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The 2004 NFL season came to an end for the San Francisco 49ers on a chilly afternoon in Foxboro, Massachusetts inside Gillette Stadium. I was there for that game and witnessed the opening offensive drive by Ken Dorsey and his connection with tight end Steve Bush in the end zone. It was a moment that sent chills into the Patriot masses being at home and singing tunes of dominance from the very beginning of the kickoff to this game.
I was a real minority in this mass of blue and silver jerseys with my San Francisco 49er Kevan Barlow jersey and long winter coat and gloves on, but I was still a proud fan that weathered the elements just the same. The key play was a Dwaine Carpenter interception of New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady and watching him returning it to the Patriot 22-yard line.
I rose from my seat with another 49er friend beside me and we cheered in the faces of those that hated us. There were maybe 100-200 49er fans there that day but we were a force that tried to raise our voices above the fans and banners that bore the trademarks of being the most recent Super Bowl Champions of the NFL.
I must confess that all of the New England Patriot fans during the tailgating party were more than gracious folks. All of them seemed to welcome the very few 49er fans in besides the youngest of the generation. It was a thrill to be eating steak and drinking cold beer in zero degree temperatures and to be oblivious to all that was around you except for the main event that was drawing us nearer.
Running back Kevan Barlow had a great day to close out our miserable season by carrying the ball 25 rimes for 103-yards that day and back-up running back Maurice Hicks had performed miserably with two key fumbles and yielding a sack that snuffed out a key 49er offensive drive at that. In what looked like a game creating itself on the field right in front of me, it quickly turned south for us with the dawn of the second half.
Even though we were defeated 21-7 at the hands of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots I couldn't help but realize that what was about to happen right after the game became the most important element of the season.
Speculation became rampant about head coach Dennis Erickson and his staff. Starting with ultimatums from owner Dr. John York that changes would be forthcoming. But what also came to a head was the long outstanding relationship he shared with General Manager Terry Donahue as well.
Here the infrastructure of the franchise was laid out and Terry Donahue was the man most responsible for decisions that affected the team in almost every phase of its originality and purpose. His personnel decisions in free agency and from past drafts have yielded little success for an organization trying to establish a new name for it since 1999.
His inability to conform with head coaches Steve Mariucci and Dennis Erickson also signaled the beginning of his end when he often had differences of opinion with both and struggled to keep his often used coaching tendencies from escaping all of his known senses to gain leverage over each of them.
Dennis Erickson on the other hand was someone that became a scab over a wound inflicted by owner Dr. John York himself. A former NFL head coach sent into exile in the college ranks from the Seattle Seahawks where he failed to mount a playoff run.
After jealousy and issues of power came to a head between Mariucci and York, it was Mariucci that found himself on the short end of the stick and General Manager Terry Donahue forced to do magician tricks to try and explain what had just transpired. Steve Mariucci was fired after an unglamorous ceremony at Santa Clara headquarters and then we waited to see what would happen tomorrow.
A full-scale search for a new head coach began in earnest and was made public over and over again in hopes that a fresh start with a fresh new face would pay off dividends in the end. But what we received in return was of very small value when we felt like giving a chance to an NFL refugee yearning to have one more shot at coaching in the elite again.
This was Dennis Erickson and reportedly was toted by Terry Donahue as being the best alternative to what we just had in Steve Mariucci. Being a former successful college coach himself enticed him to believe that Erickson's winning ways would prevail eventually with the 49ers as well, but both would soon realize that it was the greatest mistake of their lives following Steve Mariucci's exit.
Both Donahue and Erickson were fired as 2005 opened its doors following their finality at Gillette Stadium as functioning management personnel. The beckoning and frustration of tens of thousands of 49er fans had finally fell on listening ears and watchful eyes with Denise DeBartolo York and her husband Dr. John York.
Both came to the conclusion that the organization was finally at a crossroads where it could either struggle to survive from season to season or it could make the decision to rebuild for tomorrow with promises it had to keep legitimizing their holdings on this proud organization.
I must say I applaud this decision by the owners as the very best and only decision to clear their names as being incompetent and insincere. We all know the bad associated with these owners and we know how tight the wallet has been zipped due to shrewd and frugal business decisions and mismanagement of the franchise as a whole.
In fact we really know of very little good up and until now. They have not showed a true hand of caring, sharing, understanding or forthcoming financially in terms of staying competitive and dealing from a foundation of strength rather than from a state of desperation.
What we do know now is that they are trying to salvage their identity as owners of this once proud dynasty. They have been ridiculed, lambasted, and mocked as being the worst owners in the NFL. Fans by the thousands have been visually upset with what has taken place year after year after year in witnessing the dismantling of an organization so entrenched with a winning tradition.
Long-time veteran players have even been seen in media related conversations seriously concerned and appalled at the state of the team in regards to personnel, talent, depth, management and focus on the future. Citizens of San Francisco have had to drive by the deteriorating shell of newly labeled Monster Park in which false hopes and promises have been issued over and over again from the mouths of Denise DeBartolo and Dr. John York.
What are we to believe in regards to the dumping of General Manager Terry Donahue and Head Coach Dennis Erickson? Interviews have already taken place and will continue as Dr. John York has gone on a frenzy of sorts in trying to determine a list of potential candidates that fit the mold of rebuilding a franchise from the ground up.
