Joe Montana/Steve Young/Colin Kaepernick; Jim Harbaugh/Michael Crabtree/Antwan Boldin; Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/John Elway; Alex Rodriguez; Warriors Arena
YEARS AGO, I used to hear from the wives of fans who told me their husbands would tape my columns to the refrigerator door when I predicted that local teams would not win pennants, championship games, etc. If I were wrong, I’d hear from them. Otherwise, they’d just take the columns down and throw them away.
I was reminded of that this week when I heard from a fan who had saved an Ira Miller column from 1995 when Ira predicted the 49ers wouldn’t advance in the playoffs. That’s nearly 20 years ago. Yes, Ira was wrong in that instance but he was usually right. I doubt that this fan has kept columns where Ira was right on target.
The reason this fan showed me this, in an e-mail, was that he’s convinced my doubts about the 49ers this year are because I’m supposedly bitter about Alex Smith’s departure. In fact, I thought Smith was treated shabbily last year when he lost his job because a concussion sidelined him for the next game, but that was the end of it. Smith was traded to Kansas City and I don’t believe I’ve written one word about him this season. That wasn’t enough to placate this fan who pointed out that the Chiefs had lost in the first round of the playoffs. True, but though Jamaal Charles, their best runner and receiver, was knocked out of the game early, the Chiefs scored 43 points and Smith had a great day passing the ball. Hard to blame him for that loss. This same fan also sent an e-mail to the Examiner claiming I hadn’t apologized for what I had written about Colin Kaepernick earlier in the year. He completely misunderstood what I wrote, which is no surprise. In the immortal words from a Carol Burnett comedy skit, his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.
Then, there are the fans who have never gotten over the fact that Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City before the 1993 season. One fan insisted Steve Young had not yet learned how to play quarterback in the NFL, though he had been NFL Player of the Year in 1992, and that the Niners would have won in ’93 with Montana. “All Joe wanted was a chance to compete for the starting job,” he wrote. As I told him, his memory was inaccurate. In fact, coach George Seifert had said Montana would be the starting quarterback going into training camp but Joe knew his fragile health would not allow him to keep the job, so he asked Carmen Policy to trade him to the Chiefs. Though the Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship game, which they lost, Montana played in only 11 of the 16 regular season games because of injuries.
And, the truth was, the 49ers were not going to beat out the Dallas Cowboys, who won their third Super Bowl in four years that season. In the offseason, Policy signed Deion Sanders (among others), giving a big boost to the defense, and the 49ers went to their fifth Super Bowl. Young was again NFL Player of the Year and also the MVP of the Super Bowl, throwing a record six touchdown passes. Montana had a so-so year as the Chiefs missed the playoffs and retired.
There is no question that Montana had the better career and belongs in the conversation about the best of all time, but in ’93, Young was younger and better.
There is an ironic footnote to this story. When I talked to Young in trainng camp and asked him what had been going through his mind when he read about all the back-and-forth about Montana, he said he had been totally unaware of it because he was studying for his finals in law school. He passed, of course, and got his degree, though he never practiced. When my son got his degree from the USF law school, Steve spoke at the graduation services and said, “My graduating class had the highest per student starting salary of any class in the country.” He said it deadpan, so I’m not sure how many got it but I certainly did: His huge signing bonus for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL had inflated the class’s salary figures.
Lately, I’ve been assailed by readers who accuse me of not supporting the local team when I picked against the Niners, as I did last week. There are writers who play the rah-rah role in their stories. They’re called “homers”, and that’s the last thing I ever wanted. I’ve always written what I believed. That doesn’t mean I’m always right, obviously, but it does mean that I’m being honest with readers, even if that’s not what they want to hear.
JIM HARBAUGH has famously acclaimed Michael Crabtree the best pass catcher he’s ever seen. In fact, Crabtree isn’t even the best on the team but one reason Harbaugh is so successful is that he knows which players need their egos stroked.
Crabtree is definitely in that class. Remember that he missed five games in his rookie season because he thought he should have been drafted higher, which would have meant a higher starting salary. He was right, of course; the Raiders drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of him because Al Davis was obsessed with speed and ignored the fact that DHB couldn’t catch the ball, but Crabtree was still getting a substantial salary offer. He finally signed a contract for more money than the 49ers had offered and which extended his contract by a year.
So, Harbaugh is going to continue stroking Crabtree’s ego, though the team’s best pass catcher is Anquan Boldin, who continually makes highlight reel catches on balls at his feet, behind him, beyond him. Even when he seems to be totally covered, he somehow finds a way to make the catch.
But, Harbaugh knows he doesn’t have to stroke Boldin’s ego. Boldin is tough, mentally and physically. So, he never objected when Harbaugh praised Crabtree and not him. He never will.
THE OFFICIATING in the 49ers win over Carolina was totally different and, frankly, not very good. At Green Bay the previous week, officials “let them play” in the words of announcer Troy Aikman, who recognized that calls were being made, or not made, as they were during his playing time.
Last Sunday, though, we were back to the current style, favoring the offense to a ridiculous degree, which is why the passing records being set every season are largely meaningless. Flags were flying all day. Mike Mitchell of the Panthers was called despite a perfectly legal hit – Aikman several times called it a terrible call – and it sometimes seemed that whistles were blowing on every call. Yet, officials missed a punch to Boldin’s face after a play had ended and a play on which the 49ers had 12 players in the huddle, which is an automatic penalty. One player ran off the field just before the Niners broke the huddle and somehow, not one official noticed him, though he had to run about 30 yards to the sideline. What were they all watching? Maybe they were dreaming about their postgame meal.
I suppose none of this should be surprising. IMO, NFL officiating has been at an all-time low this season. The hallmark of the new era: After a big play, announcers say, “There are no flags.” That’s because it’s news.
