In Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, Hall-of-Fame writer Ira Miller posed the question of who, given both team's futility, would win if the 49ers and Raiders met in 2004? The two teams do not play until 2006 but Miller projected that the 49ers would win in 2004. He added the Raiders are not much better in terms of talent. In addition, Miller said that the 49ers are mostly a young team that plays hard all the time and that the Raiders are more likely not to give maximum effort. So, on that premise, young teams, no matter how bad, will always play hard.
All due respect to Miller, he makes astute observations. That's why he is a Hall-of-Famer. However, let's look at the 49ers and Raiders combined futility in another way. Suppose you could combine both teams to play the rest of the 2004 season. I know what fans of both teams are thinking. Raider fans: "We don't want those damn wine sippin' 49ers!" 49er fans: "We don't want those vile thugs of the Raider Nation!"
OK, on a more serious note. You are allowed to pick the best available and healthiest players. For example, Rich Gannon, even in decline, would be the best option at quarterback but he's on injured reserve. Anyhow, the point is this, even if you combined both teams the rest of the season, they probably still would not win half of their games. On the other hand, you could combine the Jets and Giants, Ravens and Redskins, Texans and Cowboys, Chiefs and Rams, Steelers and Eagles, Bengals and Browns. In a worst case scenario, you'll at least be a .500 team. Combine the 49ers and Raiders trying to get to .500? Good luck.
Anyhow, just for the heck of it, let's go position-by-position:
Quarterback: Choices available: Kerry Collins and Marques Tuiasosopo for Oakland. Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey for San Francisco. Even if a declining Gannon is not on injured reserve, it's not a scintillating group of choices. Collins is the most experienced but he has been a turnover machine lately. We still do not know any more about Tuiasosopo than we did when he entered the NFL in 2001. The jury is still out on Rattay and Dorsey but there's a reason they were seventh-round draft picks. Verdict: Rattay because he has shown the most promise to this point. But he won't make you forget Jeff Garcia, let alone Joe Montana or Steve Young
Running back: Choices available: Tyrone Wheatley for Oakland. Kevan Barlow for San Francisco. Again, not an overwhelming pair to choose. Barlow is coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2003 but has not continued that success in 2004. Wheatley is a bruising runner but also one-dimensional. Verdict: Barlow has only shown flashes of brilliance but is a better receiver. Again, no matter who you chose, at least half of the starting running backs in the NFL are better.
Wide receivers: Choices available: Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry for Oakland. Brandon Lloyd, Curtis Conway and Cedric Wilson for San Francisco. Porter is undoubtedly the most talented of this group but is too inconsistent to be considered a first-rate receiver. Big things were expected from Lloyd, who has done OK but not spectacular. Curry, however, is the most surprising of the group. Verdict: Porter and Curry. Porter gets the nod on talent alone while Curry has been the most promising for the rest of the lot.
Tight ends: Choices available: Doug Jolley for Oakland. Eric Johnson for San Francisco. Both players are virtually the same in talent and ability, tight ends trapped in a wide receiver's body. Verdict: Johnson by a nose because of better current numbers. Please, though, enough of the Brent Jones comparisons.
Offensive tackles: Choices available: Barry Sims and Robert Gallery for Oakland. Scott Gragg, Kwamme Harris and Kyle Kosier for San Francisco. You have a rookie, Gallery, who looks like he will be a stud for years. You also have a second-year man, Harris, with potential but his talent is still raw. Verdict: Gallery and Sims. Gallery is well on his way to being top-notch, and is already solid as a rookie. Gragg (32) and Sims (29) are about equal in ability but give Sims the nod because he has more effective years in front of him. Plus, Sims' play forced Gallery to right tackle.
Offensive guards: Choices available: Ron Stone, Jake Grove and Brad Badger for Oakland. Eric Heitmann and Justin Smiley for San Francisco. Grove and Smiley are starting as rookies. Stone would be one of the two options but his season might be over. Verdict: Badger and Heitmann. Badger is a better fit as a reserve but with Stone out, he brings equal experience. Heitmann is equal to Stone in ability but at 24 continues to get better.
Center: Choices available: Adam Treu for Oakland. Jeremy Newberry or Brock Gutierrez for San Francisco. Newberry has turned into a top-flight center while Treu, a career longsnapper has taken advantage of his long-awaited chance to start. Verdict: If Newberry is healthy, the choice is a no-brainer. Treu and Gutierrez are career backups but Treu gets the nod here because he won the job in training camp whereas Gutierrez is starting by virtue of Newberry being injured.
