Goodbye to the sneaky bitter rivalry known as the Battle of the Bay

A fight breaks out during the 2011 game between the 49ers and Raiders at Candlestick Park. The game was marred by multiple fights in the stands and two shootings in the parking lot. AP Photo/Ben Margot

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Shy of the unlikeliest of Super Bowl runs, the final Battle of the Bay is upon us with Thursday night's game in Santa Clara between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.

Sure, with the Raiders coming in at 1-6 and the Niners sitting at 1-7, it's a dog of a game. In fact, with the teams' combined winning percentage of .133, it is the worst prime-time affair after Oct. 31 in NFL history.

Just don't tell fans of these teams the game doesn't matter. It's for regional bragging rights, even if the 49ers' Levi's Stadium is some 39 miles south of where Candlestick Park once stood and the Raiders will be headed to Las Vegas in 2020. And while the league's rotating schedule won't have them meet again until 2022, in southern Nevada, there's a reason they no longer meet in the preseason.

Fan violence.

In 2011, numerous fights in the stands, a person beaten unconscious in a bathroom and two shootings in the Candlestick parking lot marred an exhibition game. The exhibition series was put on hold after 49ers CEO Jed York asked the NFL to suspend it indefinitely.

Three years later, in a regular-season game at the Oakland Coliseum, 31 fans were arrested and 93 were ejected in the wake of numerous fights in the stands.

No, this is not the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers or even the San Francisco Giants vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it is a sneaky bitter rivalry in which generations have grown up either a member of the 49ers Faithful or Raider Nation.

Lifelong Raiders fan Steve Garzoli and lifelong 49ers fan Billy Brody will take in the game at their respective homes after each had initial plans on making the 90-mile one-way trek to Santa Clara from the North Bay.

"Battle of the Bay? It's a battle of the two worst teams in the league," said Brody, who decided against paying up to $200 for a ticket. "I'm not looking for anything special. It wouldn't surprise me if it ended in a tie."

Garzoli, meanwhile, was more melancholy.

"It's been hitting me the last couple days -- this is the final one, so it gets me a little," Garzoli said. "It's a bummer it's the last one, but it's unbelievable they both have basically the same record. But in some ways, it's just so fitting. I'm almost a little emotional, but I'm pumped for the game, excited. As a Raider fan, I want to get that last little bragging rights. I want the last win in the Bay Area."

The overlaying hope, though, is for less danger in the stands and parking lot.

At high-tech Levi's Stadium, which was built with a 3,500-square-foot jail containing six concrete and Plexiglass holding cells for fans that get too rowdy, some 800 cameras are trained on the stands and parking lots, per The Athletic. Also, a security force is known to roam the concourse and stands wearing the jerseys of the visiting team, to keep tabs, so to speak.

"The violence is nonsense," Brody said. "People are taking it to the extreme. I mean, I love the camaraderie with friends, to heckle each other, and I guess it's cool that they do have the worst records in the NFL. That's when the insults start flying."

Brody recalls the first 49ers game he attended with his father, a 20-13 Niners victory over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 2, 1988. They were "20 rows up from the field in the end zone," he said. "Just a great atmosphere, with real fans."

"True fans were at Candlestick," Brody said. "I've been to Levi's four or five times and it's just not the same. It's kind of like the fans don't go for the entertainment of the game; they go for the entertainment of the stadium. It's the Silicon Valley crowd. Money talks ... the people with the corporate money win.

"A lot of true fans couldn't afford the new PSLs [personal seat licenses] and tickets at Levi's. That's heartbreaking. A friend of mine had to give up seven seats the family had since the Kezar [Stadium] days."

Imagine Raiders fans, then, having already lost their team to Los Angeles from 1982 through 1994, losing them again in two years.

Garzoli used to go with his grandfather to nearby Santa Rosa in the 1970s to spy through fences at the El Rancho Tropicana in an attempt to catch a glance at a Raiders player or coach during training camp. Now, he takes his kids to Napa for Raiders training camp with the same hopes he used to have of snagging an autograph.

"That's the family tradition," Garzoli said. "The kids even asked me recently, 'Will they still be our team?' Yes, they'll be in Vegas and it won't be as easy to catch a game, and it's disappointing and we're bummed, but shockingly, as a Raider family, we're still committed."

The first Raiders game he ever attended? Ironically, it was at Candlestick Park, a 17-14 Raiders preseason win over the Niners on Aug. 14, 1982. Yes, the Silver and Black's first outing as the Los Angeles Raiders.

"I was wearing my black Raiders Starter jacket and the only thing I really remember was some 49er fan banging on his own car, yelling, 'You suck!'" he laughed.

Both Brody and Garzoli are old enough to remember when the Raiders were the franchise the 49ers were chasing. After Super Bowl XVIII, the Raiders had three Lombardi Trophies to the Niners' one. Nearly 35 years later, the count is 5-3, in favor of San Francisco.

Such Bay Area luminaries as Jim Plunkett, Jerry Rice, Michael Crabtree, Bill Romanowski, Charlie Garner, Rod Woodson, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Cedrick Hardman, Matt Millen and Ted Kwalick have played for both San Francisco and Oakland.

And since returning to Oakland in 1995, the Raiders have played the 49ers five times in the regular season, with San Francisco winning three of those games. Overall, the Raiders lead the series, 7-6.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden authored one of those wins for Oakland, an overtime thriller on Oct. 8, 2000, at Candlestick that saw Tim Brown haul in the walk-off 31-yard TD pass from Rich Gannon, after Sebastian Janikowski missed a 35-yard field goal attempt and Anthony Dorsett blocked Wade Richey's 29-yard attempt -- all in overtime.

"That was a fun day," said Gruden, whose NFL coaching career began as an assistant with the Niners in 1990. "The wind was blowing. The fans were great.

"I wish [this] game had two 8-1 or 7-1 teams playing in it. Hopefully, someday soon, you'll see a game like that. But this is still going to be fun for the fans and both teams."