How did something so right, go so wrong. The Niners and my relationship goes down the toilet.
I feel like I have to first go on record explaining my Patriot fandom before I can describe my union with the Niners.
My entire life, my family has hosted super bowl parties. It was not until my 6th grade year that I actually watched the games in their entirety. In 03 we saw that Tom Brady and the Patriots were not just a great story. We were at the fringe of what is now shaping up to be the most dominant franchise in the history of the sport. The first two super bowls I actually payed attention to, not only featured the same winners, but spectacular games. Tom Brady and the Patriots sparked my interest in football, and for that, there will always be a special place in my heart for them.
Remember at the time, the niners couldn’t even score a touchdown in 4 quarters of play. Jeff Garcia was gone, and Ramsey was under helm. What about that team could excite a new fan of the game? My entire family was, and are huge Niner fans. They all live or lived in the Bay Area, and still remain in audience areas. So every Sunday there was a Niner game on the Tv. So when the news hit that we got the number one pick in the draft, and took a qb named Alex Smith I couldn’t be more excited.
12 year old Alex Alvira bought in heart and soul to the Alex Smith Niners. At such a young age, I guess blind faith trumps callous analysis. While my family all around me scorned Smith through his struggles, I remained faithful. People talked about his slow release, and his inability to get the passing game going. What they almost never talked about was his ATROCIOUS O-line. Or his lack of weapons, seriously, his best weapon was Arnz Battle. Not until Alex Smith found his resurgence did ANYONE mention the amount of head coaches, and offensive coordinators he had suffered through. Or his ability to read a defense.
Lets not forget here, that Alex stayed with the Niners even when head coach Mike Singletary went on record saying he could not win with him, the fan base had turned on him, and the team was still awful around him. We watched Jt Osullivan, and Shaun Hill under center. Let me repeat that, we watched an actual NFL competition where Shaun Hill was a QB1. Take a second and compare that to our current situation. Kapernick gets benched for Blaine Gabbert, and immediately finds some excuse to go on the IR. Alex Smith had a feeling of unfinished business with the Forty Niners and stuck with the team through all the criticism and hate. We draft Michael Crabtree, and guess who is staying after practice taking extra reps with the new receiver? We opted for Colin Kapernick OVER that guy?! The hungry competitor, risen form the ashes of failure (Who single handedly beat the saints in a shootout in the playoffs the previous year) who felt his relationship was destined for so much more than it had been? I am getting ahead of myself here though, rewind to Harbaugh.
Enter Jim Harbaugh. Alex Smith the previous season had been given the reigns after Mike Singletary was fired midseason. He had yet again failed to make our team worth watching (Though the ever faithful Alex Smithiate sat and watched every 28-6 game in its entirety). Alex Smith enters the game against the Falcons down 21 and marches our team down the field for 3 scores. We wound up losing that game, but it was the first watchable football we had seen, as fans all season. Jim names Alex our starter amongst criticism from our “Ever Faithful” fan base. All of a sudden, he doesn’t struggle. He excels within a system meant to play to his immediate strengths. He was treated as he should have been as a rookie. Our defense was devastating, so all we needed at that moment in time was someone to control tempo, be accurate, and put numbers on the board. Jim Harbaugh along with Greg Roman implemented an offense that played to all of those things that had been strengths for Alex all along. What did we get? The most efficient passer in the league. Not the most flashy, the most efficient.
In Jim Harbaugh’s first season the Alex Smith Niners go 13-3. You have to be the world’s biggest idiot if you believe for a second our defense was the only reason for that success. We had a near identical defense the prior year, featuring all the same super stars, and very similar schemes. The difference was a head coach and offensive coordinator who realized what they had at quarterback, what the team needed, and how to develop a quarterback. Vernon Davis ties the single season td record for a TE with Smith throwing the ball. What has that hyper talented athlete done since? To put a nice bow on this for you, Alex Smith steps up and becomes a straight THREAT against the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. Not a single analyst gave the Niners a chance in that game. Drew Brees and Co. were ranked either the 2nd best or 3rd best in the power rankings that year. What does Alex Smith do? He burst out with 300 yards passing, 3 touch downs, 0 picks, a 103.2 rating, and one of the most memorable drives in Niner history to finish the Saints. Alex Smith showed us the prolific passer he could turn into with a nurturing system.