Defensive tackles: Choices available: Warren Sapp and Ted Washington for Oakland. Bryant Young and Anthony Adams for San Francisco. Sapp, Washington and Young are all on the downside of their careers while Adams is a third tackle in a best-case scenario. Verdict: With a 4-3 defense, Washington and Young. With a 3-4, go with Washington as the tackle. Sapp has not been worth the seven-year, $36-million investment so far with just 0.5 sack. Washington, however, can still be a tactical factor in occupying double teams. Young and Sapp are at the same point in their career but Young has done a little more to show lately that he can still be a quality starter.
Defensive ends: Choices available: Tyler Brayton and Bobby Hamilton for Oakland. Andre Carter and John Engelberger for San Francisco. Carter is slowed by injuries but is still the best of the group. The rest are decent but not spectacular options. Verdict: Carter and Brayton. Carter is a natural pass rusher while Brayton is a nonstop hustler.
Inside linebackers: Choices available: Napoleon Harris and Danny Clark for Oakland. Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich for San Francisco. Clark has been a nice surprise for the Raiders. This is a solid but unspectacular group that won't make you forget the 1985 Chicago Bears. Harris and Smith are the best of the lot. Verdict: If you go with a 4-3, Harris by a nose over Smith because he is more athletic. If you go the 3-4 route, Harris and Smith because they are the best options.
Outside linebackers: Choices available: DeLawrence Grant, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Travian Smith for Oakland. Jamie Winborn and Jeff Ulbrich for San Francisco. The 49ers' Julian Peterson being on injured reserve kills the best chance for this group. Verdict: Ulbrich and Winborn. Grant and Gbaja-Biamila are still adjusting from position changes. Winborn is a good nickel linebacker in a best-case scenario but has the speed to make plays. Ulbrich plays with good toughness but is unspectacular.
Cornerbacks: Choice available: Charles Woodson, Phillip Buchanon and Denard Walker for Oakland. Ahmed Plummer and Shawtae Spencer for San Francisco. Woodson is not as good as he thinks but is still a top-five corner, albeit on the lower part of that list. Plummer is slightly above average but is out indefinitely with a neck injury. Verdict: Woodson is a no-brainer on one side. Buchanon is a great athlete but gets beat too often. Plummer would be the ideal choice but his injury rules him out. From there, Walker is the best option opposite Woodson.
Safeties: Choices available: Marques Anderson and Ray Buchanan for Oakland. Tony Parrish and Ronnie Heard for San Francisco. Parrish is a top-flight safety. Anderson could be one. Buchanan is still trying to make the transition from corner to safety. Verdict: Parrish and Buchanan. With the possible exception of Roy Williams (Dallas) and Ed Reed (Baltimore), it's hard to find a better safety than Parrish. Buchanan is still adjusting to the position change but can still make plays.
Kicking game: Choices available: Shane Lechler (punter) and Sebastian Janikowski (kicker) for Oakland. Andy Lee (punter) and Todd Peterson (kicker). You'll be hard-pressed to find a better combination than Lechler and Janikowski. Verdict: Lechler and Janikowski. Need we say more.
Coaching: Choices available: Norv Turner for Oakland and Dennis Erickson for San Francisco. Do we have to go there? Well, just think, Jon Gruden and Steve Mariucci once occupied the sidelines for these two teams. Now we have this? Then again, look who was available. Brilliant. Turner is a good offensive coordinator but is not head coach material. Bill Callahan at least has a Super Bowl appearance in 2002 before 2003 went to hell in a hand-basket. Erickson, who is an accomplished college coach, deserves some slack because the front office stripped the roster before the 2004 season. Then again, he only got 7-9 in 2003 out of the same team Mariucci led to back-to-back playoff appearances. Verdict: Gruden and Mariucci have had their ups-and-downs at their current jobs but their replacements were hardly upgrades. Shouldn't that be a requirement when getting rid of someone? Ya know? Find an upgrade. Sorry but Turner and Erickson are both average head coaches.
Upon further review: The only position of strength after combining these teams on offense is fullback. Defensively, the secondary is the strong suit and the line is not bad. The kicking game would be the team's strength.
Basicly, these teams are so bad they couldn't make each other do any better than 6-10 in a full season even if everyone is healthy.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com