Jeff Tedford/Kevin Riley: 49ers Woes; DeBartolo/Morabitos; John Madden/Al Davis
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 14, 2009

THE CAL BEARS face their third big test of the season on Saturday against UCLA in Los Angeles. They failed the first two miserably, against Oregon and USC. If they fail this one, too, it will be “Wait until next year.”

The second loss, to USC, forced a change in practice. Usually in a bye week, it’s more relaxed and Thursday’s practice mostly involves the younger players who haven’t been in games much, if at all. But last Thursday it was all-out, and the Bears have been working for two weeks on the game plan for the Bruins.

But mostly, they’ve been working on correcting the mistakes that have been so costly. “The USC game was a typical USC game,” said coach Jeff Tedford at yesterday’s media luncheon. “They don’t mistakes and you have to capitalize when you have an opportunity. We were in the red zone five times and got just three points.”

Part of the problem was that quarterback Kevin Riley was missing on passes, mostly throwing high. “I was feeling the pressure and releasing the ball too early,” Riley said yesterday. “I’ve been working in practice on standing in there and not throwing too soon. I had a good week in practice last week and I feel confident going into this game.”

As Riley was talking, the rain was pounding down. Tedford hd insisted that they’d go through a normal practice. “I’m from Oregon, so I’m used to it,” said Riley. But when Tedford checked the field, he realized there was no way they could practice without scuba gear, so they practiced indoors at the Recreational Sports Facility.

The back-to-back losses have caused a lot of critical chatter on the websites which Tedford said he doesn’t pay attention to. “There’s really no point in it,” he said. “People have always had opinions about sports, but now, it’s so much easier to get them out there.”

Asked if he was getting critical comments on campus, Riley said, “I don’t think anybody really recognizes me yet.”

History is another element that concerns alums more than players. Cal has not beaten UCLA at the Rose Bowl since 1999 (a win that was canceled out because academically ineligible players were in the game for Cal) but, Riley noted, “Many of our players weren’t even on the team the last time we played there, so they don’t even think about that. I was just a redshirt freshman.”

Cal and UCLA have had similar seasons, both teams going 3-0, with UCLA notching an impressive win over Tennessee in the middle of the stretch, but have lost two conference games since, with the Bruins losing to Stanford and Oregon.

The Bruins have a stingy defense, anchored by tackle Brian Price, which held Oregon scoreless in the first half. Their offense has struggled, in part because quarterback Kevin Prince, a redshirt freshman, has missed two games with injuries. Prince will start Saturday.

At this point, the Pac-10 is still in a shakeout mode. USC and Oregon seem to be the best and the Washington schools are again bottom feeders, but the pecking order with Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State and the Arizona schools has yet to be established.

Saturday will be the Bears opportunity to step up and establish themselves as a quality team. I think they’ll do it but my prediction record this year is hovering around zero, so don’t go to Vegas with that!

49ERS WOES: My column on Shawn Hill and the 49ers in the Examiner yesterday elicited some strong comments, both pro and con. The main theme of the con letters was that the 45-10 thrashing by Atlanta was a complete team breakdown, which is correct but misses the big point: The 49ers were trailing by only 14-10 in the second quarter and had the ball in the Falcons’ side of the 50 with a chance to go ahead. But, the offense couldn’t do anything, which is typical of what’s happened this season.

The 49ers are where they are because of a defense that had been outstanding through the first four games. It broke down Sunday, but it was also on the field for 13 minutes more than the Atlanta defense. That kind of disparity usually leads to a defensive breakdown.

The offense has been only sporadically effective all season. It has scored only nine touchdowns and never more than two in a game. It was fewer first downs than any team in the league – yes, even fewer than the Raiders.

Ultimately, it all comes back to quarterbacking. The top teams all have top quarterbacks like Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Brett Favre.

The 49ers have Hill, who has now had two straight bad games. Even against the woeful Rams, he struggled for most of the game, and the Falcons truly exposed him.

