I think my friend David is the first 3-time guest prognosticator. You may recall we made fun of the Indy Colts last year and then he talked to me about his San Francisco Giants. Here’s the view of the 49ers from a transplanted Washingtonian…
WFY: After being everybody’s trendy sleeper pick for a couple of years, the 49ers are finally playing well again. Is San Francisco excited to have a good football team again after a long layoff? Are you starting too root for them like you did with the Giants?
DS: The fan base is very energized and excited by this season. Most of the goodwill seems to be directed where it should be Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco’s two legitimately good players: Patrick Willis and Frank Gore.
I have rooted for the 49ers in a very lazy and mostly disinterested way. For example, if the game is on television I’ll watch it and hope they win, but I’ll promptly turn the channel to watch Green Bay, New Orleans or another more exciting or better team. It is fun when the home team wins. With baseball, I became disgusted with the team of my youth. When I embraced the Giants, no team was being displaced. I haven’t done that with the Niners. And I just don’t have enough time to actually care about more than one football team. That said, I watched the Niners game instead of the Redskins this week. But that was largely because I knew the Skins were going to lose badly, so I thought I would spare myself the aggravation. I made the right choice.
WFY: Having grown up outside of Washington and lived in San Francisco for most of the last decade, how does the football fan cultures ompare? Are the 49ers #1 in the city, or did the Giants surpass them?
DS: There seems to be more unity here. San Francisco has a similar emigre population with people from all over. Consequently, the sports bars are filled with fans of other teams. But differently, when you go to a sports bar and the Niners win almost everyone cheers. I remember thinking how odd it was to rarely see real support for the Redskins at bars in DC or thereabouts. You are more likely to see a picture hanging on the wall of the Perm or the Diesel than of anyone from the last 10 to 12 years. Darrell Green would be the last. Also, native San Franciscans solidly cheer for the Niners. Native East Bay people cheer for the Raiders. It is unusual for this not to be the case. Whereas in Washington and the surrounding area, you have to ask people what their favorite team is, even if the person is from there. (Interesting article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/black-fans-have-grown-to-love-the-redskins/2011/10/26/gIQA8q7EKM_story.html 11% of Washingtonian football fans support the Cowboys compared to 3% nationwide).
Up until about two weeks ago it would be pretty easy to say the Giants are number one. But winning changes things. Historically, the Forty-Niners are one of the finest and most successful organizations in football. The same could not be said of baseball for the San Francisco Giants. I think a lot of Giants fans are in a post-Thanksgiving dinner stupor of contentedness. They suffered through years of near misses and bad teams. They will bask in the 2010 season for a while and forgive the team its trespasses in the meantime. Whereas, Niners fans have been waiting for the team to not be awful and they see the potential created by how weak the NFC West is. They want this.
Every now and then I check in on the stadium situation — are they still headed to Santa Clara or do you think the city will somehow find a way to keep them in the city? What is going on with the Oakland Raiders stadium situation following Al Davis’ death for that matter?
I have to admit that these things are of no interest to me. A fairly good example of how casual my fandom is. By the headlines I see in the Chronicle, I’d say the Santa Clara move is a done deal and will happen soon. As for Oakland, the stadium is the least of its problems.
WFY: As a non-49ers fan, do you miss former head coach Mike Singletary? How do you feel about current coach Jim Harbaugh?
DS: I rooted for Singletary out of nostaglia. I could see the allure of having such a ferocious competitor as a coach. The outcome was terrible. He was also the single worst radio interview I’ve ever heard. He used to do a weekly call-in to talk radio on Mondays or Tuesdays. They sounded like uncomfortable elevator rides with ex-wives. I have no idea why he agreed to do them in the first place. Example:
Radio Guy: Coach, I think it is pretty fair to say that the sun rose yesterday morning.
Singletary: No. I think you’ve got that wrong. But we won’t know until we study the film.
I think Harbaugh is doing a great job. I think a very important variable in coaching the Niners is understanding that you don’t have a good quarterback. You have a C+ to C- quarterback. Singletary’s approach was to put pressure on Smith–“It’s time for you to show me what you can do.” But Smith has shown us what he can’t do and he’s really only good at throwing to the wrong team and over- or under-throwing open receivers. Harbaugh has them playing power football behind Frank Gore. He has asked Smith not to lose the game and Smith has responded. I’m impressed at what Harbaugh has achieved without having any time to speak of to train his team. He even has been using designed runs with Smith, which I approve of.
