Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ghosts Have Company Now

Sneak Preview of The Elder Scrolls VI: K'andl'stikk (look, I need the laugh right now)

To be a San Francisco 49er fan is to live in the past. Even this season, the first time in ten that living in the now has been worthwhile, and even kinda fun. But the past is sacrosanct. What the 49ers used to be is the cherished memory of this fan base, and the envy of all others [well, maybe not Pittsburgh and Dallas; they're pretty even]. So every fleeting success of the modern edition of the 49ers is invariably measured against 49er history, because they seem to exist concurrently. Even as Vernon Davis made his game winning catch against New Orleans last week, in the same north end zone of the same old relic that is Candlestick Park, running virtually the same route as Terrell Owens ran to beat Green Bay 13 years ago, a 49er fan could immediately see the phantom of Owens, running alongside him, grabbing the ball and taking the hit at the goal line at the same moment as Davis did, and Joe Starkey's radio call which consisted of him screaming OWENS! OWENS! OWENS! over and over again drowned out the FOX broadcasters of today (a blessing in its own right). And, as was proven yesterday, even the heartbreaking losses seem to be but echoes of what has come before.

Last Friday, January 20th, was 21 years to the exact day that the 49ers' bid for a Super Bowl Three-Peat fell agonizingly short. The Scene? Candlestick Park. The Game? NFC Championship. The Opponent? The New York Giants. The defeat? Roger Craig made a costly and uncharacteristic fumble late in a close game, which the Giants parlayed into a field goal that won the game. As a little kid, innocent of real problems in the world and knowing no worse cruelty than seeing a favorite sports team that happens to be the best team in its sport that you've come to expect to see win and depend on winning, losing, I cried. That loss felt apocalyptic, even in the moment. It got worse when the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that year. It got worse again in the months to come, when Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott were not retained, making that loss their last game in a 49er uniform. It was also effectively Joe Montana's last game as a 49er, too; the injury he sustained at the hands of Leonard Marshall (may he rot in Hell next to Hitler, Tim MacVeigh, and the guy who invented telemarketing) caused St. Joe to miss all of 1991, forcing the team to commit to go forward with the younger Steve Young as QB. Montana would get one swan song at home in the 2nd half of the season finale, mopping up against a beaten Detroit Lions team in 1992. He would throw his final TD pass as a 49er to the otherwise unmemorable Amp Lee. He would sit unsummoned on the bench as they lost another NFC championship game, this time to Dallas, my pleading for him to enter the game and save the day, future be damned, may as well have been silent. He would be traded in April of 1993. I've forgotten who they got in return and I don't even care, anyway.

So really, yesterday could've been a lot worse. This year's 49er team was a pleasant surprise, an endearing overachiever that put a finger in the eye and a knee in the scrotum of nouveau football fans everywhere, who have no true soul-bond with any team but draw their knowledge of the sport from FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY and from fantasy football, who follow stats without understanding their deeper significance, and who wanted to watch Drew Brees play 60 minutes of pinball with Aaron Rodgers and put up a basketball score. The 49ers took that away from those people, and then lost narrowly to their co-conspirator New York the following week. This was not a shocking upset of a juggernaut, and it certainly wasn't the doomsday end of a dynasty. Still, I almost have to laugh at the absurdity of how yesterday's game played out. It was a conference championship game, at home, against the Giants, and it was lost on a fumble that led directly to a field goal. Kyle Williams is not as beloved as Roger Craig, and most likely never will be now, but now they will sit together on the ghost-bench that occupies the same space as the now empty real bench on Candlestick's home sideline. Roger possibly even has a consoling hand on his shoulder, reminding him to buck up, and at least he'll get a chance at redemption next season and that fumble won't be the last thing he did in the uniform (at least, it shouldn't be. Dire as his failures as backup Punt Returner may be, they truly can't afford to lose him as a wide receiver, as they are comically thin at the position and he's the one wideout who actually holds onto the ball consistently when its thrown at him).

Just not when its kicked to him, apparently.

