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Part 2: The One Lie About This Year’s 49ers

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 9, 2017 at 5:34 AM

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.

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.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • You're weak
    WHAt a dumb article. Liberal.
    Nov 12, 2017 at 4:35 PM
  • Scott
    Yeah they need to get some more offensive weapon's with dominate O-line men before they can even think of resembling what Walsh put together. I was hoping for maybe 2 wins in the first half and make a little run in the second half, but never figured they's would get close to play-off's. Even with another good draft I don't see them being play-off contenders until 2019 provided they don't get riddled with injuries again.
    Nov 12, 2017 at 7:14 AM
  • Mike
    I'm not one of the doom and gloom folks. I'm also not one of the "looks like 79" folks. I actually think the 89 Dallas team is a better comparison...assuming the 9ers go on and win a bunch of lombardis in the next 10 years. Anyways, as a fan, this years team is disappointing, no question. But football fans are not necessarily patient folks...who cares about anything else but this year right now? I get it. But I also get what Kyle Shanahan is trying to get at. The number one trait I look for in a football team is mental toughness. These guys have it. They play hard and they all remain upbeat/positive....man, with those two things, it's just a mater of time. You got to remember, the entire operational side of the franchise is brand new...from the top down. If you've ever been in any sort of team based operational environment, you'll understand that people don't collectively get their shit together all at once. Yeah, they aren't winning games. Who cares? Do you want to win games or do you want a bad-ass franchise? Believe me, all the crap the team is going through, they are LEARNING. In my experience, adversity is the best teacher. Just give it time, be patient.
    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:04 PM
  • Monsterniner
    When things go bad some reporters and fans start making pointless comparisions only because they want to have faith. Comparing this team to the ´79 team means nothing just like comparing the Solomon Thomas´slow start to JJ Watt´s slow start his rookie year to think that Thomas is going to be that good. It doesn´t matter. The only thing we can talk about is about what we are seeing. We have zero guarantees that this team is going to win 5 rings the next 15 years and we have zero guarantees that Thomas is going to be a future All-Pro. As you said, in ´79 people could see the roots of a great O growing being 6th in total yards and 3rd in passing yards with Steve DeBerg at QB. Now honestly I don´t see anything growing. What I´m seeing is a poorly coached team that makes way too many dumb mistakes like penalties and drops and an overwhelmed HC that has contradicted himself since the season started saying that we easily could be 4-1 and then saying that this year never was about winning. I really want to have faith in Shanahan but I don´t see something growing that makes me easy to have some faith.
    Nov 9, 2017 at 6:27 PM
    Response: Thanks for reading part 2. The '79 comparison has been dying a slow death... fortunately. But, it still comes up now and then. And I totally agree with you: We can talk about what we're seeing. If the on-the-field performance is poor, it's hard to find reasons to praise the squad or see areas of improvement.
  • mbniner
    Walsh walked into a team depleted at talent at many positions, thanks to GM Joe Thomas. However, he had one big advantage over Shanahan; the OL, put together by previous coach Monte Clark, was very good and young and he could immediately start building a strong offense. In his first couple of years the Niners could move the ball and worked on improving the defense while grooming their future QB, Joe Cool. Shanahan/Lynch are at least a year away from having a good OL.
    Nov 9, 2017 at 10:20 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading. I'd really love to see Shanahan's offense behind a star-studded OL. I'm confused why they didn't go after an interior position in the offseason. Garnett's injury/surgery aside, they stuck by Zane Beadles. The whole world knows he's not a good guard... so why keep the guy? Makes me nervous for Garoppolo... Are they really going to put him behind this porous OL on Sunday?

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