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Almost two years ago to date I was one of maybe a hundred people gathered around a podium at a hotel in South San Francisco where Ronnie Lott was taking questions from us in an exclusive tailgate party hosted by Courtyard Marriot, the official hotel sponsor of the NFL. A few miles to the north the San Francisco 49ers were hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football. At the time the 49ers were six games into the season with a 4-2 record but they had just suffered an ugly defeat (26-3) at home against the New York Giants. The short week leading to the game against the Seahawks was not much different than this week: constant media second-guessing about play-calling, coaches, and whether the man behind center was ready to lead the team to a Lombardi Trophy. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ask Lott a question so I inquired about adversity and how the players deal with it during moments like this. Lott, graciously as he was all night long, pointed out that knowing the players on the team he was sure they would use the adversity as motivation, that they would bounce back from the defeat to continue to fight for the their quest to be champions and that there was still a long ways to go before the question about which team is the best would be settled. Lott told us that "winning is a great deodorant" in reference to all those who at the time thought the 49ers stunk.
To Lott's credit the 49ers bounced back starting that same night, they beat the Seahawks 13-6 in a tightly contested match-up. They went on to win the division, earn the #2 seed in the NFC, and eventually made it to SuperBowl XLVII. Last season after three weeks the 49ers had the same record they have right now after three weeks. They went on to win five in a row and 11 out of their last 13 regular season games before they won two playoff games and traded punches with the eventual NFL champions in the NFC Championship game which was not decided until less than half a minute before it ended. Although there are many questions about the state of this team at the moment the fact is that this isn't uncharted territory for San Francisco and they will most likely bounce back from this because Jim Harbaugh and company have accomplished this feat with less talented rosters than the one they have this season. Since Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco (or Santa Clara) the 49ers win at a 77% rate in the regular season so chances are they will recover from their current state and once again return to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
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The question is: does it matter?
The answer: probably not.
Turning around the team in 2011 and taking them to the NFC Championship game was undoubtedly a great feat. Going to Super Bowl XVII and being oh-so-close to winning that game was also an achievement even if it left a sour taste for us. Winning five games in a row and 11 out of the final 13 games last season after the 1-2 start, then trading punches with the eventual NFL champions in a game that wasn't decided until the very end also has its merits. Unfortunately all these accomplishments have also set the bar at its highest level. This season the only acceptable outcome is to be Super Bowl Champions and while that goal is not out of reach by any means the 49ers inability to put away the Bears and Cardinals these last two weeks was just an illustration of how we can define Jim Harbaugh's tenure with the team since 2011: missed opportunities that prevent the 49ers from winning a Super Bowl.
So maybe the 49ers get back in the winning column this week, maybe the don't. At this point, unless they run the table, it probably doesn't really matter whether they win another game this season because they will most likely come up short in the playoffs yet again. Losing to Chicago and Arizona will most likely result on the 49ers failing to win home field advantage and needing to return to Seattle (to me they're still the team to beat, not Arizona) in order to return to the Super Bowl. Maybe week 15 will change my mind but until then we've seen this act before and we know how it ends. We hoped the performance would be better this season but inexplicable conduct on the field, lack of execution, and a missing killer instinct have put this team back on track to yet another disappointing end to the season.
In the end Lott was wrong about winning being a great deodorant. It's an all-right deodorant, but the stinky smell seems to find its way back. The only efficient deodorant is team-colored confetti falling down my face while a parade is going down Market Street. I'm just not sure that confetti is going to be red and gold any time soon.