The San Francisco Chronicle’s Ray Ratto on what used to be one of the more intense rivalries in the NFL, Oakland versus Denver.

You want a stat that helps you get into this game? OK, try 148.

That would be the number of tickets the Raiders returned to the Broncos because they could neither sell them, give them away, or threaten potential litigants with them. One hundred and forty-eight.

And here’s another stat. Fifteen and four. That is Denver’s record against The Swords In The Skull since Mike Shanahan took the job here, which indicates if nothing else Shanahan has gotten back the $250,000 he says the Raiders never paid him, and gotten it back at a rate of interest that would shame a usurer.

Now, let’s understand the likeliest way we know the Raiders couldn’t get rid of their ticket allotment is that some happy imp in the Broncos’ front office made sure the media learned it. This is not information made readily available to the public, and yet it miraculously appeared here Friday.

As for the other number, well, everyone knows it, or can get to it easily. And it proves, more dramatically than anything else, that the Raiders and the Raiders alone have let this once-extraordinary rivalry take on root rot.

I mean, this match has become an absurdity, because when you peel away the history and the mean-spirited recriminations that warm Al Davis’ and Pat Bowlen’s respective hearts, the teams aren’t remotely comparable, which is how you get 15 for one side and four for the other.

Now nothing in football is preordained, and it is supposed to snow like Al Roker’s Own Hell this evening, but because this game is considered the gateway to the Raiders’ doom in 2004, there is reason to watch with rapt attention, because the Broncos already have logged a 31-3 win at Oakland, need the game to stay with San Diego in the AFC West, and could very well hasten the removal of Oakland’s wheels on a season already gone through bad, heading for worse and on target for worst in the Al Era.