IT’S DEFINITELY back page news in the Bay Area but the AFC matchup between Denver and New England is also an intriguing one, mainly because of the matchup of quarterbacks, Peyton Manning of the Broncos and Tom Brady of the Patriots. Manning set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes, if anybody cares, but Brady owns a 10-4 record in their matchups, including a comeback 34-31 win in Foxboro early this year. Manning will no doubt face more questions about his lack of success in playoff games in cold weather.
Quarterbacks are usually the most important players on a team but there have been teams that won Super Bowls with mediocre quarterbacks. Trent Dilfer is often mentioned because he’s the latest but I covered the first two Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl triumphs in the ‘70s and I can tell you that Terry Bradshaw contributed very little. Their great defense won those Super Bowls, though Bradshaw matured and became the key player in the next two wins.
On the other hand, there have been great quarterbacks who simply lacked the supporting cast. John Elway is the most physically-gifted quarterback I’ve ever seen but he had weak coaches in college and at the start of his pro career. Elway was recruited to Stanford by Bill Walsh, but Walsh left for the 49ers before Elway’s freshman season. Can you imagine Elway playing for Walsh? As it was, he had Rod Dowhower for one year (Dowhower played Turk Schonert, a good quarterback but hardly a great one, though some writers, including me, advised him to play Elway) and then Paul Wiggin for three years. Enough said. In the pros, he had Dan Reeves – and no running attack to complement his passing. He still got the Broncos to two Super Bowls but they were badly overmatched, especially against the 49ers in the second one. It wasn’t until Mike Shanahan came to the Broncos – and they had a good running game – that the Broncos were able to win, though Elway was a secondary player by then.
It’s taking nothing away from Brady to say that he’s often had a stronger supporting cast in his battles against Manning. That doesn’t stop writers from characterizing losses by Manning’s teams as his failures. Once again this week, reading stories about the game, you’d think the quarterbacks were the only players on the field. The truth is, they’re both great quarterbacks and will be easy Hall of Fame choices when they’re eligible. If I had to choose between them, I’d pick Brady, who is much like Montana in his ability to find a way to win. This time, though, it is Peyton with the advantage, a better team playing at home. I think the Broncos will win but lose in the Super Bowl to the NFC champion.
SPEAKING OF the Super Bowl, do you have your tickets yet? They’re only $3,000 on the open market. Of course, if you wait, you can get them much cheaper from fans who suddenly realize that it will be very cold and likely raining in the New Jersey home of the Giants and Jets. The NFL policy is to award a Super Bowl to teams which build a new stadium – the 49ers are on the list for February, 2016, at Santa Clara – but putting a game in a non-domed stadium in the north or east in February is insane.
This is all a part of NFL commissioner Roger Goodall’s plan to expand, expand, expand. He has Thursday night games on the schedule and more games in London next season, both of which are very bad ideas. Expanded playoff games are also looming.
Goodall may be working against the league’s best interests, though. I’ve written before about the great advance in television technology. I’ve watched games in person and on TV this year, and I think the TV experience is superior for fans. I make that distinction because, sitting in the press box, I have access to the TV replays. Fans, though, don’t have that, so they see less at the game than they would at home.
There’s evidence that fans are beginning to understand that as some playoff games were not sold out. Even in Green Bay, though the Packers are owned by residents of the city and the fans are maniacal in their support of the team, it wasn’t until virtually the last minute that their game against the Niners was sold out.
When he was commissioner, Pete Rozelle first ordered all home games to be blacked out, then had to relent on sold out home games because politicians in Washington, D.C. wanted to see their team and not all of them could get tickets in good locations. Rozelle famously said at the time that he was worried that football would become a studio game because it televised so well. It didn’t happen in Rozelle’s time but his prediction may come true if Goodell doesn’t eschew greed for reality.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ has never been a favorite of mine but MLB and the spoiled Steinbrenner brothers are fast making him a popular figure. Commissioner Bud Selig’s action in suspending him for 211 days was clearly to placate the brothers, who do not want to pay the rest of the lucrative contract given A-Rod by their late father, George. Now, his penalty has been scaled back to 162 games plus any postseason games in 2014 in arbitration but that’s still more than three times the usual 50-game penalty.
Of course, Rodriguez has no chance of making the Hall of Fame, between sanctimonious writers and the 18th-century minds now running the HOF, who put in a “morals” clause. If they make that retroactive, oops, there goes Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, for starters.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has no such bars to membership. Voters consider only what the players did on the field. What a novel concept.
THE WARRIORS have played very well this season, despite a schedule overloaded with away games. Now, they have a favorable schedule the rest of the season and, barring calamitous injuries, seem to be headed for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, they’ve had 54 consecutive sellouts at Oracle Arena, a raucous place where fans are clearly enjoying themselves. The arena is in a central location, accessible from the north, south, east and west through freeway and BART connections.
The Warriors clearly do not need a new arena. So, why are owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber pushing for a new arena on the waterfront in San Francisco? Well, for openers, the arena is a smoke screen. This is really a huge real estate project with parking garages in the waterfront structure and a big development across the street. Some 220 events are envisioned during a typical year. Only 41 of them will be Warriors games. Traffic along the Embarcadero is already a problem. I don’t want to think about what will happen when Giants games coincide with events at this facility.
Hopefully, it won’t happen. This issue is almost certainly going to go to the ballot. When San Francisco voters learn what this project really is – and how much it would actually cost the city – I think they’ll reject it. Even better, there’s likely to be another proposal on the ballot, to force any project which exceeds height limits, to go to the voters. Mayor Ed Lee should be happy. He once proclaimed that the Warriors project would be his “legacy.” He’d regret that.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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