The very next year he’s lead the Niners to a 6-2 record. I am not going to get into comparing his stats with Kapernick’s that year. By most calculations they were similar. Most people forget that Alex Smith had 4 touchdowns stolen from him in the redone when Harbaugh opted to put Kap in. I’m just going to leave this link here
and ask a very simple question…how? The organization built Alex Smith up. They gave him the ball when the franchise was sputtering. He rose to the challenge and excelled. His work ethic was phenomenal. These aren’t just opinions, they are facts. Again I’ll leave this here
Jim Harbaugh even called for Alex Smith to be named a pro bowler. He was a TOP 5 QB by all statistical parameters. Alex Smith, goes down to a concussion. Alex Smith, benched. Alex Smith, unable to be more than a game manager. Alex Smith, destined to be an average passer. Alex Smith, not a super bowl quarterback. Colin Kapernick, has a huge arm. Colin Kapernick, can run. Colin Kapernick, can win a super bowl. Colin Kapernick, loses in the super bowl. Colin Kapernick, makes poor decisions. Colin Kapernick, can’t read a defense. Colin Kapernick, doesn’t take care of the ball. Colin Kapernick, won’t hit his check down options.
The biggest joke of all time is people saying Jim Harbaugh left solely because of his relationship with the front office. Jim Harbaugh left because his version of the Alex Smith-less Forty Niners failed. That failure drew criticism. That failure lead to Mr. York giving his two cents in football matters…a place that fucking clown should never be. What needs to be recognized is that when Jim took the opportunity to bench Alex Smith WHILE HE WAS ON CONCUSSION PROTOCOL, not a soul stood up for Smith in the front office. The front office was content to let Harbaugh do whatever he pleased. They were winning. They were united. Guess who did stand of for Alex; Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, and multiple team sources (according to Deion Sanders).
So here is where my divorce comes in. That 12 year old who bought into the team all those years ago was devastated that his team could have such low class. There was starting to be buzz all around the league about how concussions lead to long term dangerous side effects. Our QB1, who had lead us to a 13-3 record, and a victory in a game we had no business winning…went down. He did his due diligence according to league protocol. He went out the 5th ranked passer in the league (see one of the previous link), 6-2…and never came back. How can a team that says one thing act in such a strikingly different manner. This is the holy grail of talking out of both sides of your mouth. From the very top, to the head coach, our team had just shown the league that not only did they not care about player health, they didn’t give a damn about player to staff transparency. Our coaching staff and management could no longer be trusted.
Every game Colin Kapernick started while Smith sat the bench was a knife tearing at my fandom. The guy who stayed through the years of terrible teams. The guy who stayed even though our “Forever Faithful” had given up on him. Alex Smith was sitting the bench after a complete career, and franchise reversal. The very people he trusted, had turned on him. I am never going to forget. I am never going to forget: there was game somewhere in the middle of all those years of terribleness. There was a game; when Alex rolled left, was hit by two defenders, shrugged them both off and nailed his receiver in the end zone…winning the game. After that, a young Frank Gore comes out of nowhere to embrace Smith during a post game presser “Alex, became a man today”. Did a single player ever say that about Colin? Did a single player ever show that sort of emotion towards Colin?
So my fandom turned to a festering hate. How can a fan watch an organization who quite literally has put their dollar where their mouths are. The organization turned from that scrappy, resilient, Qb. The Qb that exemplified all the character traits you want to see in a champion. They turned into a midnight shadow of that. They turned into Roger Goodel’s current leadership of the NFL as a whole. No real faithful fan could ever be in congruence with that change. While others have maintained their fandom, I could not. Alex Smith represented the type of person I strive to be daily.
I am no longer a Niner Fan.
Now, here we are in 2015. Colin has been benched, and Jim Harbaugh has fled back to college. The Yorks are, unfortunately, still in charge. Two thirds of what made my love for a team I followed religiously for much of my young life turn to a black hatred are gone. I venomously hated the Colin Kapernick lead Niners. How could you not when your fandom began with Alex Smith?
I am not a Niner fan. Nor, can I ever be again. I renounced my fandom, and to backtrack on that would prove me to be just as bad as the “Forever Faithful”. But, here is what I have found. I still love the Niners. Now that Kap, and Harbaugh have gone, I can stomach watching the games. Not just that, but I have have an internal fist pump every time Gabbert throws a TD.
I view my relationship with the Niners as a divorce at this point. At first, the rending of my fandom based from a childhood love was complete. Hatred, cursing, wishing the worst. Now, that has mellowed a bit. I can see the possibility of a future where I can appreciate them for what they bring to the table.
Will we ever be the same? Never. Can we be effective parents for the children? Hopefully.