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Friday, November 3, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks, Raiders reveling in rivalry

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Monday Night Football" | Oakland Raiders @ Seattle Seahawks, Qwest Field, 5:30 p.m., ESPN/Ch. 11

Few know this rivalry like Art Shell.

Shell was there in the beginning, as a Raiders tackle, when the Seahawks joined the AFC West in 1977. For 18 years he battled the Seahawks, as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

And now, in his second tour as the Raiders' coach, he'll be on the sideline Monday night when Oakland plays the Seahawks at Qwest Field.

Shell, 12 years after the end of his first run with the Raiders, is back, hoping to restore the tradition of winning football that produced catch phrases like "Commitment to Excellence," "Pride and Poise," and "Just win, baby."

The Seahawks and Raiders are in different conferences now, and haven't played since 2002. But Shell knows all about the bitter history of the series.

A few of the games were blowouts. Two came in the playoffs. Many have been close — 25 of the 51 games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Shell remembers the Seattle fans.

"There was always a lot of noise up there [in the Kingdome]," Shell said. "The fans up there were great. I always thought they supported their football team. And anytime we came to town, they seemed like they tried to make a lot of noise. But it was all in fun."

Well, maybe not all fun.

Jim Zorn, now the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, was also there at the beginning, as the Seahawks' first quarterback. His recollections include the intensity of the series, seeing "Raiderbusters" T-shirts in the stands, throwing deep against that nemesis of a cornerback, Lester Hayes.

"Just getting in a real war every time we went out," Zorn said. "It was fun, except we weren't smiling. It was a hard-fought game to the end every single time we lined up on the field against each other."

Sure, there were rivalries with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. But the Raiders were always the team to beat for the Seahawks.

"Absolutely," Zorn said. "It was the hardest because they were so good. They played man coverage just like they're playing now, and they kind of had it going. And yet we had a tendency to play them tough and hard. It could have gone either way every time we lined up."

The Kingdome was deafening. The Oakland Coliseum, and later the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, were full of snarling, costumed and painted diehards who made the stands as adventurous as the action on the field.

Joe Theismann, the former NFL quarterback who will help call the Monday night game, has been with ESPN on its Sunday night and now Monday night broadcasts since 1988. He has seen plenty of Seahawks-Raiders games and has some interesting memories.

"It was a team of characters with Oakland, and Seattle was a team looking to get respect," Theismann said of the matchups in the '90s.

In 2001, Theismann was at Husky Stadium in what he called its "refrigerator of a press box" watching Shaun Alexander's coming-out party on a Sunday night against the Raiders. Alexander, then in his second season, rushed for 266 yards and scored three touchdowns.

"That's the one I remember most," Theismann said. "They're still the Raiders and people still want to beat them."

Rewind to the Jack Patera era in Seattle, 1976 to 1982, and the Seahawks were doing whatever they could to win in the early stages of the franchise.

"Every time we played Seattle up there during the early times, we never knew what Jack Patera was going to do," Shell said. "There was always something on the board ... They had some great players there that we respected."

Those who were never a part of the heyday of the rivalry as players watched closely as fans. Two grew up in the Puget Sound area and now play for the Seahawks, defensive end Bryce Fisher and tight end Jerramy Stevens.

Both grew up as Raiders fans in the late 1980s, recalling the rushing exploits of running back Bo Jackson.

"They were going to knock each others' heads off every time," Fisher said of the old AFC West games. "Howie Long [former Raiders defensive lineman] could do no wrong in my eyes as a little guy."

Stevens owned a Jackson jersey — though he's a full-blown Seahawk now.

"It was always Bo-Jack," Stevens said. "Really the only guys from the Seahawks that I was aware of were Zorn and [Steve] Largent. There was [Brian] Bosworth, but only when he was getting run over."

The realignment of teams and divisions in the NFL in 2002 ended the AFC West rivalries for the Seahawks. The Seahawks opened the 2002 regular season against Oakland, but haven't played them since.

In 2006, the Raiders have the NFL's best pass defense. They have allowed 35 points and two touchdowns the past three games, though they are just 2-5 on the season.

"It was a great rivalry for years and years before I got here [1999]," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "And now life goes on. We don't see them that much. We play in the preseason, perhaps, because we're close geographically. But it's a very, very important football game for us this week."

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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