“It’s Super Bowl or bust this season.”
The words crumble as they come out of my mouth. They’re so unfamiliar, so weird to say.
As I’ve noted before, my joy in the recent success of my beloved San Francisco 49ers finds its roots in failures of 49er pasts.
I love Colin Kaepernick because he’s not Shaun Hill, Ken Dorsey, or Cody Pickett. I love Alex Boone and Anthony Davis because they’re not Kwame Harris or Chilo Rachal. I get a greater joy out of watching Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree reek havoc every Sunday because I’m no longer watching Darrell Jackson drop footballs or Antonio Bryant fail to get open or Cedrick Wilson’s premature celebrations… the list goes on and on.
I didn’t grow up on 49er dominance. I faintly remember the huge comeback against the Giants in ’02, but what I mostly remember about the 49ers in my childhood is Dennis Erickson, trading TO for a defective defensive lineman, and Mark Roman getting beat deep.
The negatives greatly outweigh the positives.
My fandom started early. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my parents (who all hail from the Bay), would tell me tales of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Ronnie Lott, of Dwight Hicks and his hot licks.
I quickly learned that “in this house we’re 49ers fans.”
I watched all five “America’s Game” 49ers Super Bowl champion editions on my grandpa’s couch one summer afternoon.
And so I dove in.
I wore my Jerry Rice jersey religiously, even though most of my Rice memories come from the PC video game Backyard Football. I was delighted beyond belief when I went to my first game at Candlestick for my friend Marshall’s birthday (the Seahawks beat the Niners by somewhere around 20 points), and once wrote “Kevan Barlow jersey” and “Zach Bronson jersey” on a potential holiday gift list.
Thank god I have smart relatives that decided San Francisco Giants Monopoly and books were better gifts.
I was TO for Halloween, and then taped “Woods” on the back of the jersey when Owens left and was replaced by the 31st overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Rashaun Woods. Woods played two injury-filled seasons in San Francisco before departing to the Canadian Football League.
Those 49er teams were awful. Just terrible. The records speak for themselves, but the memories are even louder.
Nate Clements starting the 2010 season off with a pick of Matt Hasselbeck, only to have the ensuing drive result in Moran Norris dropping a touchdown in what would turn out to be just another week 1 loss.
Nate Clements intercepting Matt Ryan in 2010 and running down the field with the game in his hand, only to have Roddy White strip him from behind and win the game for Atlanta.
The Baltimore Ravens putting their entire defense in the box to stop Frank Gore. And it working because the Niners had no semblance of a passing game.
Watching Tom Brady lead Super Bowl comebacks for the New England Patriots and wondering where the hell Giovanni Carmazzi was. The last we heard, he was practicing yoga and herding goats. I’m not kidding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1Y3yJMwqnk.
The point is, I grew up on 49er failure. I’m not really sure how to handle 49ers success, especially the expectations that come with it.
This is me after Vernon Davis’s game-winning catch in the 2011 divisional round propelled the Niners to the first playoff win I remember completely.
More specifically, that’s me running down a street after CJ Spillman swatted Drew Brees’s last pass to ground.
That street is somewhere near my aunt’s house in a neighborhood I’ve been to a handful of times, yet I felt compelled to go sprinting up the block screaming with my best friend, just to release the explosion of jubilant energy built up over a childhood of watching loss after loss after loss, but loving my team unconditionally nonetheless.
That was then. This, sadly, is now.
If the Niners make the divisional round this year, and then fail to win their next two games and bring the Lombardi back to Lombard Street, I will be disappointed.
And that sucks to say.
There’s a lot less fun in that. Those expectations are unrealistic and reek of privilege and rotten spoilage. Four years ago I would have kicked myself in the face for saying such a thing.
But now, I can’t really help it. My team is 2 fair catches, 5 yards, and a fingertip away from three Super Bowl championships (we would have steamrolled the 2011-12 Patriots and the 2013-14 Broncos).
This will be the year.
The receiving core is one of the best in the league, Kaep will only improve with another year of experience under his belt, and Frank Gore has shown almost nothing to indicate that he’s not still Frank Gore. Vernon Davis is still a monster and the offensive line is one of the best in the league.
The defense is full of monsters, Patrick Willis is the best linebacker alive not named Navorro Bowman, and the secondary will hold up because the pass rush is so good.
“Money Phil” Dawson is back, CJ Spillman will forever be out there tackling people inside the five, and well…
ANDY LEE IS STILL THE BEST DAMN PUNTER ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH.
This has to be the year.
At season’s end, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Frank Gore, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter, CJ Spillman, and, if he doesn’t sign an extension, Colin Kaepernick will all be free agents.
This could be the last shot they have at it with this team. This could be Frank Gore’s last chance.
As weird as it feels to say, as spoiled as I know it sounds coming from my mouth, as strangely desperate as it feels to write it, it’s true.
“It’s Super Bowl Or Bust” for my Niners this season.