The OTAs this week are demonstrating something not felt or seen in the Bay Area NFL landscape since 2002. The aura of a successful franchise.
It may seem ridiculous for a team coming off its first non-losing season in 8 years, and that just barely with an 8-8 record, to have somehow created this aura, this sense that all is right in 49er land. That this is a winning team, an improving team, a confident team, a playoff contender now and into the future.
How is this aura manifested? By the calmness of the fans, the almost disinterest in the details of the OTA practices. By the lack of any glaring weakness on the team that fans are wringing their hands about. There is no clamor that we must have this player or that skill set in order to contend. Last year, for instance, there were daily lamentations that we did not have a dominant pass rusher or an adequate right tackle.
To some extent, no doubt, this aura is a byproduct of the recent draft. It was a draft that drew almost universal praise, certainly more praise than any draft for the past decade. A rather stunning achievement for an organization that fired its GM, Scot McCloughan, 5 weeks before the draft and gave off the smell of a leaderless franchise in disarray.
To some extent, this aura is a byproduct of the dominance the team displayed last year in twice whipping the division champion Cardinals, and except for a silly loss in Seattle, sweeping the NFC West. The division seems even weaker this coming year, with the retirement of Kurt Warner and the house cleaning in Seattle. The 49ers will be the favorites to win the division in 2010, and with that comes a ticket to the playoffs.
And the aura most certainly is a byproduct of the leadership of Mike Singletary. Singletary seems to have restored the panache, the swagger, the focus, that 49er teams once had in abundance, but have been sorely lacking these past 8 years. The 49ers have clearly regained respect throughout the league, and most critically, with their own fans.
And finally, the aura is a byproduct of five years of rebuilding this franchise from the ground up. Many of the players drafted or brought here during these years are just entering their prime productive years. Stability, competence, and cohesion exist at every level of the organization.
It is not the hopeful optimism and excitement of the 2007 season, which was premature and fragile. It is the quiet confidence that belongs to those who know they have what it takes to win.