Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has been publicly wringing his hands about having to learn a new playbook in his second season. Ha ha. Whiner. Try learning a new one every year for five straight years, Sam, then get back to us.
The 49ers took a break from the installing-a-new-playbook treadmill last year, but it certainly didn’t result in improvement. Quite the opposite. Some fans think this is because the playbook was Jimmy Raye’s. Others think it’s because Alex Smith sucks no matter what the playbook is. And all fans agree that it didn’t matter whether there was a playbook or not, as long as Mike Singletary was patrolling the sidelines.
The playbook that gets installed this year belongs to the newly hired Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, so it will undoubtedly remain in force for at least three years, hopefully much longer. Right now, three years looks like an eternity in Ninerville.
In retrospect, Mike Nolan’s biggest mistake might have been hiring Norv Turner as his second OC. Nolan’s first OC hire, Mike McCarthy, was a WCO guy who continued the Niner legacy installed by Bill Walsh. But Turner came in and scrapped all that to install the offense he ran with the 49ers’ greatest rival, the hated Cowboys.
This poisoned the 49er tree. Turner then completed his sabotage by skipping town in the wee hours of the 2007 season, leaving Nolan with scrap heap Hostler and then onto the desperate hire of Mike Martz. The next two years completed the destruction of the 49ers identity as Singletary rammed the philosophy of another hated 49er rival, the Bears, down the franchise’s throat.
We wuz demonized from within.
In that sense, Harbaugh can be seen as the exorcist. The guy to come in and drive out these Cowboys-Bears evil spirits that have polluted the soul of the franchise. No franchise can avoid having some bad years from time to time. But when a franchise loses its identity, it becomes a forlorn hulk wandering helplessly through the NFL landscape, praying for a Golden Child.
The vast majority of NFL franchises do not have an identity and most never came close. Since the 1970 merger of the NFL and the AFL, only six franchises have acquired long term brand name recognition: the Steelers, the Raiders, the Cowboys, the Giants, the Bears, and the 49ers.
The Ravens have an identity, but it all derives from the career of Ray Lewis. The Patriots likewise are more the identity of Bill Belichick, than the franchise itself. This is evident by the lack of success Belichick’s disciples have had when going out on their own, versus the success Walsh’s disciples have had. Ditto the Colts and Peyton Manning. The Packers are identified more by their ownership and history than they are by any particular brand of football. No one ever says, “That’s Packer football, ladies and gentlemen.”
I should have left the Cowboys off the brand name list because they are known more for headlines and shameless self-promotion than they are for any particular brand of football. That franchise gutted the legacy built up by Tom Landry when Jerry Jones bought the team and hired Jimmy Johnson as his first HC. After some early success, the club has floundered for fifteen years and is now known more for its marketing prowess than its actual football product, which has become a gutless, squabbling, diva-driven joke.
Let’s all hope that the 2011 season, no matter how it turns out, will at least restore the 49ers WCO identity. Once that is accomplished, the rest of the NFL world, and especially the NFC West, will be on notice: The Niners are back!