As excitement builds through 49er forums worldwide, and anticipation of another year, another chance at glory nears, only one though flows through my brain. Who are these guys?
I am a relatively new member of the football viewing culture. As a child born into a baseball loving home, football didn't start until after November for me. July and August were the days set aside for watching the baseball games that REALLY mattered. It was for kicking back in the stands, hot dog in one hand, chocolate malt in the other, and root, rooting for the home team. I knew that summer would never end as long as there was baseball to watch.
Then it all changed.
A few years back I decided to make an effort to learn more about football. I knew a die-hard Niner fan, and thought he would be the best one to ask for help. Of course, he was more than happy to share his love of this team. I brushed up on the finer points of football, went to a few games, and fell in love with the entire 49er experience. At my first 49er game, I stood in awe of the fans. Here were thousands of people in the parking lot, most with a barbecue going, who welcomed me into their space just because I was wearing a 49er shirt.
I dedicated myself to the team as they won, and even as they lost (which isn't easy for a new fan). I cheered on Tim Rattay and cursed Dennis Erickson. I learned about pass interference, hating the Cowboys, and Newberry's knees. I bought a hat, a jacket, a sweater, a shirt, and pajama bottoms that say "I *heart* 49ers".
Now, another year approaches. I think I can safely say the honeymoon is over, and it is time to get serious about football. I made preparations to attend training camp, thought about how great it will be to get a helmet or a football signed, and started to worry. Who am I asking to sign it? Sure I know the big names: Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Coach Mike Nolan, and some veterans of the team. But the group as a whole is a stranger to me. These are not the 49ers from the glory years, and they may not be the team of the future.
The only way I can identify with this current roster is if I go back to football basics. What is this team doing on the field? Can I count on recognizing each player's talents during any given play? How can I be sure that any hopes I have for a winning season will come to fruition?
So here is what I'm looking for at training camp, and for the rest of the year.
1. Improvement at Quarterback
Alex Smith needs to show he's worth the money we are spending on him. I am actually optimistic that this will happen. The jitters he felt ALL last season should be well behind him at this point. Plus, he has seasoned veterans to share all of their wisdom. Maybe we'd all prefer him having Joe Montana as a mentor, but I think Alex is smart enough to glean the important fundamentals from his current teachers.
2.Improvement on Defense
I am tired of seeing the opponent's score being a multiple of 7 rather than a multiple of 3 like ours. Our defense should at least be able to hold these teams to a field goal. During training camp I want to see the type of attitude the defense has when facing the offense. Are they sitting back on their heels, expecting the plays to come to them, or are they getting the lead out and making those all important stops?
I don't care if it is running, passing, or a defensive play--get in that endzone! I would actually pay to see one of those corny endzone dances at this point. Every single player on this team should be working towards this goal with every ounce of their being in every game. While I almost ran out to buy a Nedney jersey after last season, we cannot rely on his leg to win games.
I'd like to actually know these guys. I want to say, "Hey! Did you see that amazing play so-and-so made?" I want to stand proud at a game, cheering loudly when my favorite big-shot player's face appears on the big screen. I want them to dazzle me, to make me search ebay for their autograph, and to make me actually buy their jersey. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe I'm thinking about this one all wrong, but I want to see some action on those sidelines. I don't need a chair-throwing incident, but a little emotion lets me know that you are paying attention to the game. It is one thing to be sitting back confident that your team knows exactly what to do, and another to sit back and watch as the team looks dejected on the sidelines. Let's see some huddles around a playbook.
With these improvements, I feel confident that I can continue to be one of the "Faithful", rather than one of the unsure. Every year, for as long as I've followed football, I've learned a bit more. I can't say I am an expert in any aspect of the game, but I know what I see and what I hope to see. Hopefully, training camp will be the precursor to a successful year. If it is not, and all I gain from the experience is a sunburn and a few illegible signatures, all will not be lost.
At least I will have another few months of baseball.