In the 51 years I’ve been writing professionally, there have been only two teams who have won a championship with quarterbacks as limited as Hill – the 1963 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens – and both had suffocating defenses, which the 49ers do not have.

Until they get better quarterbacking, you can forget about the 49ers as playoff material.

FORGOTTEN MEN: In the wake of all the adulation for Eddie DeBartolo, everybody seems to have forgotten about the Morabito brothers, Tony and Vic, the first owners of the Forty-Niners.

It was Tony who was the driving force behind the franchise. The owner of a lumber yard, he had a dream of getting an NFL frnchise for San Francisco, but was treated rudely by then NFL commissioner Elmer Layden. So, Arch Ward, the Chicago sports editor who had originated All-Star games in both baseball and football, got Morabito and others together to form the All-America Conference. The league kicked off in 1946, and San Francisco had its first major league team.

It was a tough sell. College football was much more popular than the pro variety at the time. The 49ers shared Kezar Stadium with USF and, when big games between the Catholic schools in the area were played on Sunday, the 49ers had to move their games to Saturday.

The Morabito brothers both died young, before the 49ers and the NFL became prosperous, and Eddie has done little to honor them; the media guides after the DeBartolo Corporation bought the team in 1977 made it seem that the 49ers franchise began with that purchase.

Even without the AAC, San Francisco would eventually have gotten a major league franchise, but it probably wouldn’t have been until the ‘60s, when the AFL was formed and the NFL expanded into cities that might have added AFL teams.

But that was 14 years later and northern California fans would have missed out on some exciting seasons, though no championship ones, great players like Leo Nomellini, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie, as well as some exciting moments, like the “Alley Oop” passes from Tittle and Brodie to R. C. Owens.

So, thank you, Tony and Vic, the forgotten men.

RAIDERS FIX: A friend of mine and Raiders fan, Sam Spear, suggests a possible remedy for the team, if Al Davis would hie John Madden and put him in a sort of supervisorial role. Madden wouldn’t actually have to do the personnel work but he could hire competent people to do it and re-structure the team.

Of course, this is dreaming because Davis won’t relinquish control. Remeember that he said he was going to bring an experienced NFL man into the front office? Nobody there yet. Right now, Davis is probably just waiting for the Napa district attorney to charge Tom Cable for assaulting Randy Hanson so he can fire Cable “for cause” and not paying the rest of his salary. Not paying the rest of the contract for coaches he’s fired is a Davis specialty.

Who would be the next puppet? Probably Paul Hackett, who’s on the staff now. Hackett is fine as an offensiv assistant but he’s proved, with the University of Pittsburgh and USC, that he really isn’t head coach material. But with the Raiders, that’s not important because Davis is the coach.

BIG FAN: Ever wonder how fans can get so emotionally involved in a team that it transcends everything else in their lives? Rob Siegel, who wrote the screenplay for “The Wrestler,” has been thinking about this since he was in high school and finally came up wit a script for “Big Fan,” which he’s also directed. It’s in 60 cities across the country and will open in San Francisco on Oct. 23 at the Lumiere Theater and in Berkeley at the Landmark Shattuck. Those are the only Bay Area locations where it will be shown.

“When I was in high school, I used to listen to WFAN, with Steve Sommers (who worked in San Francisco television in the ‘80s),” Siegel said in a telephone interview. “There was one particular argument that went on with a New York Giants fan and a Philadelphia Eagles fan. They would go after each other night after night, and I just wondered how anybody could be so involved with a team.”

The film centers on a Giants fan who runs into a star player on the team at a night club and what transpires after that. “No, the player is not modeled on Plaxico Burress,” said Siegel. “I started writing this years before that case. It’s not really modeled on any player.”

This is not the usual feel-good sports movie but a dark look at sports fandom and also a scathing indictment of sports talk radio.

“We’re hoping it will get a combination audience of people who like indie films and those who are interested in the sports angle,” said Siegel, “much as we did with ‘The Wrestler.’”

LETTERS, TV: I updated “Letters” last Saturday. For those in the area, I’ll be on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast tonight, live at 5, taped at 11.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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