That wasn't the case four weeks ago. In week 6 of this season the 49ers were set to host the reigning NFL champions New York Giants, and many had picked the home team to get a little payback for that devastating loss in the playoffs last season. Instead, the Giants dominated all three facets of the game, and while San Francisco had some glimmer of hope during the first half, New York put them away in the second half on their way to a 26-3 win over NFC West division leader.
"You gotta beat the man to be the man," was heard from Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw later on that week as the media showed clips of him speaking before the game. The second-guessing was all over newspapers, blogs, and fan forums - who were the 49ers? Were they really as good as predicted before the season? Better than last season? Or did they just stink? Alex Smith, fresh off a career performance and getting tons of fans behind him, was all of the sudden sitting back on the Most-Hated-49er chair. Here was a 4-2 team going into a short week, hosting the division rival Seattle Seahawks (within the division, the team most likely to challenge the 49ers for the title), and the possibility of a loss at home against them painted a sad picture, as if such scenario would convince you that the 49ers were destined for a letdown season.
On that Thursday night, unlike many fans, I did not watch the game at the stadium or in the comfort of my own couch. Instead I enjoyed VIP treatment at an exclusing NFL tailgating party hosted by Courtyard Marriott, the official hotel sponsor of the NFL (more on them later). In it, I had the opportunity to interview one of the greatest 49ers of all time, Ronnie Lott, as a part of a group interview. Lott spoke briefly about his teammates back during the glory days, remembering the times Jerry Rice would "cha cha" every time he neared a white line, and eventually making his way to talk about Joe Montana (whom Lott's mom calls Barry Manilow). Lott's words on Montana were particularly interesting to me as he said the following, "what made Joe phenomenal is that Joe could deal with any adverse moment. The great thing that he has always said to me about adversity, is that you've got to keep your head up and you've got to see the whole field, and a lot of times in adverse situations we drop our head ( ) so keep your head up, see the whole field, and throw a lot of touchdown passes." Lott later went on to speak about his own times against adversity, as he addressed a Patriots fan's (a guest at the hotel) concern over the New England secondary which had given up a last minute touchdown to the Seahawks the week before to lose by a point.
With the topic of adversity fresh in the room, I finally got my chance to ask a question. I mentioned the recent loss against the Giants, and how times such as those made it easy for the fan base and the media to get down on the team; most specifically I wanted to touch on the Patrick Willis and Matt Millen comment exchange through the media, an uncharacteristic moment in Willis' career when he initially reacted in a defensive way to Millen's comments that he had played his worst game of the season against the Giants, then later apologized for his initial response. My question to Lott: how do the greatest players in the game, such as Lott and such as Willis, deal with moments of adversity? Lott responded that after the bad games, "you have to bite your lip ( ) It's so easy to want to respond, and it's so easy to kind of lash out, and it's so easy to get yourself distracted on what people believe," and he noted that players need to remind themselves that the comments from the outside world don't need to affect them. Lott then added, "Knowing him (Willis), he's going to use this as a way to motive him and motivate his team, and the best part about sports is you're playing for the prize, and the prize is at the end of the year, and the funny thing about great players like Patrick is that they're always thinking about the quest, and the quest to being the best, and the quest to getting there at the end." There are always two sides to a coin, but it was hard to argue with Lott's comments at that point, regardless of the many doubts anyone could have had about the team at the time. Willis and the 49ers have since gotten back on track towards that quest that is the Lombardi Trophy.
"He's going to be ok," Lott added about Willis. "They're going to be alright. It was a tough loss, they'll get over it. Winning is a great deodorant. So if they win tonight, man I can tell you it's going to feel good again. If they lose tonight it's a bad deodorant and they're going to smell, and that's what makes it so tough." If Ronnie Lott's odor was affected by whether his team won or loss, you better believe the great players nowadays, like Willis, also go through the same or a similar process.
Seems like Lott knew exactly what he was talking about as he explained how adversity could motivate Willis and the defense, which has yet to give up a touchdown since the game against the Giants. Losing a game isn't necessarily a bad thing for a team like the 49ers, which came into this season being talked about as a Super Bowl contender. Losing a game can help you realize what your real weaknesses are, how to continue to work to get better, to continue that quest towards the ultimate goal. "But winning is a great deodorant," Lott once again repeated, "and when you win you just feel better, you smell better, and days will get better for you."
The 49ers are about to take on the second half of the season with a 6-2 record, a two-game lead on the Seahawks in the division, and the humbling experience of a couple of defeats that in the end may help them more than they have hurt them. They're smelling good right now, let's see how they smell at the end of the season.
If you didn't know before, now you know: Courtyard Marriott is the official hotel sponsor of the NFL, and they are doing some fun things this season for their guests. Here are some examples:
- Surprise and Delight Events: Courtyard is hosting "surprise and delight" tailgating events before Thursday night games at three properties across the country, where an NFL player in that market shows up to surprise guests and sign autographs. In addition to tailgating fare and big screens to view the game, a raffle will held for guests to win tickets and transportation over to the home game that night.
- NFL Fan Package: To cater to their fans, Courtyard created a special fan package for guests to win a $50 Courtyard Refreshing SavingsSM Weekend Coupon, 15% off orders of $100+ at NFLShop.com and late checkout as available.
- Greatness on the Road: To engage guests on social media, a Facebook sweepstakes is open until Feb. 3rd for the chance to win tickets and travel to all the winner's favorite team's away games in 2013.
- Instant Win Scratch-Off: To elevate the partnership on property, all guests checking in during the season on football weeknights (either Monday or Thursday) will receive an instant win scratch off card. Prizes include NFLShop.com gift cards and Courtyard Refreshing SavingsSM Weekend Coupons.
If you get the opportunity to attend one of their NFL tailgating parties, make sure to take advantage of it. They do not disappoint.
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