There is an old, unwritten rule for sportswriters: “No cheering in the press box.”
This past week, that rule was put to the test for me. I attended a San Francisco 49ers game, but I had to ignore my fandom and be an unbiased observer.
Going to Niner games is nothing new for me. Every season, I attend a few of the games.
On some of these occasions, I attend as a fan. On other occasions, I use my press credentials to attend the games, and then I write columns about the experience. Like many in this area, I grew up a fan of the 49ers, even though I grew up in South Dakota. I was growing up during the days of Steve Young and Jerry Rice. When I was a teenager, Jeff Garcia and Alex Smith were the quarterbacks.
I always loved the red and gold colors of the 49ers, and I loved the history of the team.
So last week, I attended the 49ers-Raiders game held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The 49ers overwhelmed the Raiders 34-3, as third string quarterback Nick Mullens had the game of his life in his first-ever regular season action in the National Football League.
A few thoughts from the game: • What happened to Derek Carr? Two years ago, the Oakland quarterback was playing at an MVP caliber. Now, he seems afraid to take shots downfield.
Almost all of his passes were short dump-offs or checkdowns. John Mabon, my coworker at the Gazette, served as a photographer for the game, and from his vantage point on the sideline, he said Carr had very little time to throw before being hit or sacked by 49er defenders. So it makes me wonder whether it’s Carr or if it is the lack of protection from his offensive line.
• The Raiders played with no fire. You have to wonder where the collective morale of the team is, after trading away the heart and soul of the defense, Khalil Mack, earlier this season. Coach Jon Gruden was supposed to turn things around, but instead he has traded away some of the team’s top players. Granted, he’s received first round draft picks in return, but I have to wonder how long Raiders players — and fans — will remain patient with a guy making $10 million per season.
• Terrell Owens, the legendary wide receiver who spent eight seasons with the 49ers, was issued his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at halftime of the contest. Owens gets a bad rap from the media, but I always liked the guy. I cared more about how he played on the field. There’s no denying his talent. Teams certainly had to put up with some of his colorful antics, but he was a monster on the football field. Every Sunday, he showed up to play — and play hard. He’s definitely in my list for the top five wide receivers to ever play the game.
• I was, of course, happy for the 49ers, who have had the most injuries of any team in the NFL this season. They’ve had so much bad luck this season, one that was originally full of hope and excitement. It was nice to see them finally break through and trounce another team for once. At the same time, the Raiders are one of the other teams I follow closely, so it wasn’t fun seeing them get obliterated.
• There’s no love lost between 49ers and Raiders fans. From the press box, I witnessed a drunken brawl in the stands below me. One fan got socked in the face and fell backward over a seat behind him. After the game, there was plenty of trash talk in the parking lot between both team’s fans.
It’ll be interesting to see the paths these two historic teams go in the next two to three years. The Raiders are set to move to Vegas, while the 49ers are hoping to return to prominence with the new coach Kyle Shanahan and new general manager John Lynch.
Matt Johnson is assistant editor at the Gazette and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.