So I had gotten pretty well into writing a "Don't Freak Out" piece after the Pre-Week 2 hammering at the shiny new stadium. It was becoming more like a diary-entry of me trying to rationalize what had just taken place on my TV screen, and it was sounding whiny so I slept on it for a night. Lo-and-behold my esteemed colleague, Jack Hammer, wrote a thoughtful and legitimate article of the same subject and got it up well before me. So I shelved that idea. But I have not really settled any of my anxiety over what's ahead for this team.
These are pretty angst-y times for our fan base with the expectations being as high as humanly possible and 3 years of getting thisclose to re-gaining a feeling not had in a long, long time. Not Cleveland Browns-long, but maybe it's almost better to have never known that kind of elation than to have known it and be denied it again for 2 decades. Make no mistake; these last three years were every bit as painful in the end as perhaps the past 8 before it all put together.
Couple this stress with the fact that it's just been a very, very strange offseason, and there's just a sense that this is either really going to be "The Year" or it's going to really go sideways in a hurry.
Every season, particularly championship seasons, have a narrative. The last Super Bowl-winning 49ers team had a pretty negative one until Steve finally showed some emotion and let Seifert have it on the sidelines. Up to that point, the team was writing a pretty disappointing story having brought in several high-profile and HOF-caliber names, many well-under market value, and truly not playing up to even their bargain-contracts. Then, when faced with real adversity, they turned it around.
This season, there's a lot to be positive about but there's also been just some strange occurrences that are like finding a hair in your ice cream. It's impossible to know what the narrative of this group will be, although we do know it will start with the team "limping" into the season without some key pieces they had gotten used to. So if every good championship story has to have adversity, this one will get it out of the way quickly. The only thing I can do to make sense of it is to make a couple of lists regarding the positives and negatives of how things look so far. Not really the strategy or on-the-field elements, that's been broken down a million ways already, but the big stories playing in the background for this squad. Let's see where it goes.
Additions of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to the receiving corps. I think this is a huge confidence boost to the offense and a bit of a coup for the front office. The strong get stronger, etc.
Immediate addition of potential contributors in the draft: Jimmie Ward looks like potentially as smart a pick as Eric Reid was last season. Carlos Hyde figures to be playing early and often and he looks the part. Chris Borland has had an "interesting" preseason so far but he's in the thick of things for the MLB spot and has a high-ceiling.
The Kaepernick Deal: Going back to the days of real quarterback uncertainty seems highly unlikely for the foreseeable future, that's a good thing. The highly intriguing fact that he took a deal based so much on his performance on the field has the beginnings of a great ongoing storyline in and of itself. It also speaks to where his confidence is and his commitment to the team.
The New Digs: The Candlestick Farewell season was fun and it's a little disconcerting seeing the home team in red and not have the familiar surroundings in the backdrop. But the new building is pretty spectacular and the press has been kind. Purely based on anecdotal evidence, it seems most teams get a boost from playing in a new and modernized stadium.
Aldon Ain't So Bad Afterall: Seems like the big headlines this kid created were a little overblown in light of the penalties he's facing from the authorities. It remains to be seen what Commissioner Rog will hand out, they could be stiff, but a suspension is far better than a prison sentence, which seemed like a real possibility not so very long ago.
Healthy Boldin and Healthy Crabtree to Start the Year: Oh what a year it could have been if #15 had started off the season healthy in '13. He would have been good for at least one more win and that would mean the NFC Championship in Candlestick and…..guh you know the rest. Not a problem this year, and I've already mentioned the other boosts to this position.
The Seahawks Won the Super Bowl: Now stay with me here. I think I can speak for a lot of fans when I say the Seahawks are the team most likely to derail a Super Bowl run for the 49ers and they did the single-worst thing you can do in the modern era to help yourself win a championship: They won it the year before. Sure there's always the "you have to beat the champ" mentality and there's some validity to that but the Seahawks also had their cupboards raided a bit in the offseason, on the field and off of it. Combine that with the natural target that appears on your back after a Super Bowl win, and it'll be an uphill battle for them to do it all over again.
Harbaugh Almost Traded to the Browns?: There's a lot of argument and ambiguity about what truly happened with this story and I can't even really comment on what I believe because it doesn't really matter. Something happened with this that's just weird. York kinda/sorta lied about talking to the Browns and nobody will ever really know what actually went down.
Stadium Opener Results in a Casualty: People made a big deal about the heat at that game. I wasn't there but the fact that someone perished a questionable omen at best. This is a human life we're talking about here so I don't want to make it seem like football is more important. It definitely is not. I'm just saying this is not the best way to kick off a year if you're in the business of hosting football games. The team getting shut out isn't great either.
They're Pulling the Turf Off?: Players slipping on shoddy-sod and potentially injuring themselves doesn't sound like attention was paid to the right kinds of things. They're replacing that sod now, but the team looks pretty silly with this kind of publicity coming right before the season. I believe there was some controversy regarding the contractors they were hiring for the building of this place and they looked kind of bad with that too. Is the karma pendulum swinging back on the 49ers a bit?
Kaepernick Not Charged, but…: I believe Colin to be a good guy, the stories I've heard have been positive even from people who didn't want to like him. He seems like an earnest guy but man, did his name get dragged through the mud on this one.
No Love for Boone, Davis: Vernon ultimately came back to camp, thank goodness, but Boone is still holding out and looks like he's turning on the team that gave him a chance when he was just a fat drunk from Ohio State. Not since Crabtree can I remember a more high-profile case of a player being absent due to a contract dispute. I suppose these things come when you have sustained success but you can definitely say that the "honeymoon" phase of the Harbaugh era is over.
Injury Bug is Biting: Bowman is out, Dorsey is out, Kendall Hunter is gone for the year, LaMichael James is dinged up, a lot of surgeries on the O-line and D-line, etc. It seems a little rougher going into this year and the schedule, even sans-Seahawks, is brutal early on.
Still Don't Know what's Happening Between Roger and Aldon: Even though it is a positive that Mr. Smith doesn't have to serve any time, we still don't know just how available he will be when the season starts. There's reason to be optimistic about the whole situation, even the reserves available to replace him, but without knowing for sure it's a bit of a distraction and unsettling.
Soooooo, by my count I've got 7 pros and 7 cons an I'm no closer to knowing how to feel about this than I was before. It all really doesn't matter when you think about it though. With this team we know two things to be certain: they'll be competitive and they'll be entertaining. In the past, they haven't even needed to be that to get me watching, so I'm in for the ride.
Share your thoughts or any highlights/lowlights I've missed in the comments.