"The first two steps in the rebuilding are big ones. Effective today, both Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue will leave our organization. Dennis and Terry have worked very hard on behalf of the 49ers," York said. "I thank them both for what they've done for us and emphasize that everyone recognizes their dedicated efforts. However, we have decided that a fresh start is in everyone's best interests. We certainly wish them and their families all the best in pursuing future endeavors."
It is in everyone's best interests and so much more. We have been force fed various versions of the rebuilding process over and over again. We have been fed promises of renewal and teased with visions of walking into a new stadium built on the principles of the past that made this franchise shine. It is about time that the owners of this organization wake up and see that all that we've been frustrated with is now coming to a head where you just cannot ignore it or brush it under a rug anymore.
So many comparisons have been made with other owners of professional football franchises in one way or the other the most ideal would be the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. These are the guys we want to model and identify with; in fact they are the premier organization in the NFL right now and have been for some time now.
New England Patriot Owner Robert Kraft had a vision when he purchased the franchise on January 21, 1994. "My objective is to help bring a championship to New England." And he did everything he could financially, by fueling a run that has assisted the Patriots to four division championships, three conference titles and two Super Bowl victories.
This was and still is Robert Kraft's vision as he continues to be the ideal owner any fan can be proud of because he does whatever is necessary to win and build a franchise that stays competitive in this versatile and ever changing league today.
"He does everything that an owner can possibly do to help the team win," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told Bay Area writers one week. "We have a great stadium and we have great practice facilities. Everything is catered toward making the player's lives easier."
"He's hired some great people. He's brought in some great players. He's a tremendous owner. The best in the league as far as I'm concerned."
These are the characters and abilities we want from our owners. These are the very attributes we had in Eddie DeBartolo but lost them the day he had to forfeit over ownership in a gambling scandal to his sister Denise and her disliked husband in Dr. John York. This relationship had been icy for a long time and is just now starting to unthaw as Eddie is now actually communicating with his sister after animosities ran deep towards her husband.
"He has set the tone for this organization in a big way," Coach Bill Belichick said. "Five or six years ago the facilities were depleted. The stadium was in poor shape. The weight room, the offices you name it were all substandard in the NFL or even any decent college program."
"That's all been upgraded tremendously. He's put a lot of resources personally into the team and organization. Our facilities are about as good as can possibly be. He's pretty much given me everything that I have asked for and everything I felt we needed to build a winning football team."
These are the ideals we want from our owners and these qualities are what build a franchise from the inside out. This is what Bay Area fans want and all the transplanted 49er fans like myself want that live outside the realm of the San Francisco area but live, breath and die for on a constant basis.
Even now Former General Manager Terry Donahue spoke often of the New England Patriots as being the model franchise that all in the league looked up to and wanted to emulate. He spoke of how wonderful it was for players to thrive in a team-oriented system as it was in place under Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick.
"Bill Belichick is the closest thing I've seen to Bill Walsh in that regard," Donahue said. "I think everybody tries to do it in the league, but I don't think anybody does it better than Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli and their personnel guys." "They are absolutely on the same page in terms of judging whether an athlete can do this specific thing for the team and the utilizing him in that way."
Now is the time for Dr. John York to make his move and erase the pain he's caused this franchise over the long term. Now is the time for him to begin anew and to try and win back the faith of 49er fans abroad by making this change and many more to come in the way he conducts business and the way he looks at this organization for truly what it is and what it has been.
We don't need the scenarios of this season where multitudes of fans suddenly get up out of their seats and leave Monster Park because we look like an embarrassment week after week after week on a constant basis. We don't need fans screaming obscenities towards the sidelines and at the coaching staff demanding that they try something that works or fix something that seems broken.
Fans won't need to make up signs and display them with depressing comments and calls for ownership changes and coaching changes and well just anything changes. Because the right changes will have already been made finally. Here is Dr. John York's time to shine and to prove that his words are more than just fiction.
We all need something to hold on to at this time. 49er fans are still in bewilderment over the season we just left at (2-14) as being the very worst in team history. We can all relate to what we've seen on and off the field all the way back to 1999 and know that the formulas for success were missing for sometime.
Now we can look ahead beyond the sunset of what has been a devastating season as being at one time the only professional football team eliminated from the National Football Conference's playoff scenarios.
Interviews have already taken place from the following list: New England Patriot defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis to Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Yes calls for USC's Pete Carroll have been made but this is a man that looks a lot like Dennis Erickson in my opinion and shouldn't be mentioned as an option in our search for a successful coach.
Unsuccessful in the NFL but successful on the college circuit are two different worlds. We need a fresh kick-start to our 2005 season bottom line and we need to take our time and make the best decision regardless of the pressure exerted because the draft is nearing.
I am optimistic once again that we can make this transition, but this time let's make the right decisions to begin with rather than the wrong ones. A new attitude and philosophy helps with Dr. John York admitting he had made some bad mistakes and he is trying to make amends to all us fans.
This off-season should be one of the best we have ever had and I look forward to the news and changes that are about to take place. The notion of change is great news for this organization and even better that we now have owners focused on realizing that change must begin from them.