I think I have stated on this site a few times that I am a 49ers fan, even though I grew up in Chicago. It may sound like sports blasphemy on my part but following the Sports Guy’s “Rules for Being a True Fan” and the revision he recently wanted to make to that in his story about wanting his daughter to be a Celtics fan, it makes sense. Here’s why: My dad is old enough that during his childhood there were 2 NFL teams in Chicago, the Bears and Cardinals. In those days, the Bears played in the North Side Wrigley Field while the Cardinals played in South Side Comiskey Park. Much like the White Sox/Cubs rivalry today, and following the Sports Guy’s rule #20, you have to pick one to love and one to hate. Since my dad grew up on the South Side, he loved the White Sox and Cardinals and hated the Cubs and Bears. When he was 12 the Cardinals moved to St. Louis, so following part of rule #19, he decided to like the Raiders of the brand new AFL instead of the hated Bears, and still is a fan to this day 50 years later (and still hates the Cubs and Bears). I was born 23 years into Chicago’s single NFL franchise run, but it would have been too heartbreaking for my dad to be a Bears fan, so he taught me to hate them as a little kid, and encouraged me to like the Raiders. I did and still do like the Raiders, but I wanted a team to call my own. My favorite color was red and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that a team that wore red uniforms won the Super Bowl on my birthday, so the 49ers became my favorite team. Little did I know that I chose a franchise that was in the early years of being a dominant Super Bowl contending and winning team over an 18-year period. Also, I know it is a little ironic that I picked the Raiders cross-town rival, but at that time the Raiders were in LA and not Oakland, so it would have been much worse if I had chosen to like the Rams.
So that’s my background. My first 18-20 years of 49ers fandom were pretty enjoyable, but the last 8 years have pretty much sucked. If we revisit that Sports Guy story one more time and look at rule #12, if you stack up all of the 5 year grace periods for winning Super Bowls, I have been allowed to complain about them since 2007, which is also the first time I have been able to in my life. Since I don’t live in San Francisco, I am beginning to question the city’s desire to have a winning team. Imagine if the Steelers had 8 absolutely awful years in a row. The town might explode. Living in Arizona, I know that western cities attitudes towards sports are extremely laid back and not as rabid as it is in the northeast or rust belt cities. Fans see games as entertainment, not life or death, which is probably a healthier way to live. I think the Niners’ current problems are rooted in that and the poor ownership that now controls the team.
Ed DeBartolo was the man that put the 49ers dynasty together, seemingly always making the right moves with upper management, coaches, and players for all 23 years that he was owner of the team. He was also in the business of running horse racing tracks and casinos in Louisiana. He eventually got involved with a corruption case involving the governor of Louisiana and was more or less forced to sell the team to his sister in 2000. His sister then immediately allowed her husband and children to run the team straight into the ground.
The reason why I am writing about the 49ers today is because they were in the news almost all day with the talk of Mike Singletary’s firing as the head coach. The legendary linebacker brought a great fire and spirit to the team, but if you look at this well written piece from ESPN, he basically didn’t have much of a chance to succeed, due to his lack of experience as coordinator for any team and his lack of connections to hire quality assistants for his team. A passionate coach is a great thing for a college team, but in the NFL, you need guys that are masterminds of the x’s and o’s to succeed. Singletary was nothing more than a big name to get the fans excited that really had no business being a head coach in the NFL (at least until he gets more experience). Let’s think about who he replaced: Mike Nolan. He is a fine defensive coordinator, but he was mostly hired because he is the son of former 49ers head coach Dick Nolan, who coached them to a few good seasons in the early 70s. He will mostly be remembered for his sick obsession to wear a suit on the sidelines during a game, instead of his actual coaching. As a defensive minded coach, he was a horrible match with the freshly drafted Alex Smith, and the two clashed all the way until he was fired. Before Nolan, the Niners had great college but proven failure in the NFL coach Dennis Erickson.
The Niners personnel moves have ranged from pretty good, to terrible, to too wishful, to downright arrogant over the past few years. They’ve managed to build a pretty talented defense anchored by 2007 first-rounder Patrick Willis and have also used the draft to get talented offensive weapons like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree. They’ve also had a lot of horrible busts like Kentawn Balmer and almost all of their picks in the early 2000’s. On the wishful side, for some reason that I just can’t understand, they have been overly loyal to Alex Smith since drafting him #1 overall in 2005. After 6 years of constant injuries, benchings, and inconsistent play (not helped by changing the offensive coordinator every year), isn’t it time to pull the plug on this experiment? Are they just sitting around praying that somehow, one day he will make the Niners management actually look smart for drafting him? Besides some defensive freaks, all good teams have good QBs, and the Niners will be nothing until they have one. Some of the Niners signings and moves have been downright arrogant as well. For example, they made Nate Clements the richest defensive player ever heading into the 2007 season, blowing all of their free agent money on this “missing piece” of their championship puzzle. Clements is an ok player, but isn’t worth the money he makes on a team filled with holes (and personally won them and cost them their game with the Falcons on a single stupid play this season). They also gave away their #7 overall pick in the 2008 draft and a 4th rounder in 2007 to New England for New England’s #28 pick in 2007, probably because they figured their 2007 team would be so unstoppable that their 1st rounder would be in the high 20s in 2008. By the way, New England traded that 4th rounder to the Raiders for Randy Moss. That’s a prime example of what a well run team does.
Speaking of the draft, I knew going into Sunday’s game with the Rams that this weekend’s game against the Cardinals would be their biggest game since 2002. If they would have won, they would need to win this game to be back in the playoffs (and be the worst playoff team
of all time), and if they lost, they would absolutely need to lose to the Cardinals to help their draft status. Thanks to an awful NFC/AFC West schedule this year, the Niners have a legitimate chance to end up with the #2 overall pick if they lose this Sunday. They just need to lose ensure at least #5 overall and any win by the Bills, Bengals, or Broncos moves them up a spot for each win. The Bills are playing the Jets, who I imagine will bench their starters in order to rest them up and play the Chiefs instead of the Colts in the first round. The Bengals will probably lose to the Ravens, and the Broncos are playing a dejected Chargers team. If the Niners win, they will probably be picking around #10 overall. So, interim coach Jim Tomsula, your message is clear: Lose to the Cardinals this weekend.
So, I think I’ve ranted enough. In summary, here is what I think the Niners have to do to get back on top (assuming I can’t convince the Yorks and the NFL to sell the team back to DeBartolo).
1. LOSE THIS SUNDAY TO THE CARDINALS
2. Hire a legitimate GM/Team President that actually knows something about football
3. Hire a head coach that can work on this pathetic but talented offense that has enough connections to hire some decent and experienced coordinators and assistants.
4. Get rid of Alex Smith
5. Get a new QB, either a veteran that has worn out his welcome (Orton? McNabb? Kolb?) or try your luck again in the draft, but if you do, have a system in place to develop a young QB
6. Don’t blow all of your free agent money on a single, above average player, unless its a very good QB
7. Don’t get too full of yourselves thinking you can just waltz to an NFC West title because of a new coach and quaterback next season. As proven by this year, being everyone’s obvious pick to win the division means nothing when you can’t get it done on the field.