WFY: Has Alex Smith finally turned the corner at QB? I understand he is a free agent after this season and I know a team that needs a QB. Also, do Niner fans constantly hold up QBs to the standards set by Joe Montana and Steve Young?
DS: Alex Smith is terrible in my book. I used to say whenever asked that Alex Smith is not an NFL quarterback. I’m willing to soften that a little now because he has improved a bit after being awful for six years. But his inability to perform well is still there and painfully obvious. The classic good Smith play is having a receiver on a go route open by two steps. Smith underthrows the pass, the receiver stutter-steps and catches the ball and is tackled immediately, resulting in a 35-yard gain. An accurate pass to that receiver yields a touchdown. The classic bad Smith play is 3 and 9, he checks down to the open tight end camped out in the middle of the field 4 yards short of first down marker, still with a shot at making it. He throws the ball up high so the tight end has to jump for it (or down low so the tight end has to crouch deeply) and then is promptly tackled before being able to set himself and get upfield. (Smith of two years ago would have overthrown so high that it would have sailed 20 yards and been picked off).
The smart move by the Niners is to really sell Smith’s abilities well, keep his confidence high, get the best possible performance out of him and then let me exit. The Redskins picking him up fits right in with their inability to assess free agent talent and value.
Your question about Montana and Young is an interesting one. When local or national media talk about Niners past glory or the greatness of offenses past, the reference is almost always to Montana. It is almost always the grainy footage from ’81 or ’84. For instance, you rarely see footage of the Super Bowl victory over Denver in ’89. That was one of the greatest displays of a clinical dissection of a defense ever. I feel like the only time Young gets his due is when Young is on screen talking about the Niners. Despite all this, comparisons do get made. The football broadcasts seem to find more and more obnoxious ways to cite obscure facts on the screen in an effort to draw the comparisons–probably as an excuse to run footage of the Catch again.
The fans know Smith’s limitations. They don’t like to think about Aaron Rodgers of Cal going 24th in the same draft. (By the way, the Redskins took Carlos Rodgers 9th that year. He is now a Niner.)
WFY: Are you annoyed the game is being played here instead of there? If I am not mistaken, they played there last time when you were here over Christmas.
DS: I’m much less interested in the stadium experience now. I suspect the only way I’ll end up going to a Niners game again is if someone gives me a ticket, even if its the Redskins. It is not enough fun.
WFY: How did the Niners do on their uniform reboot? Seems to me they got it mostly right, but the sleeves are stupid and the new SF logo should have been dumped for the old one. What about the Redskins wearing burgundy at home now, along with gold/yellow pants?
DS: The next time there is a movie that includes a fake pro football team, I hope they use this helmet: http://img25.imageshack.us/img25/861/14825448.jpg The Niners have some of the better sartorial refinements in the league. I’d like to see the striped socks to be a permanent part of the uniform. Other than that, they look sharpe. The Raiders still have them beat on simple elegance.
Every time I see the Skins they seem to be wearing different unis. On Sunday they wore white with gold pants. I like the Pardee look. When I see the gold pants I wonder if we’ll ever see the R helmet again. If that happens, it will probably be against Dallas on a Thanksgiving. I think the burgundy uniform is one of the best in the league. Perhaps that’s because we see it so infrequently. This may be the last marketing opportunity that the Redskins saw that they hadn’t yet exploited.
WFY: The real estate Web site Zillow says that San Francisco is the best place for trick or treating — did you give out candy this year?
DS: Not really. Halloween is legendary as a huge party night. In most parts of the City, people aren’t at home to give out candy because they’re partying. I sure don’t stay home for trick or treaters. There are however good neighborhoods for kids to trick or treat. I think that’s because so many neighborhoods are partying and not giving out candy that the kids flock to a handful of places.
WFY: How do you see this one going down? Do the Skins have a chance?
DS: I think the Skins have the chance to win two more games this year. I don’t think this is one of them. The unfortunate switch at quarterback basically meant that Shanahan was willing to lose the next two games because Grossman was too awful. But their inability to score at all last week and their weak performance the game before makes me think the offense will need one or two more weeks before they even contend again. The great assets thus far for the defense has been the pass rush on the edges. That will be of little use when Frank Gore is rushing up the middle. I think the Niners win this game, but don’t look like a 7-1 team doing it. I expect the home crowd will boo loudly. Another sad, wasted year.
WFY: I’ll say 24-10, 49ers