Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports



Yesterday, I posted two truths about this year's San Francisco 49ers team.

  1. Truth: The defense will return to greatness. But today, it's not built to win games.
  2. Truth: The passing game is Kyle Shanahan's white whale.

In the spirit of the game, we now must face the lie.

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Lie: This year's 49er team is just like the 1979 team.


I'm not sure the exact birthplace of this distortion, but I do remember a few reporters making veiled comparisons to the 1979 team shortly after the organization hired Kyle Shanahan to serve as head coach.

The lie gained a little traction with some fans, and reporters still flirt with the comparison during press conferences. If you've watched some of Shanahan's pressers live on Facebook, you may have noticed a few people bring up the '79 team in the comments.

We've been living in an era driven by feelings, disinformation campaigns and a yearn for mythological figures from yesteryear. These unfortunate elements have crept from politics into sports.

This year's 49ers are nothing like the 1979 team; it's a nonsensical argument that needs a death by fire. It's time to set the record straight.

Here's the chief argument: the NFL is not the same league it was 38 years ago. If you were alive in 1979, and you were a football fan, was it relevant to compare those teams or players to anyone from 1941? Probably not. 1941 and 1979 are two vastly different eras of football.

The same argument holds true today.

Today's NFL is a pass-heavy monster with spread offenses, run-pass options and a rule book favoring high scores and limited defensive contact. Back in 1979, teams were grinding out trap runs and power sweeps, with snot-knocking linebackers looking to decapitate any tight end coming across the middle of the field for a pass.

Ignore on-the-field play for a moment and think about the evolution in player training.

Thirty-eight years ago, players would head into the locker room at halftime to mow down three or four Camel Wides and pound a Coca-Cola before heading back onto the field. There wasn't a year-round training program, and some players even had offseason jobs.

In 2017, that kind of abuse is considered heresy. Tom Brady even has people convinced that tomatoes cause inflammation and we need to sleep in his athlete recovery sleepwear to play at peak performance.

Take a look at this statistic. In 1979, the New York Jets attempted a league-leading 650 runs but attempted 369 passes which were the second-lowest in the NFL. That same year, the 49ers used an offense that emphasized ball control through the air and ranked 26th overall with 480 rush attempts.

This year, the Philadelphia Eagles are on pace to run the ball 503 times, while the 49ers are on pace for 353 rush attempts and 650 pass attempts.

Bill Walsh put up fantastic offensive numbers with the 1979 team, leading the NFL in pass attempt and completions, and ranked third in pass completion percentage.

As noted yesterday, Shanahan is leading the NFL in pass attempts and third in completions but is dead last in completion percentage.

Walsh's offense scored 35 total touchdowns, averaging 2.1 per game. Shanahan's offense is allergic to the end zone, scoring 1.4 touchdowns per game and on pace for 23 total touchdowns this season.

Again, there's plenty of blame to go around for this year's barren roster, and this is still a unit that needs some firepower along with a high-quality guard.

Maybe I've binged too much Stranger Things this week, and I'm in dire need of a DeLorean ride back to 1984, but I also miss the 49er teams of the 1980s. I'd love to see the 1984 team play once more with Walsh calling plays and Dwight Clark snagging passes.

I understand the need to grab and hold onto something that was once legendary.

As fans, we need to hold reporters and one another accountable when it comes to getting through the rest of this season. There's nothing we can say or do to make it any better, and a new era of greatness for the 49ers isn't a certainty. They have some pieces on the team – Reuben Foster, DeForest Buckner, and Jaquiski Tartt to name a few – but a two-year turnaround and then a decade of dominance isn't in the stars.

The first step for the 49ers is doing the little things right, like limiting the penalties and the dropped passes. Next, general manager John Lynch and Shanahan need to find hidden talent late in the draft or free agency, as the team did with veteran defensive lineman Justin Smith. They need to foster these players to build depth when injuries turn the locker room into a battlefield hospital.

When these positive moves begin to align, we can welcome in the dawn of a new age. There will be no more falsehoods or derisions, and we'll have dreams of golden visions.