I was patrolling my lawn, wielding a spray bottle of herbicide
as if it were a police-issued side arm, when I was startled by
Melvin, my sports-minded neighbor.
“Whatcha doing?” he asked.
“Spraying my lawn for weeds,” I said. “You should try it
“Hey, I came over to ask you a question,” Melvin said, oblivious
to my rapier-like sarcasm. “Are you ready for the battle of the
bay? Are you fired up for the clash of the titans? Are you down
with Oak-town vs. Frisco?”
“Actually, that’s three questions,” I said. “I assume you’re
talking about the Raiders- 49ers game?”
“It’s gonna be great!” he said.
“It’s never great,” I replied.
“It began in 1970 on the lush tundra of the Oakland-Alameda
County Coliseum,” Melvin said, trying to imitate NFL Films
voice-over legend John Facenda, but sounding more like Lurch from
“The Addams Family.” “It was an epic battle “… “
“It wasn’t an epic battle,” I said. “My dad took me to that
game. The 49ers were the only team with
something to play for. The Raiders had clinched the AFC West. They
committed nine turnovers. Nine! It rained all afternoon.”
Melvin paused briefly. “Then,” he intoned as Facenda/Lurch, “on
a crisp fall afternoon in 1974 “… “
“In ’74,” I said, “the 49ers had five turnovers. The
Raiders won so handily that Ken Stabler threw just 11 passes.”
Melvin looked confused, not unlike the time I explained to him
that the Crazy Crab was an ironic spoof on real mascots.
“Everyone looks forward to these games, but they’re almost
always forgettable for one reason or another,” I said. “In ’79,
neither team was headed for the playoffs. In ’82 they played the
opening game of a strike season. They scored a combined 30 points
in the ’88 and ’91 games — all on field goals.”
“Overtime?” Melvin asked weakly.
“I’ll give you that,” I said. “They went OT in 2000 and 2002.
The ’02 game was pretty good — two teams headed for the
postseason, and probably the best game Jeff Garcia ever
Melvin sprung back. “Four years later,” he said dramatically,
“in a game that will never be forgotten “… “
“They came in with a combined 1-6 record,” I interrupted. “The
Raiders had five turnovers in the second half. They benched Andrew
Walter for Marques Tuiasosopo. The 49ers won by two touchdowns.”
“Then what am I supposed to do with this?” Melvin said, pointing
to his shirt, a faux jersey with John Isenbarger’s name and number
in red and white on the front, the back a silver and black homage
to Carleton Oats.
“That,” I said, “is precisely why Pete Rozelle invented
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