End of the road

Nov 9, 2000 at 12:00 AM


No, this is not in reference to Boyz 2 Men but rather an apt description of the season that the San Francisco 49ers are enduring. This has been a hard and disappointing season for anyone associated with the once proud 49ers. From the players and coaches, to the fans, and especially those who have experienced past successes.

This years team is a far cry from the dominant ones in the eighties and early nineties responsible for a total of 5 championships. In fact, a winning season (which was taken for granted and expected) is not likely to happen for a number of years now.

Excuses have come in abundance. "We're too young" and "Too many injuries" have been heard throughout the team locker room after almost every heart-breaking loss. Unfortunately for the struggling 49ers, these are unacceptable answers to every fan who sits in the stands to watch what will inevitably be another loss.

The injuries that have decimated the team is however a valid argument. A number of key players have been lost for the season forcing Mariucci to start inexperienced rookies on both defense and offense. Welcome to the NFL guys! The team would have liked more time in properly grooming the rookie crop preparing them for life in the big league, but time is not a luxury that the 49ers have anymore. The season is here and now.

After showing tons of promise early this year while producing a few wins and some close contests resulting in losses, the emotional toll seems to be taking hold of all the players and Coach Mariucci. Tears and words of frustration have flowed freely. "We need to turn this thing around", says strong safety Lance Shulters. Whether or not this occurs, it appears as though this season is a lost cause.

Despite their record of 2 - 8, no game was more disappointing than last weeks contest against the Saints. In years gone past, the 49ers appeared to have their number and could seemingly win by simply walking on to the field. My, how things have changed. As was the case last year when playing the Rams, the 49ers where manhandled ....., actually it's more like mauled, by a fellow NFC West team.

The Saints and 49ers now seem to be heading in separate directions. Ricky Williams, considered a bust last season by many, is now fulfilling the promise that Mike Ditka expected of him. The acquisition of Jeff Blake was also a smart move as he now appears to have entrenched himself as the starter. The 49ers on the other hand have more than a few question marks.

Charlie Garner, who has performed admirably throughout the season, is unlikely to return next year due to salary cap restraints. Jeff Garcia, who seems to be playing for his job every week, is considered by many to be a quick fix to the post Steve Young era. There are rumblings around the organization that come April 2001, a QB could very well be on the shopping list.

What choices do the 49ers have? Well, due to the aforementioned salary cap restraints, a quick fix for any number of positions is out of the question. Ideally, the team would like to sign a free agent pass rusher or a CB, but it is more likely that they will again try their luck come draft time. Fortunately for them, it appears as though a high first round draft selection is heading towards the Bay Area.

The draft could be described at best as a 'lottery'. You either get lucky or you end up with a lame duck. The 49ers have had their fair share of 'lame ducks' which is exactly the reason behind Bill Walsh's return to the organization a couple of years ago. Bill Walsh is highly regarded by most to be a mastermind of the draft and was responsible for building the great teams of the eighties. Can he weave his magic once more? Only time will tell.

Now that this season is more than half way finished, it can be expected that the 49ers will test more and more rookies to ascertain whom to keep and which players are best discarded. I for one would not be at all surprised to see Tim Rattay under center taking the snaps.

It pains me to say this, but the foreseeable future looks glum. Immediate relief will not be forthcoming. As was the case this year, next year will also be considered a year of re-building. But bear this in mind - Rome was not built in a day, so have patience. Good things come to those who wait.

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.


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