Warning, I'm rambling in 94.256% of this article. Consider this a ... well, I mean ... I prefaced it with warning, because, you see, at times I'm prone to get off course and ramble a little bit about anything in particular. For instance, this one time I found myself off on a tangent at the beginning of one of my features on SB Nation Bay Area ... and it ... ah, well ...
Leading up to the game, depending on who you asked at the time, the Battle of the Bay wasn't something that really mattered. Players downplayed the meeting between the teams (after all, a portion of them are friends) while fans of either team just wanted and needed a win. A poll on Niners Nation saw 60% of the vote select the option relating to just wanting a win, with no stock placed in the Bay Area angle. The other 40% was essentially split between Bay Area pride and general dislike of the Raiders.
In what I'm going to make a regular feature after attending a game this year (all 49ers home games, at least five Sharks games and at least five Warriors games), I take a look at my experience in the stadium. This past Sunday, I was, as you can probably infer, at Candlestick Park, set to watch this year's Battle of the Bay between the 49ers and the Raiders. Earlier in the year, the 49ers won a preseason game at Oakland Colliseum and the bragging was fierce, but temporary. Week six was what mattered to both teams, not just for Bay Area badassery, but also for what really matters: the win/loss record. The matchup could possibly come down to who wanted it the most.
Well, the 49ers did, and as a whole, they played a pretty good game. There were mistakes, some worrying things in the 49ers deep ball and iffy play from the offensive line and quarterback positions. There were some fun bits going on as well, what with Isaac Sopoaga coming in and playing fullback at the two-minute warning. For those of you unfamiliar, "Ice," is a 330 pounds defensive lineman known as one of the physically stronger players in the entire league. A bulky, scary (but in actuality funny and easy-going) Samoan hell-bent on making his Raiders counterpart at left defensive end pay for thinking about hurting his little buddy. Who his little buddy is really isn't of any concern to Sopoaga, but on that play it happened to be running back Frank Gore. So that was nice.
But back to my experience. I arrived to Candlestick about three-and-a-half hours before kickoff. It was raining, and the parking lot was pretty darn full. I scoffed at the rain and I scoffed at the folks using awnings to protect themselves from the rain, and I got to setting up my table, the two grills, getting the four ice chests in order and generally getting set for some delicious food in the rain.
Cooked some steak, some chicken, had some hot wings, some bacon with garlic potatoes, grilled asparagus, pasta salad, shrimp salad, and of course some hot dogs. It rained the entire time, I ate through it. This ain't tennis, kiddies, this is tailgating at the NFL level, and if you're upset with that, the NFL stands for "Not For Long." Thank you for that, yet again, Jerry Glanville.
So I went in. Moved quickly through the line, had small talk with the guy who was searching me for weaponry of any kind, I was sad to see my switchblades and array of other delightful throat-cutting fair taken, but I was fine with it in the end. Quickly made my way past the booth selling gameday programs due to the rain, plus "my guy," wasn't there. There's one guy in particular who will exchange a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a free program, no joke guys. He's usually right in front, wasn't today, probably doesn't like rain. Try it.
My first thought is, "Why am I surrounded by silver and black? Oh, right, those people." By that of course I mean Raiders fans, and if anyone was expecting some form of off-color joke (the moniker itself may be a little racy - oh look what I did there as well), you're mistaken and disappointed. There were Raiders fans everywhere, but I was OK with it. If this were any other game and the 'Stick was being populated by, say, Seahawks fans, I'd have bloodied some faces before making it to the escalator up to my rather high seats. Upper deck for me, no fancy-pants "lower reserve," or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I should twist some arms and get my buddy Sam Lam to get me into the press box. Think it'll work?
Right, high seats, I lose my place all the time. Stroll past the Edward J. DeBartolo Hall of Fame on my way to the upper deck, in my opinion, the best place to actually watch a game at the 'Stick. My seats have nobody around them, I'm in the Ted Ginn section, by the way, which really does grind my gears a little bit. I'm hoping that the seats sold around me (probably the cheapest seats in the stadium) are populated by good, wholesome 49ers fans. I go up to my seat (seat two, section forty-six, for my admirers out there) and get ready, listening to pregame announcements from Candlestick's rather abysmal sound system. Couldn't get any of what was said throughout the entire game.
The stadium was far from full, but it did get a bit cozy. The majority were still 49ers fans, but there was a sizable chunk of the silver and black, which was a bit alarming. They were loud too, the woman behind be all by her lonesome, she was a loud one. When the Raiders players came out there was a small cheer, the slightest of cheers before 49ers fans realized "Woah, woah, woah, what the [site decorum] is this?!" and drowned them out with a cacophony of boos. It was easy, what with how used to booing they were after the game against the Eagles.
The Raiders players seemed to react to the cheers, getting pumped, and then the boos, kind of shaking their heads with a bit of a jersey "Get outta heeeeah," thing. Or at least that's what I saw from way up in the nosebleeds. Side note, it was raining when the game started and I was completely dry. Cheap seats get the overhang, you know? Go me.
The entirety of the first half was boos from the 49ers fans in regards to wanting David Carr to start at quarterback, and the small outcry of emotion from Raiders fans when something good happened for them. A couple of the Raiders fans around me started a "They want Carr," chant, which I found amusing. My dad screamed at a nearby Raiders fan "When's the last time you guys had a winning record?" The guy thought for a minute, said "Same time as you guys?" and they shook hands in a "God, we kind of suck, huh?" way.
There were two fans in particular, a man in front of me who was a 49ers fan, and a man two rows down who was a Raiders fan and was identified as the initial man's brother. Obviously they were fans of different teams throughout the childhood. My dad remarked how he looked exactly like Kobe Bryant ... and he did. So I was focused on that every time he stood up, turned back, and talked a good bit of jive in my general direction. All I could think about was Kobe Bryant. Which lead me to thinking about Eminem, which of course, made me want M&Ms, which of course made me hungry again.
About the time the 49ers started winning, Kobe was sinking lower and lower into his seat. The 49ers fans got louder, the Smith boos receded. Asked the guy in front of us why his brother was no longer standing and posturing about the 49ers having the propensity for eating this or sucking that. (Crow and eggs, obviously).
Eventually, I left the game and grilled some more food in the back of the truck before pulling away, but it was a very, very nice experience, rain and all. One of my more enjoyable times at the stick, and I have the rivalry to thank for it. We were enemies, then we were friends, and then we were enemies again. It was controlled chaos, with, by my count, six or seven big fights breaking out on my side of the stadium. One of which essentially on me. The elbow from the fellow in blue didn't feel great. Not at all. My brother actually stayed home due to being afraid of Raiders fans in their element, how cute is that? I gave up no quarter and reinforced anyone who did. The rivalry makes it such a better experience. Good stuff.