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The Greek myth of Sisyphus tell us about a King who was condemned to the most heinous, of eternal fates: rolling a boulder up a mountain only to have it fall back to the bottom every night. This meaningless, perpetual work, (besides being funny in that sick "When Animals Attack" kind of way) was worse than hell. Sisyphus struggled every day in a futile attempt at success and freedom only to find himself self at the bottom of the mountain looking up each day.
So that's what Dan Snyder must feel like.
The fact is, no self-respecting player in their right mind wants to play for a loser. That's why Taeko Spikes left the Bengals. It's why Young, Rice, Plummer, Norton, Tubbs, and McDonald all restructured their contracts year after year – to keep winning. It used to be that the 49ers were the oasis in the desert of NFL Playoff wannabees. It was "Super Bowl or bust," while "Winning With Class."
Now its just "bust" with "class."
ESPN recently put out their "Ultimate Standings" where they ranked all 121 major sports franchises against one another in a bloody brawl of sports supremacy. You would expect the 49ers, one of the NFL's most prestigious franchises to rank high, perhaps even as high as last years rank of 31. HA! Keep dreamin'! The 49ers took a soccer style, Oscar-worthy dive to 72. To put it in perspective, the Bengals are ranked 74th.
What could cause such a fall from grace? Since 1993 the 49ers have won the second most division titles with 5. They have the second highest winning percentage (64.4%), and the most playoff berths (8). So why, then, do we hear Terrell Owens saying he wants to go to a team that gives him a chance to win the whole enchilada?
It's the Leadership. And no, I do not mean it's all John "Dork's" fault; although he does have something to do with it. It's the lack of leadership that has the 49ers in a position where they can't seem to get that boulder over the hill. From the top of the organization to the bottom, the 49ers franchise is like a ship without a captain drifting aimlessly into the thick fog that is NFL mediocrity.
The 49ers used to be loaded with leaders. It all started at the top with a fiery Eddie D. that was as ruthless as he was charming. He had one goal in mind and it never changed: Super Bowl victories. He went so far as to break the salary cap rules in pursuit of his goal. He was the NFL's Machiavelli, constantly scheming but providing a steadfast course for the 49er executives to follow.
Bill Walsh provided the West Coast Offense that served as the guidance system for the team. No one questioned the direction the team was going because there was trust in the genius of the Head Coach. The players were kept in line, no one second-guessed Walsh because they trusted his ability and had faith that he could handle anything that came his way.
On the field you had great players like Montana, Young, Barton, Craig, Norton, and Lott. If a player stepped out of line, there were forces to be reckoned with. Not only did these players lead with their words, but they also led by example. These great players had the ability to foster camaraderie in a locker room that featured super egos like Ricky Watters, Deion Sanders, and Jerry Rice. From the front office, to the player on the field, the 49ers knew where they were going, and the drive to get themselves there.
Who has stepped up to lead this franchise back to glory? (Can you hear the crickets?)
The owner? He's more concerned with the budget and his level of control than he is with the number of wins his team produces. As long as the team is profitable, he has won. What example has he set for the front office? Peter Harris, the man hired to get the 49ers a much-needed stadium…fired. Bill Walsh, the man who saved the 49ers in 1979 and in 1999…pushed out.
Well, at least the head coach can lead the team with steadfast resolve right? Nope, not on this team. John York fired what little leader the team had in Steve Mariucci. Dennis Erickson, the new head coach, admitted he was nothing more than a figurehead for Jim Mora and Gregg Knapp. Penalties were up, discipline was down, road wins harder to come buy than an honest politician. Now that's what I call a leader!
On the field you have a crybaby all-star receiver who cries when he doesn't get the ball thrown his way and then when it does, he drops the ball. Just remember, it's the quarterback's fault that the ball hits him in the hands.
That's not to say the quarterback is perfect. Sobriety tests on the streets of San Jose have proven that point for me. Leaders don't drive after 16 shots, leaders have the presence of mind to hire a driver, or at least pay for a cab. When you pay 12 thousand dollar fines for not having your socks pulled up you would think that a cab was in the realm of affordability.
The locker room was teeming with Beasley-Barlow feuds. Jeremy Newberry openly chastised Owens. Owens called for Jeff Garcia's head on a platter. It sounds more like an episode of Survivor than an NFL locker room.
How can a team that beats itself beat anyone else? Oh wait, they didn't.
The fact is that the lack of leadership on the 49ers allowed players like T.O. to erode the foundation of a great franchise and cause the landslide from model franchise to average football team. If anyone questions how important leadership is I need only say one name, Bill Parcells. This year's playoff-bound Cowboys were different in one way from last years sorry ones: leadership.
The 49ers, like Sisyphus, will never be able to get that boulder over the top if they stay on the same course. The 49ers must find that something to return them to prominence, they must find that something that returns them to the place where players like Peterson, Plummer, and Streets say, "I want to play in San Francisco," instead of "I want to explore my free-agent options."
The 49ers must find a leader.