Colin Kaepernic/Anquan Boldin/Vernon Davis/ Frank Gore/Joe Perry; David Shaw/Phil Knight; Sonny Dykes; Damon Bruce/Ann Killion/Nancy Gay
WHEN I wrote critically of Colin Kaepernick earlier in the year, I got a lot of negative reaction from readers who love him. What do you think now?
Kaepernick had a great opening game against Green Bay, throwing for more than 400 yards, but his performances since then have been mixed Ė good against inferior defenses, bad against good ones. The best defenses he has faced have been the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks absolutely destroyed Kaepernick and the Niners in Seattle earlier this season. Yesterday at Candlestick, the Panthers D had Kaepernick confused game long. He passed for only 91 yards and, when his six sacks were subtracted, the 49ers passing game had only a net of 46 yards. In the closing minutes, when the Niners still had a chance to drive and at least get a field goal to win the game, he threw an interception.
After his opening game, The Chronicle ran a headline: Kaepernick does it again. They could have run the same headline today, with an entirely different meaning.
And the Saints in New Orleans are next up for the Niners. The cream puff part of the schedule is over.
The excuses that have been made for Kaepernickís poor performances donít hold up to closer examination. One was that he had only two targets, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. But Boldin has turned several off-target passes into highlight film catches and Davis is a total mismatch for whoever tries to cover him, much too fast to be covered by a linebacker, too big to be covered by a defensive back.
Davis was injured in the second quarter yesterday and didnít return, but Kaepernick had done nothing while Vernon was in there. In fact, one of his throws looked like an interception until it was dropped by the Carolina defensive back.
Kaepernick has two main problems:
1) Opposing defensive coordinators have figured him out. As I wrote earlier, every team in the league breaks down the offenses and defenses of the teams that play in the Super Bowl. That didnít seem to help Dom Capers, Green Bayís defensive coordinator who has probably passed the ďsell byĒ date, but other teams have been better prepared. Those with outstanding defensive players Ė Seattle and Carolina Ė have stopped Kaepernick cold, but even lesser defenses have slowed him up.
2 He always seems to focus on one receiver, which opposing defenses can figure out. Of course, the receiver has usually been either Boldin or Davis. We canít know how good other receivers might be because he so seldom throws to them.
Will he be able to change his pattern? Iím sure the offensive coaches have been working with him to change, but he hasnít done it yet. In his short career, college and pro, he had always been able to play his particular type of game because he didnít run into either defensive coaches who could scheme to stop him or players who could carry out those schemes. Now, he has.
Itís vital to the 49ersí success that he learns because thereís no competent backup for him now, with Alex Smith playing for the 9-0 Chiefs. As good as the 49ers defense is, they canít carry the team if the offense isnít doing its best. Right now, it seems that last season was the Ninersí best shot at the Super Bowl. It wonít happen this season.
STATISTICS, STATISTICS: I was sitting next to Joe Fonzi of Channel 2 in the press box yesterday and we were discussing how stats are overrunning the game. ďI donít even know what some of these baseball statistics are,Ē he said, and I concurred. Yet, writers routinely use them in stories. They should remember a basic rule of writing: Youíre supposed to inform readers, not confuse them.
Fonzi and I were amused, though, by one statistic: the infamous quarterback rating. We were sitting in the second row, so we could easily watch the bank of TV sets, one of which was an NFL/49ers channel that ran the game statistics for players on each team, with continuous updates. At one point, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had a 1.7 rating, which we both thought had to be the lowest possible. Newton was having a terrible game but in the fourth quarter, he was able to hit a key pass that set up the winning field goal.
Despite contributing to our amusement, I think writers should ignore the quarterback rating when theyíre writing stories. If a writer canít accurately describe a quarterbackís play without using a stat that fans donít understand, he shouldnít be writing.
BEFORE SUNDAYíS game, I had an extended conversation with two men of my generation and we talked over our shared experiences.
They both had a longer connection with the 49ers because they had gone to games at Kezar when they were still in high school. I saw only one game before I came to The Chronicle in 1963: I came up with some Watsonville friends to see a game in the early Ď60s. I remember nothing about the game except that I never wanted to sit in the Kezar stands again, amidst a bunch of drunks. I held to that position; the only games I saw at Kezar after that was when I was sitting in the press box.
There were a couple of questions I was asked during this time. One was the best running back in 49ers history. Frank Gore has all the numbers but heís been playing during the 16-game seasons; earlier backs played as few as 10 games. Still, Gore is certainly in the conversation. I saw only a little of Hugh McElhenny, enough to know he was a very exciting runner, but one who was often hurt. During a visit to the home of a super rooter in a Sacramento suburb a few years ago, I saw films of past games which included Joe Perry. I saw enough to conclude that Perry would be my choice.
The other question: What was my biggest thrill among games Iíd seen? There are two games which stand out. The first was the 1974 ďSea of HandsĒ game between the Miami Dolphins and the Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum which was nonstop action from the time the Dolphins ran back the opening kickoff until Ken Stabler threw the winning touchdown into the hands of Clarence Davis, surrounded by Miami defenders. But my choice as No. 1 had to be ďThe Catch,Ē not only for the game but what it represented. So many fans called it ďThe real Super BowlĒ because the Dallas Cowboys had knocked the 49ers out of the postseason run three straight times in the 1970-72 period. In another game of nonstop action, the Niners knocked the Cowboys out. And, oh yes, they went on to win the first of their five Super Bowls.
BEFORE THE critical Stanford-Oregon game on Thursday night, Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy piece on both teams and their schools which I thought did an excellent job of showing how different they are.
