Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last Second 2011 Season Preview

So today is the day most of us have been looking forward to for seemingly an aeon. Not because it's the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, thus allowing print and broadcast media to prepare retrospective feature articles days in advance and go on autopilot as far as covering actual new news, but because it is the opening sunday of the NFL season that almost wasn't. And if you think it is accident or coincidence that the NFL just happened to choose to start it's 2011 season on the second week of September and coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 instead of the usual first week of September, or even sometimes the end of August, well, I'm sure that $10 Million will be transferred into your account by that exiled Nigerian Prince you talked to via e-mail ANY DAY NOW.

No, really, this is Officially Licensed On-Field League Apparel for today.
And Surely Official Overpriced Memorabilia on by Monday.

But anyway, the season opener for (most) teams is today, including the one nearest and dearest to my heart, the San Francisco 49ers. You may remember the 49ers from last year as the team that sucked so much they couldn't even win the NFC West, and when the division winner is 7-9 what does that say about the runners-up? But hope springs eternal, and once last season ended the 49ers actually won something, i.e. the sweepstakes for the latest Superstar Celebrity College Football Coach looking to graduate to the (openly) professional game, Jim Harbaugh. Of course, whether withstanding a last minute drunken sailor sized bid from the Dolphins and securing Jim Harbaugh is truly a win to celebrate or a Pyrric Victory is something we'll start finding out in about 5 hours. You never quite know with successful College coaches. Some are good coaches period and do well at the NFL level, but just as many and in fact a few more quickly find themselves exposed and stretched beyond the limits of their aptitude, and scurry back to the college ranks at a brand new school as soon as the heat over whatever recruiting violations they committed has died down, leaving fans in a professional city either cursing his name for being a loser/idiot, cursing the GM and owner's names as losers/idiots for hiring him in the first place instead of being clairvoyant and hiring someone who wouldn't have sucked, or both.

Speaking of which, new coach notwithstanding the GM & Owner remain the frustrating same for us 49er fans, as does the starting quarterback, perhaps our favorite whipping boy, Alex Smith.

It was either this or use the one photo of him fumbling a snap again.

Yeah, the guy who the 49ers drafted instead of Aaron Rodgers -- a local college product as well as a childhood 49er fan in addition to being a superior quarterback even back then (to say nothing of how he looks now; Super Bowl MVP and guy so good the Packers told Brett Favre to "Beat it, old man" to keep him. [Favre apparently misheard this as "beat off, old man" and started sending photos of his bratwurst to Jenn Sterger and other female employees of his new team, but that's a overtold story by now, tangental, and I'm already in my third set of brackets in this paragraph alone]). Alex "Not Aaron Rodgers" Smith. Even worse for him, given where he plays, Alex "Not Joe Montana or even at least Steve Young" Smith. And yes, the ghosts of glorious 49er past swirl around Candlestick much like the circular wind patterns do, and we fans are readily aware of both at all times. It's even part of Candlestick's dilapidated charm; when my dad and I went to games, we'd joke about how the groundskeeper never bothered to replace the divit torn out of the end zone turf where Dwight Clark's second foot landed.

Alex is in a tough spot, though, and not just because his soul bears the taint of the Original Sin of not being St. Joseph Montana, who cured lepers with his audibles when he wasn't shitting Lombardi Trophies out of his colon. This is his seventh year in San Francisco. He's had as many offensive coordinators (and thus offensive systems) in that time, and Harbaugh will be his third head coach. Usually a Bust QB pick -- and that's what Alex is almost universally considered to be, at least until proven otherwise -- are run out of their first city by the third year. Alex has lingered, partly because those who drafted him are unable/unwilling to admit their mistake. Partly it's Alex's own stubbornness -- the good kind of stubbornness for your QB to have; Smith has restructured his bloated rookie top 5 pick contract twice and re-signed on the cheap as a free agent here again, and held unofficial team practices during the lockout that he organized and rented college facilities for. He doesn't just want to make it work, he wants to make it work HERE, which is admirable loyalty to a fan base who is so tired of seeing him not succeed that we now viciously boo him after every incompletion (we'd slaughter goats after turnovers, but that's a waste of good meat now that tailgaters are kicked out of the parking lot once the game starts).

This lockout-truncated offseason, however, Smith and the 49ers had little choice but to stay together for one more year. Trades and free agent signings were impossible during the lockout, so Alex couldn't go anywhere and the 49ers couldn't get anyone better, and by the time it lifted it was too late for anyone new anyway. So here we are, one more year of Alex, one in which the new head coach is compelled to profess full confidence in Alex, because he's stuck with him so you might as well try and talk him up and build his confidence, right? Meanwhile, the 49er faithful will spend an hour hiking through a muddy and byzantine parking lot, with their fingers crossed that this year will be better and their tongues coated with half-melted cough drops, so as to be in prime booing condition should things prove once again to be not.

It starts with Seattle, defending one eyed man-king of the Blind Kingdom NFC West. Pete Carrol is their coach, going from Pac-10 to NFC West like Harbaugh has the year previous. Which means we'll probably get a bunch of "what's your deal?!?" jokes from the broadcast booth, or the pregame shows this morning, if they have time left on their schedule to talk about today's undercard after all the jingoistic wankery over WHAT DAY IT IS is completed (just like the date of opening day is no accident, it's also no accident that I'm typing this belated entry right now while the pregame shows are on, so I don't have to watch them).

The Seahawks suck. Then again, so do the 49ers. Predictions are a hard business to begin with, predicting the events and results of a game between two losing teams in the first week of a new season even more so. In this game and in this season, the 49ers will only go as far as Alex Smith is physically capable of taking them. By the way, have I ever mentioned that one of the knocks on Alex coming out of Utah St. was that he had tiny hands? Ha Ha Ha Ha. But it's a new season, might as well be hopeful until 1:00 local time, right? Besides, this has kept me too busy to watch Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, and Chris Berman blither "tributes" to the victims of 10 years ago, so the season's ALREADY off to a good start!

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