Because they compete in the two separate conferences that make up the NFL, Bay Area rivals the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders rarely meet in the regular season. But competitions between the two teams are a near-annual preseason event, in much the same way that exhibition games featuring intra-conference interstate rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans are scheduled almost every year.
Despite living in the same general area in Northern California, the worldviews of many 49ers/Raiders fans tend to be light years apart. Since at least the early ’80s, when Bill Walsh transformed the ’49ers into a Super Bowl powerhouse for the next 15 years, Niners fans were known for enjoying sushi, brie and white wine, while Raiders fans have long had a blue collar, Budweiser sort of ethic.
Yes, there are exceptions to both rules of course, but you get the picture. I certainly did a decade ago, when 3Com still owned the naming rights to Candlestick Park. I was invited to a press event at the game to announce plans to equip the stadium with an early Wi-Fi system, to be announced at one of the few regular-season match-ups between the 49ers and the Raiders on October 8th, 2000. Unfortunately, once arriving at the stadium, I took a wrong turn on the way into the parking lot. I had to traverse from the parking area of the Niners’ fans to the lot dominated by the Raiders fans, before I found the press entrance. The Niners’ fans would happily tell me where I needed to go to park. The Raiders’ fans pounded on my car and happily told me where to go. I wasn’t all that surprised — the night before, a local sportscaster said, “It’s going to be a physical game on the field — and a physical game in the parking lot.”
But that was nothing compared with last night’s game, which if initial press reports are true, may take some of the bloom off the effete image of the Niners’ fans:
In a violent night, two men were shot outside of Candlestick Park on Saturday night right after the San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders in an NFL preseason game and one man was assaulted inside a stadium restroom.
The shootings happened around 8 p.m. after the 49ers’ 17-3 victory.
San Francisco police said one victim, a 24-year-old man wearing a T-shirt referring to the 49ers with an obscenity, suffered life-threatening injuries and a 20-year-old man was hospitalized with less serious wounds.
SFPD Sgt. Frank Harrell said that the 24-year-old was shot two to four times in the stomach. He drove his truck to a gate and stumbled to security, Harrell said.
The other man was shot before that in the parking lot and had superficial face injuries, Harrell said.
“We are treating it as separate shootings, but we believe they are related,” Harrell told the Associated Press.
Harrell said police took a man in a Raiders jersey off a party bus before it left the stadium and were calling him a suspect.
The suspect and the two victims had all attended the game, Harrell said.
The shootings followed a violent incident inside of the stadium in which a 26-year-old San Rafael man was assaulted and knocked unconscious in a restroom.
Police said he was hospitalized and a suspect was arrested. There was no immediate indication that it was connected to the post-game shootings.
Henry Kissinger is often attributed with the saying that “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” But unless you’re actually a player competing to make the team, there’s nothing with smaller stakes than a preseason football game.
Ten years ago, NFL Films ran its Lost Treasures series on ESPN, streaming episodes of which are now online at Hulu. Looking at the footage NFL Films shot of mid-1960s-era games when the League’s then-nascent film division were still learning their craft, I was struck by how conservative and dignified most mid-’60s fans looked. There was little or no team merchandise available, so fans arrived to stadiums on Sunday looking like they had just come from church (which many no doubt had), rather than wearing rainbow-colored wigs, Darth Vader Helmets, or cheeseheads. No doubt, the games had their share of hecklers, but it’s a safe bet that in general, fans of the past were much more subdued than today’s members of Raiders Nation, the Philadelphia Eagles’ crazed fans, or…as we’ve seen in recent years, the courtside fans of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and even at L.A. Dodgers’ baseball games.
But somehow, and without really thinking consciously about it, society has created the notion that sports arenas are a place for fans to go almost literally insane, rather than merely observe the hometown team in person, cheer for them and then go home celebrating the win, or thinking, we’ll get ’em next time.
Readers, what happened to the average sports fan?