Joe Montana doesn’t play football anymore. Ditto Jerry Rice. Steve Young took one too many blows to the head and these days, instead of calling plays in the huddle, now calls them from the broadcast booth.
Once prominent players in the dynasty that was theSan Francisco49ers, the glory days of the 1980s and ‘90s seemingly came to a screeching halt once they decided to trade in their red and gold helmets for a white-collared suit and tie.
After a 2002 playoff exit at the hands of some swashbuckling Buccaneers – who, by the way, were the eventual Super Bowl champs – the once-heralded ‘Niners promptly became a laughing stock in the NFL.
There was no Montana, there was no Young, there was no one to carry this club on his back anymore. Coaching changes came by the barrelful and the Bay Area yearned for the days of Bill Walsh and his thriving West Coast Offence.
Fans flocked to Candlestick Park only to be disappointed again and again.
While one team can only remain atop the heap for so long before being thrust from its perch, it seemed a cruel fate to have this San Francisco club transform so quickly and so terribly.
What happened to this franchise? Okay, the glory days were over, but come on, was rock bottom really necessary?
Even in the lowly NFC West – commonly and comically alluded to as “NFL Europe” – the 49ers could not pull themselves from the bowels of the National Football League.
Enter 2011 and Jim Harbaugh.
He may not be Bill Walsh, but man oh man, has he lit a fire under this team. Just look at the quarterback.
Alex Smith is playing some of the best football of his career. It may not be Montana or Young-esque, but he may just be good enough to bring this franchise back to the Promised Land.
Frank Gore; the numbers speak for themselves. On Dec. 4, he surpassed Joe “The Jet” Perry as the ‘Niners all-time leading rusher.
And Jerry Rice who? Try David Akers. In the club’s impressive 20-3 victory over the Steelers on Monday night, Akers became the franchise’s all-time leading point-getter – surpassing Rice, a Hall of Fame wide receiver – when he split the uprights to make it 6-0. And Akers is a kicker, for crying out loud!
There is one more stat that is worth mentioning. Until the fourth quarter of their Week 16 game against Seattle, this 49ers club had not allowed a single rushing touchdown all season. Not one. Marshawn Lynch ruined that streak after nearly 60 quarters of game action. This, my friends, has never before been done.
So, at this point, are we still skeptical? Sure we are. After all,San Francisco’s schedule hasn’t been all that tough when compared to the rota of some of the NFL’s other clubs. Not to mention, San Fran’s red zone offense leaves much to be desired.
But if you watched that Week 15 game against the Steelers, dare I say that you were impressed. The 49ers were lights out – pun intended.
They may not have a flashy wide-receiver, or a go-to guy in the red zone – no, this team bears more of a resemblance to Keanu Reeves’ band of misguided misfits a la The Replacements. There are no heroes on this team. And that’s what makes them scary.
With one game left on the docket, the ‘Niners have long locked up their first playoff berth in nine years, as well as the division title. Collectively, as a unit, they are a dangerous football club. It may not always be pretty, but what they lack in pizzazz, boy do they make up for in heart. And an irrefutable will to win.
To be sure, the days ofMontana, Rice and Young are undeniably a thing of the past. But, for this little team that could, they may just be on the verge of rough-and-tumbling their way to something special.