1970, and their third since 2000. And it hasn't always been this bad for these clubs: When they met four years ago, some wondered whether both teams would reach the Super Bowl.

The previous two meetings were decided in overtime, with the Raiders winning on Rich Gannon's touchdown pass to Tim Brown in 2000. Jeff Garcia's gutsy performance led to a winning field goal for the 49ers over the Super Bowl-bound Raiders in 2002.

But last year, both teams were 4-12, the fewest combined victories for both squads in one year since the Raiders joined the AFL in 1960. Both teams have flagging ticket sales, with more fans disguising themselves as empty seats at sold-out Monster Park than at any time in memory.

"We're struggling a bit right now, trying to get back to the point that our tradition has been," 49ers Coach Mike Nolan said of both franchises. "At the same time, I think that there is respect across the Bay for one another."

Nolan's father, Dick, was San Francisco's coach in the clubs' first meeting in 1970 in a regular-season finale. The 49ers won 38-7, earning only their second NFL playoff berth in 21 seasons -- and the players carried Nolan off the Oakland field in a moment captured in a photograph hanging on the wall of his son's office.

Mike Nolan was 11 years old at the time, but the game registered in his consciousness. He has another photo in his collection from that afternoon, showing 49ers receiver Gene Washington catching a pass over Raiders cornerback Kent McCloughan -- the father of Scot McCloughan, now the 49ers' top personnel executive.

Nobody will be saving any photos from the 49ers' 41-0 loss at Kansas City last week, which erased three weeks of quietly encouraging progress for a club that has won only seven of its last 37 games.

Quarterback Alex Smith, who was sacked by Oakland's Warren Sapp in his first exhibition action last season, coaxed just 165 yards out of an offense that had managed at least 360 in each of its first three games.

But 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner could have extra motivation and information for this matchup: The Bay Area native spent the last two seasons in charge of the Raiders, watching over the incredibly unproductive offense that led to his firing.

"This game has a great tradition," Turner said. "It's a great rivalry from a lot of years. The first time they played, I think I was a kid."

The game is more likely to be decided when the Raiders have the ball. They've scored just 27 points this season, tied for the fewest in the NFL, but the 49ers' beleaguered defense has yielded a league-high 126 points.

Andrew Walter will make his second start at quarterback for the Raiders, who have lost nine straight after blowing an 18-point lead in a 24-21 home loss to Cleveland last week.

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