21 years later, I'm a grown-ass man (mostly) and I'm not going to cry over a football game when there's real shit like taxes and death and debt and jobs that are underpaid and psychically unfulfilling. Not to mention the creeping corporatization of everything in America that threatens all our souls (in which the NFL is not only complicit but integral). Hell, I don't even hate this Giants team. There's no LT, or Leonard Marshall, or Bill Parcells, or any real villain worthy of contempt. There's just the Cruz kid who likes to salsa dance in the endzone and he's kinda fun to watch. And the good quarterback who plays well yet is forever overshadowed by someone who has QBed before him -- his older brother, in this case -- and really, we can sympathize with a guy like that. Once again, Then exists alongside Now and its hard not to see a sliver of Steve Young and what we 49er fans put him through even AFTER he finally won a Super Bowl. Besides, New York's opponent will once again be New England, Quarterbacked by a man born and raised in 49er Country who threatens a 4th Super Bowl ring, and to thus invariably draw comparisons to St. Joe, and with a 4th they'll start casting him as an equal. Some heretics will even start calling him better. The Giants only beat 49er present; the Patriots threaten to tie 49er Past and thus they must be destroyed. Kinda ironic to have to lean on the Giants as indirect defenders of that legacy -- again -- but there it is.

So, onto the goat, Kyle Williams. Predictably, 49er fans are pissed at the convenient scapegoat, and pinning the loss on him. He made the fatal fumble on a punt return, after all. He also caused momentum to shift the Giants way by muffing an earlier punt because he didn't think to get way the fuck away from a bouncing ball that he had already decided not to try and catch. He nearly coughed up the ball two other times, once was again as a punt returner as he made an ill-advised dive to catch one. Again, as WR, on a double reverse attempt that was pitched (poorly) by Kendal Hunter, although Williams deserves some props for wrestling that one away at the bottom of a scrum and preserving it. Williams also only had 1 catch for 4 yards that was wiped out when the 49ers opted to accept the Illegal Contact penalty called on the play and thus get one more yard. All in all, a shitty day for Kyle.

My Exact Thoughts Were: "Poor Kyle 'you stupid motherfucker!' Williams."

But its not his fault, really. Williams as Punt Returner has been a misadventure for a couple of months. He should not have been back there. Coach Jim Harbaugh, who otherwise has done a tremendous and un-reproachable job this season, can count this as his one failing. Williams had a muff against Pittsburgh that could've done to that game what it did to yesterday's, except the referee ruled he hadn't touched the ball (and there were 49ers in the area who fell on the ball just in case) even though again, Williams was wandering way too close to a ball he was letting bounce. He got injured and missed a game returning a kickoff against Seattle, and losing him as a WR hampered the already-challenged 49er passing game even further. Dude is star-crossed when it comes to returns, and he's the back-up to Ted Ginn anyway. Harbaugh and his Special Teams assistant should not have been married to keeping Williams back there, they ignored his struggles at their own peril, and that peril came at last. Kendal Hunter filled in when Williams got hurt. Delanie Walker was the return man under Singletary. Either of these guys could've gone into the game and while they wouldn't have gotten far with the ball, past performance suggests they'd have held on to it better than Kyle. Kyle's more valuable as a receiver, anyway. Hopefully next year they have him focus exclusively on doing that. Don't put him back their on punts anymore and for God's sake don't heed the idiots calling up sports talk demanding his release.

3rd String Running Back Anthony Dixon, shown consoling his teammate. NOT SHOWN:
His internal monologue of "put me back to return punts, shiiit, I ain't doin nothing else
anyway and at least I can hold on to the damn ball."

11 out of the 12 best teams in the NFL have a shitty end to their season. Today the 49ers are merely one of them, sitting alongside Houston, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Green Bay, which is pretty good company all things considered. "How Far Have They Come?" and "How Far Do They Still Have To Go?" We have all off-season to answer.


Jeremy said...

Very well done. Excellent read.

For whatever reason (probably because I'm a Lions fan and am naturally drawn to sadness), my focus this morning has been on the unfathomable pain Niners and Ravens are dealing with this morning. Two agonizing losses. Condolences.

Whiouxsie said...

Rough as it is, it would've been incalculably worse to lose two weeks from now. So that's my silver lining in all this, I suppose.

That and we're far from alone. Falcons fans no doubt feel embarrassed, Packer fans still have to feel like the world's biggest rug was pulled out from under them, and for Saints fans WE were the old nemesis that rose silently from the pool like Lt. Willard and struck without warning to vex them once again.

8 pro bowlers this year at least, though; maybe that'll convince me to watch (not likely).

Raven Mack said...

Whiouxsie you've done a tremendous job again. I hope you continue to ride during the offseason. It was weird, I was actually rooting for the 49ers (who I traditionally hate) because that defense is hard not to like, as is this offense. I think that's the greatest aspect of ACLB when it's good - you start to care about shit you normally wouldn't have given a fuck about.

Whiouxsie said...

Oh yeah, I imagine reading from the insanity of the NFL rulebook alone will be good for a couple off-season articles.

Don't know what I'll do for here in the off-season, but I intend to do something.

Neil said...


You rule.

That is all.