As the 2015 season for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders gets underway, with both Bay Area teams’ fortunes on the line, let’s revisit five storied games the Raider Nation and 49er faithful will never forget.
The First Raiders Super Bowl
Sun was shining all over California on January 14, 1968, and the weather in my hometown of Oakland was no exception. It was also sunny at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, where the Raiders were set to meet the Green Bay Packers in the second NFL-AFL World Championship, retroactively known as Super Bowl II.
Our fair city had rolled up the sidewalks — Green Bay-like — and by game time, nary a soul could be spotted on the streets.
The names Daryle Lamonica, Fred Biletnikoff, Jim Otto, and Gene Upshaw were already part of the local canon, but now they resonated across the league just like the silver and black colors of the inchoate NFL’s new powerhouse, the Raiders.
We ended up getting trounced by Lombardi’s Packers, but there was some consolation: our team had arrived not only in the big league, but in the biggest game of all.
The Raiders went on to win their first Super Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings just under a decade later, in 1977. What a long, strange journey it was for a team that amassed the best win-loss record in football.
The Immaculate Reception
Sometimes, love for the game and the home team is dragged down into the visceral recesses of the psyche. Such a day came for Raiders fans in the AFC divisional playoff game on December 23, 1972.
After a three-quarter virtual stand-off against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, and a grueling span of final-drive minutes engineered by quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, it was looking to be our day. The Raiders seemed to be closing in on a victory that would send them to the AFC Championship Game, and maybe even a second Super Bowl.
In the next split second, it was all taken away. The disastrous bounce of Stabler’s pass off Jack “The Assassin” Tatum’s hands and the godsend catch and rumbling TD run-back by Franco Harris sealed Oakland’s doom.
Stabler — who passed away on July 8 — appeared to be weeping. Our beloved coach John Madden turned as white as the team’s away uniforms. In the city by the City by the Bay, we sat in shock, unwilling to accept the manner in which defeat had been dished from the hands of victory.
NFL Films has called it the greatest play in history, and the shocking tables-turner is still immersed in controversy. For Raiders fans, it was as if whatever deity we worshipped had forsaken us.
The Immaculate Deception
As soul-shattering as the moment of the “Immaculate Reception” was for Raiders fans, so was 1978’s “immaculate deception,” an exercise in bemusement and slow-motion disbelief.
The San Diego Chargers held victory in their grasp, no easy feat against the silver-era Raiders. Oakland was driving, and “Snake” Stabler later admitted that he’d fumbled the ball on purpose to escape an impending sack by Chargers linebacker Woodrow Lowe.
Shoveling the ball up the field, the Raiders came, digging themselves out of a 20-14 loss and securing an ignominious victory. Fourteen or so yards later, Oakland tight end Dave Casper fell on the ball in the end zone for a 21-20 Raiders win.
The Chargers and their fans reacted as if a considerable temblor had shaken San Diego Stadium (now Qualcomm Stadium).
The “Immaculate Deception” (aka “The Holy Roller”) was so controversial that the NFL made rule changes so that such an outcome could never happen again.
Back in the city, just like Gertrude Stein had claimed “there is no there there,” the general consensus was, “We’ll take it!”
The Dallas Cowboys had denied the 49ers so many times. Head coach Tom Landry, quarterbacks Craig Morton and Roger Staubach and the “Doomsday Defense” had beaten us in two NFC Championships and one divisional playoff over three straight years (1970-72), and then just routinely beat us down through the decade on their way to bigger and better things.
But on January 10, 1982, the Niners were driving against “America’s Team” in the final minutes of the NFC Championship Game, and a celestial shift felt imminent.
Joe Montana had us on the march at Candlestick Park; a trip to Super Bowl XVI hung in the balance. The beautiful pass Joe threw and the reception Dwight Clark made sealed a heart-stopping 28-27 triumph. “The Catch” signaled the end of Dallas dominance and the beginning of a 1980s red/gold dynasty.
The First 49ers Super Bowl
Super Bowl XVI was characterized for San Francisco fans by a big Joe Montana grin; and that was before the game.
Not since Joe Namath had declared “We will win” before Super Bowl III was a quarterback so coolly confident of his game and in clear possession of the caliber of leadership needed to go all the way.
The Cincinnati Bengals made Super Bowl XVI interesting, and would do so again when the teams met in SB XXII. In fact, the Bengals are the only team the 49ers did not soundly defeat on the way to five Lombardi trophies.
The parties in San Francisco on the night of January 24, 1982, rivaled those of Mardi Gras; confetti inundated Market Street for the homecoming. Nobody was talking dynasty yet, but the gridiron genie, conjured up by wunderkind coach Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and a team for the ages, was out of the bottle.
All photos courtesy AP Images