We now interrupt this scintillating political debate (cough, cough) to bring you some stale football news, which is what we normally do here, even though it’s obviously a tougher sell than politics. All you need for a rip snorting marathon yack out in politics is to say something innocuous like, “Obama tied his shoe laces this morning.”
As most of you are aware, this should be the last week of this putrid offseason that we have to hear about lawyers and labor disputes — at least as the primary news feed. By this time next week, the 2011 NFL season should finally come roaring out of the chute with a slam-bang free agency and trading period that will probably careen right into and beyond the opening of training camps. How we all managed to survive this extended football blackout will be something we can embellish with tales of horror as we relate it to our grandchildren when the next blackout occurs somewhere around 2021. Some of us, of course, will be mercifully dead by then. But not, hopefully, before the 49ers win another Super Bowl.
That quest begins anew, for the 4th time in the past nine years, with a brand new coaching regime. No one gave Dennis Erickson much of a chance to succeed, given the falling nature of the franchise when he slipped into town, and he didn’t. No one thought Mike Nolan could fail to at least be better than Erickson, but he did. Certainly not all, or even a clear majority, thought Mike Singletary would bring home a winner, and he didn’t. And now we have Jim Harbaugh taking a shot at restoring respectability to our once proud franchise.
He seems pretty gung-ho about his chances, and so does the fan base. But it is amazing how quickly initial enthusiasm can turn to outrage. Just ask Singletary, who went from King to Outcast in one year flat. As the 2010 season began, Singletary was the toast of the kingdom. As the 2010 season ended, he was just plain toast. Burnt.
I thought Erickson was a ho-hum choice, but I went rollin’ with Nolan and smash-mouth with Singletary initially. And I’m buying into the Harbaugh juice, too. I guess I must be a homer or something close to it. All over the blogosphere, I see guys putting a beat down on one 49er player or other, day after day. I don’t think I’ve ever not liked a 49er player. Basically, if he’s on our team, I like him. Pretty simple and maybe a little stoopid. But it keeps me more or less festive as I stumble through the seasons.
The only 49er I can remember not liking was Jeff Garcia. He’d be considered a QB upgrade these days, but in 1999, when he made his debut for the fallen Steve Young, and for the rest of his time here, I knew in my heart we would never win a SB with him as the quarterback. SBs were the standard then, and thus Garcia represented the end of a wonderful era. So, I didn’t really dislike him, as much as I disliked what he meant.
It did prepare me for what eventually happened, though, as the team descended to the bottom of the heap. I wasn’t shocked by it, or even much disappointed. It was just the end of the cycle, and all cycles come to an end. In a few more years, when Peyton Manning retires, the Colts will crash to the bottom, too. And Colt fans will spend the next twenty or thirty years comparing every QB who plays there to the great Peyton. If the Colts had drafted as well as Bill Walsh did, they would have won a whole lot more than one SB in the past ten years.
Even the New York Yankees, the Gold Standard of sports franchises, have endured cycles of pitiful teams, with an eleven year drought (1965-1976) and a sixteen year drought (1980-1996). In football, only one team has had more than a one decade run of excellence: the San Francisco 49ers. From 1983 to 1999, a sixteen year run, the team never won less than ten games and missed the playoffs only once. That is amazing.
Currently, the Colts are working on a nine year run of excellence, with at least ten wins per year since 2002. The Patriots have an eight year run going. The Colts streak is entirely dependent on Manning, but the Patriots have both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick driving the bus. This is the same Coach/QB combo that fueled the Niners (Walsh/Montana & Seifert/Young). It’s doubtful that either Belichick or Brady has eight more years of excellence in front of them, which is what it would take to match the Niners’ two decade run.
However, google up “Bill Belichick” and before you have finished typing the full name, a dropdown menu of helpful hints appears and there on the list is “Bill Belichick cheating.” That little “c” word is attached to Bill as an integral part of his football legacy. All three of his SB victories were by less than a touchdown and all three occurred during his “cheating” period. He hasn’t won any SBs since he was outed.
But nothing tarnishes the Bill Walsh era and the Niners do indeed have a superlative history. Here’s hoping Harbaugh restores that legacy, beginning next week.