Before the Raiders swung their game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in their favor, the PA announcer at the Coliseum announced what happened to the other NFL team from the Bay Area.
He informed the 54,157 people in attendance with a snickering tone that the 49ers lost, Blaine Gabbert had replaced Colin Kaepernick as the quarterback and their efforts ended in a fourth-quarter safety.
Fans in the crowd shared a hearty laugh. Why shouldn’t they? It’s their turn to enjoy being the local team with far more talent. But that was before the team left The City for a more profitable parking lot.
In 2011, general manager Trent Baalke was promoted to save the team, part of which was bringing in a top-notch coach. He did that. But things move fast in a league that prides itself on parity and competitive balance. It was just a few short years ago the Niners had the best, young roster in the NFL.
Now, Jim Harbaugh and most of that talent is long gone and Oakland is home to two 25-year-old superstars.
“I’d double vote,” former 49er and current Raider Michael Crabtree said when asked who he’d pick for MVP between Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.
He said this Sunday, a day that perfectly encapsulated the respective fates of the region’s teams.
The 49ers submitted their worst performance in a rare, winnable game: They prepared for a blustery, snowy day in Chicago by spending time in Orlando, of all places, and it showed. A report by the Bay Area News Group that starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick was planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the season (duh). He then threw just five passes — poorly — before being benched for Blaine Gabbert, a player who has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that he is not a quality pro QB.
A couple hours later in Oakland, the Raiders did what they do: Falling behind early and then banishing any doubt by absolutely dominating the second half. Carr changed the discussion from, “Is his injured pinky a big deal?” to “Can anyone stop this guy?” in the matter of minutes.
And he and his teammates did it against a fringe-playoff team, one that dominated the arguably best team based in Santa Clara earlier this year.
The Raiders are marching toward their first playoff berth in 14 years.
“It’s an exciting time, I can’t lie about it,” Carr said after the Raiders’ latest win. “It’s an exciting time in Oakland, for our fans, it’s really exciting. … We’ve come a long way as everyone here knows.”
While excitement reigns in the East Bay, the 49ers would be lucky to match their two-win 2004 season. Their franchise-worst losing streak, now at 11, seems more like a sad reality — reminiscent of the upcoming inauguration of the Reality TV Star in Chief — than an aberration for a once-great organization.
No one has offered answers. The coach began expressing despair weeks ago, the general manager apologized to ownership — the same group that is making millions of profits every year — while the fans received a passing mention, and the players keep making the right noise about being frustrated, but nothing has changed on the field.
“They are battling,” Baalke told KNBR before Sunday’s game. “They’re giving you everything they’ve got and sometimes it’s not good enough on the scoreboard, but it’s certainly encouraging with what we’re seeing.”
If he still feels that way after watching the film from Sunday’s game, then his evaluation skills are as bad as his toughest critics contend.
While Baalke fights to provide silver linings, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is a frontrunner for Executive of the Year.
But everything is not well in Raider-land. The team’s owner has been resolute that he wants to take advantage of the public money made available by Nevada for a possible move to Las Vegas.
There’s still a fight to keep the team in Oakland, but the decision is going to come down to a vote by the league’s owners. And, there’s enough support for the team to jet The Town that some teeth-gritting is in order for Raider Nation.
If the organization does leave, becoming another Vegas sideshow, then Bay Area NFL fans will truly know what it’s like to be in a black hole. Because there isn’t a lot of hope coming from the South Bay as long as Baalke is in charge of saving one of the league’s most prestigious teams.
So enjoy these Raiders while they’re still here.There isn’t much in pro sports quite like thousands of people all dancing to Mac Dre at the Coliseum as an exciting, young football team drives down the field.
Empty-seats galore in a sterile Silicon Valley facility has little-to-no chance of maintaining that kind of energy. And what a shame it would be for the football fans of this area to be stuck with just that.