Pros and cons of swaying Bay Area spotlight
January 07, 2003
Benefits of losing Bay Area spotlight
THE 49ERS didn't just upend the Giants on Sunday. They messed with the Raiders, too.
Until the Niners' monstrous comeback, the Raiders were the team in the Bay Area. They had the league MVP. They had the best record in their conference and the best chance of going to the Super Bowl. They had Jerry Rice, an essential part of 49ers lore.
They still have all that stuff, but for now, until they play again, they don't have magic. The 49ers are wallowing in it.
Erasing a 24-point playoff deficit will bathe a team in a beautiful light. It doesn't make the 49ers the favorite, doesn't make them any more likely to advance beyond Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.
Still, the Raiders have receded ever so slightly from their place of prominence, which was hard-earned in a football community that naturally tilts toward Candlestick Park.
To keep the peace, and allow the Raiders and 49ers (mostly their fans), to enjoy this week in relative harmony, let's review the ways that the Niners might have helped the Raiders:
1. The New York media members will be in such a froth over the Giants' scandalous defeat that they will, relatively speaking, neglect the Jets. That could be a relief, allowing the Jets to escape a few reminders that they have lost their past two meetings in Oakland. The point is the Raiders won't be the only dynamic playoff team shoved from center stage this week.
The downside for Oakland is that the Jets will be reminded of the consequences of disappointing New Yorkers, as the tabloids call for pink slips galore. No doubt, by Wednesday, they will have targeted coach Jim Fassel, his staff, the Giants' front office and their parking-lot attendants, who, despite having been 3,000 miles from the action on Sunday, deserve blame because there is just so much to spread around.
2. This game added to the evidence that spectacularly bad things happen to New York football teams when they play against the Bay Area. Think of the Heidi Bowl in 1968, when the Raiders came back, scored two touchdowns in the last 1:05 and beat the Jets, while most of the East Coast watched a children's special pre-empt the end of the game. 3. The Raiders may take hope from the fact that NFL officials hurt someone else for a change. When the head of officiating revealed on Monday that the Giants were robbed of a penalty and another field-goal attempt at the end of the game, suddenly the Raiders had company. The whole fiasco might alleviate some of the paranoia born with the Immaculate Reception and fueled by the Tom Brady Tuck.
Of course, because the noncall benefited the 49ers, whom the Raiders have long seen as favored children, this theory might not hold. Also, suspicions have surfaced that the NFL announced the apology so promptly and prominently because it feels New York pain more acutely than any other kind. I don't buy that, mostly because the league has become very efficient and open in addressing officiating errors. Nonetheless, Raiders fans are sure to be tormented by fears that the NFL desperately wants the remaining New York team alive as long as possible.
4. The Niners may remove Jon Gruden from the picture so that the Raiders don't have to see him in the Super Bowl, either playing against his Buccaneers or, worse yet, watching him on TV. When Gruden was here, he dominated the Raiders' sideline, mostly for the better.
The Raiders' success this season proved they are a good team that was not built around the wonder-boy coach. Gruden did build the team, pushing to acquire Rich Gannon and Rice, but he wasn't the foundation.
If nothing else, given Gruden's acrimonious parting with the Raiders, it's a safe bet that this weekend Al Davis will be as much a 49ers fan as he's ever been.
The Niners' trip to Tampa, Fla., also will be a reminder of how close Steve Mariucci came to the job that Gruden holds. More than that, it will be a reminder of the internal friction that resulted from Mariucci's courtship with the Bucs. That unpleasant subtext should have been part of the Raiders' season, because they were the ones who lost their high-profile coach and had to replace him with an unheralded assistant.
That didn't happen. Tampa-related dysfunction belonged entirely to the 49ers. They certainly weren't trying to help the Raiders, but it's worth remembering that when they swipe some attention, it's not all bad.
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