Iíve always thought Stanford does it right with their football program, as well as with the largest group of other sports for any school competing at the top level. Because itís a small, private institution, it can set its own rules and those rules include academic excellence for everybody, including athletes. There are no exceptions for athletes, no special programs. They have to meet the same admission standards as non-athletes and, of course, they graduate.
Because of the high academic standards, Stanford football has had its ups and downs. There was a serious down period with Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris before Jim Harbaugh came in. Harbaugh revived the program and David Shaw has brought it to an even higher level. Shaw hasnít always gotten the credit he deserves because heís quiet and not seeking credit, but heís done a remarkable job.
Their high academic standards limit the talent pool, but, practically speaking, they have that pool to themselves. Vanderbilt may have standards that high but they never win. Northwestern is fairly close, but the current team is one of the few that has been nationally ranked.
Stanford coaches feel that, if they can get a recruit to come to the campus, theyíve got him. I can understand that. Iíve visited the campus many times to interview coaches and it seems the sun is always shining. Walking across campus, you see students bicycling to class. Itís almost like a Hollywood version of a college campus.
Oregon coaches feel the same way about their chances with a prospect when he comes in for a visit but, though the campus is beautiful when the sun is shining (a rarity in football season), it is the facilities that the players like.
The schoolís most famous graduate, Phil Knight, has spent millions to build athletic facilities; the school now has its second training facility, unmatched in the country.
I admire Knightís willingness to invest money in his alma mater, but I donít like what itís done to college football. Other schools, without such generous alum, have been forced to spend money they should be allotting to more worthwhile endeavors. Colleges, including my alma mater, are deeply in the hole because theyíve spent far too much money on the football program. As Andy Geiger told me when he was the Stanford athletic director almost 30 years ago, itís become the arms race.
For that reason, I was rooting for Stanford in the big showdown last week, and the Cardinal came through.
MEANWHILE, THE Cal Bears fell to the USC Trojans, 62-28, in a game that wasnít that close.
I stayed home and watched the game on TV. I knew what would happen and I didnít want to hear the obnoxious USC fans bragging as if they actually had a part in it. They are unquestionably the worst fans Iíve known. Other top teams, such as Ohio State and Tennessee, have come to Memorial Stadium with fans who are just as fervent but are still respectful Not the Trojan fans. And, the band still knows only two notes.
Thatís why one of my favorite memories came in 1991, when Bruce Snyderís team beat the Trojans badly. Then chancellor Chang-Lin Tien hugged me in the press box and said, ďIsnít it wonderful!Ē I agreed.
Nothing like that this year. Knowing that, and knowing Iíd have to watch it from that wretched press box, I gave the game a pass, watched for a time on TV and turned it off at halftime.
When a team is going as bad as Cal Ė its one chance for another victory will be Saturday in Colorado Ė there are always questions about the coachís future.
A reader reminded me that Sonny Dykesí offense is similar to the run-and-shoot that Mouse Davis brought to Cal for one year in the early Ď80s. Davis had had great luck with it at Portland State, but not at Cal. He went on to other schools and generally did well when he was coaching on a lower level, either collegiately or in the pros (the USFL). But, when he coached on a higher level, his offense didnít work well, because the defenses were tougher. The biggest problem is that his offense, and Dykesí, has no tight end, so itís difficult to run the ball near the goal line.
Dykesí success came at a lower level, at Louisiana Tech. He doesnít have the players to succeed this year at Cal but I donít think heíll ever be a consistent winner on this level. Thatís why I think heíll be gone in three years, and the AD who hired him, Sandy Barbour, will probably be gone sooner.
DAMON BRUCE has reportedly been suspended from KNBR for his misogynist rant about women in sports, including women sportswriters. He had said, basically, that sports should be for men and girls and women should back off. Sounds like what I heard from older male writers 40 years ago.
When I first heard of Bruceís rant, I thought it was his misguided intent to get attention for himself. Heís been on KNBR for eight years without getting any kind of audience, for good reason. But this was clearly not the way to do it. Advertisers have told KNBR theyíll take their business elsewhere, and that always gets the attention of a station.
I remember when women sportswriters started entering the profession, and the older male writers were upset because they thought they wouldnít be able to swear in the press box. Then, The Chronicle hired Betty Cuniberti, a petite, pretty blonde who had the vocabulary of a sailor. She knew curse words that I didnít even know existed.
The next taboo to fall was women writers in the dressing room. I knew that was a phony because, in my first year on the Raiders beat, 1967, when we were staying in a hotel in Niagara Falls before a game in Buffalo, players were lying naked on their beds as maids were walking into the rooms. Not much worry about modesty there. About 10 years later, Stephanie Salter interviewed a totally naked Vida Blue in the Giants dressing room. She didnít blink. Trust me, a manís penis is not something grown women have not seen.
I welcomed the advent of women sportswriters because they were much more pleasant than some of the crusty old men who were around then. For one thing, I never knew any of the women to smoke the awful cigars that these old guys often did.
I have known and worked with some good women writers. One is Ann Killion, currently with The Chronicle. Nancy Gay was another favorite of mine, as was the formidable Ms. Cuniberti earlier . On the other hand, I could have done forever without Gwen Knapp.
At any rate, women sportswriters are here to stay, which is probably more than can be said for Damon Bruce.
TODAYíS COLUMN is a day early because I have an eye appointment tomorrow morning and my eyes will be dilated all day. I have enough problems copy reading my column without that! Iíll be back on Tuesday next week.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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