It's still there, waiting. Lurking there, just under the surface. You've tried to suppress it, will it away. But then, out of nothing, it strikes. And all of a sudden, there it is, back again, back with a vengeance.

You could be doing anything. Mowing your lawn. Washing your car. And all of a sudden, there it is, standing there with its hideous grin. You try to run, but there's no escape. There it is, as awful as ever. You've tried to suppress it, will it away. But you know it's still there. And no, it isn't done with you.

The pain, I mean.

Five yards. Just five more yards.

The pain's still there, and not just for the obvious reasons. Not just because we were that close, to returning at last to the top of the league. Not just because we were that close, to the perfect ending for the second year straight.

Not just because we were that close. But also because we just don't know, whether we'll get that close again.

Sure, as I've said, this was always a three-year plan; though we came up short those first two years, we weren't supposed to be there at all. We overachieved—wildly—so our window is really just opening now. But the truth is, we just don't know.

In Super Bowl XXV, the Bills lost by a couple of feet. But they still had a Hall of Fame core, which just then was beginning its prime. We'll be back, the Bills proclaimed, just as Colin Kaepernick did. Yet despite four consecutive AFC crowns, the Bills were never that close again.

In this league, as in this life, you just can't count on anything. That's why you've gotta seize your chances, when they come. Logic might say that you'll get some more. But the truth is, you just don't know.

In other words, sh*t happens.

Take this offseason, for example.

When Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles, there was some talk of the Niners' "curse" at wide receiver. Surely such talk shouldn't go too far; after all, the Niners drafted both Rice and Owens, Nos. 1 and 2 in all-time yards. But the frustration was understandable. We hadn't had a legitimate pair of starting receivers, since, you guessed it, Rice and Owens. With Crabtree and Anquan Boldin we did, but only until the very first day of OTAs. The first practice, of the very first day.

Irksome, to be sure, but not as irksome as what it revealed.

Trent Baalke is widely credited with having assembled the most complete roster in the NFL. Yet Crabtree's injury sent the Niners into nearly total disarray. Signings off the street. Competitions among no-names. For a Super Bowl favorite with such a "complete roster," the desperate scrambling was downright pathetic.

Of course, it's not that Baalke hadn't planned for this. It's just that his plan went horribly wrong.

On the eve of last year's draft, the story goes, Baalke placed A.J. Jenkins' name in an envelope and sealed it. After the crow that his critics had eaten in the wake of the 2011 draft, Baalke had earned a display of arrogance. But when you act like you're smarter than everyone else, you raise the stakes for your decisions. And when this particular decision was Jenkins, easily the draft's biggest surprise, the stakes became positively enormous. A little arrogance can be a good thing; but if you defy the conventional wisdom, and if you do it arrogantly, you'd better be right.

Baalke was wrong. Last year Jenkins did nothing, even as our "cursed" receivers were ravaged by injury. That no-showing, though disappointing, was justified as evidence of Baalke's preference for "redshirting" rookies. (A sensible preference, in general.) But when Jenkins failed to seize Crabtree's spot, Jenkins (and Baalke) had no excuse. Nevertheless, we scaled down our hopes; maybe he'd be at least serviceable, maybe he'd partially fill the void. But after two preseason games, he was clearly incapable even of that.

The realization was stupefying. Despite the Niners' desperation, and despite the scraps he was competing against, A.J. Jenkins—so physically feeble, psychologically frail—was already on his way out the door.

You can give Baalke credit for recognizing his mistake and acting immediately. But no matter what Jon Baldwin becomes, there isn't any dressing this up. It's not that Baalke missed with a low first-round pick—Bill Walsh spent two on Todd Shell and Reggie McGrew—it's that he missed so spectacularly. Jenkins wasn't merely a bust; he was literally a total waste. One season, zero catches? It's hard to do any worse than that.

Selfishly, I feel I deserve an explanation. After I ate my crow for 2011, I defended Baalke against all comers. Even before Jim Harbaugh did, I mocked the "experts" who'd questioned the choice: "Some, it seems, will never learn." Now here I am. I've bashed Baalke, and I've praised Baalke—and either way I've looked like a fool. Maybe I'm the one who should learn.

But how I look doesn't matter, of course. What matters is the Niners' success, and Baalke's mistake has this team in the lurch. Crabtree is hurt. Mario Manningham, likewise, is hurt. (Both, we're told, will be back this year (and effective this year), but I'll believe it when I see it.) Obviously, Ds will focus on Boldin (and Vernon Davis), leaving Kaepernick to rely on a strange melange of odds and ends, none of whom have proven reliable. With a Super Bowl title a moral imperative, it isn't a good proposition at all.

Which leads us back to where we began.

You just can't count on anything. That's why you've gotta seize your chances, when they come. Logic might say that you'll get some more. But the truth is, you just don't know.

Just ask Trent Baalke. He could've been a Super Bowl-winning general manager. Instead his seat is a little warm. All because of one decision, equal parts atrocious and arrogant.

And, of course, those five damned yards.