Seattle Seahawks: Why Winning Ugly is OK

Clemons chasing Clemens…or…Clemens on…yeah, this game was weird.

The Seattle Seahawks, a team with talent enough to destroy teams like the St. Louis Rams, played an ugly game on offense and still won on the last play of the game thanks to Legion of Boom member, CB Brandon Browner.

Mother of God that was an ugly game. But Seattle won.
It’s not easy winning in the National Football League. All games are tough to win in any sport. So winning ugly is still winning. And this game was like that one girl/guy at the school dance with acne all over their face, outdated glasses, and braces bigger than their actual teeth.
Ok, maybe that’s only real in the movies, but you get what I mean.
Winning ugly is not a bad thing. Winning at all is still winning. Ugly victories show flaws and changes that need to be made for both teams, and they are far more valuable as teaching points than blowouts. Teams who win these games become painfully aware of their shortcomings and truly understand that they have to make changes to ensure that they don’t allow the game to be decided by the other team in the last seconds. They relish the win for a moment, but the reality settles in that they could just as easily have lost the game, it still means that adjustments need to be made.
Golden Tate’s 80-yarder was the difference in
a divisional stalemate.

By ugly, I completely mean it was a hard fought, skilled, physical battle between two very good defenses, and the attacks from each team made plays when they needed to…most of the time. Seattle’s 80-yard touchdown from quarterback Russell Wilson to receiver Golden Tate was the deciding play of the game. Without that blown coverage in the Rams’ secondary, the Seahawks’ inability to move the ball offensively would have been the number one story of the game, because they certainly would have lost the way they played tonight.

One could argue that the Greg Zuerlein missed field goal was the actual play of the game. Had Legatron made that 50-yarder, all St. Louis would have needed to do on that last drive was get in field goal range again (which they ended up doing) and kick the game winner through.
And the Seahawks offensive line…*shivers* I wouldn’t call them to guard my house against blowing leaves. They would still let those through. Seven sacks and their start quarterback hurried the entire game? It’s going to be a good feeling when starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini come back from injury.

But Seattle is somehow pounding out wins that now have them with a 7-1 record, best in the NFC, and an identity of winning any kind of game; however ugly, however tight, they can win it. Yes, critics will absolutely point to the Indianapolis game that they lost 34-28, but one blemish on an otherwise perfect record points to a team that is imperfect with the tools to overcome those imperfections.
Yes, they let a team with a losing record and a backup quarterback in the starting role keep them from winning big the way they did in Arizona and against Jacksonville. But tell me that Rams defense was bad. Give me one example in which that Rams defense was subpar. The D is relentless, with Chris Long and Robert Quinn destroying offensive lines, especially half healthy ones like Seattle’s. I’ve never seen Marshawn Lynch so irrelevant as a Seahawk before. Seattle’s offensive line was just plain gutted, so neither Lynch nor Wilson were able to get holes or time to make the plays that they’re accustomed to making.
But Seattle pulled out another necessary win.
Kellen Clemens is not quite the answer
at quarterback for the Rams.

This is winning like an elite team still finding its sea legs. Seattle doesn’t shy away from a tough, ground out game. Ugly matchups are a real test to the best of the best because each play means something bigger than it does in matchups that don’t truly challenge a team. The Seahawks are separating themselves from the rest of the league, and in my article about the teams that would survive and win in the Super Bowl in New York this year, I said that they could win if they make it to the big game this year because of the weather.

Wilson was subpar, Lynch was disappointing, and the run defense was non-existent. But they pulled out the win because they are a mentally tough football team that doesn’t give up when they need to make the biggest of big plays.
The following sentence is without bias. This football team, without a doubt, will win the Super Bowl.
With the coaching staff doing such an incredible job mentoring their young players, preparing them for big, primetime games with calmness and promoting team-before-player mentality, this team has what it will take to make the trek through the playoffs and, in what could be the ugliest game of the year, take what they deserve at the end of the season…

…a Lombardi trophy.

Let me know what you think. Tweet comments @aceing82.

San Diego…Y U No Be Consistent?

You’re killing me, Rivers.
The San Diego Chargers have always been an enigma to me.

From mid 2005 to 2010, they were on par with the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. And then…they disappeared. 2011-12 were throw-away years for the Chargers, mostly at the hands of former head coach Norv Turner.

But for me, whenever I would try to predict individual team records for the season, the Chargers were one of the biggest challenges for me to guess. Why?

I’ve never been quite sure.

Most fans blame A.J. Smith for the failures
of the 2011 and ’12 Chargers squads.
Their quarterback, Philip Rivers, was quite often mentioned among the contenders for NFL MVP through the good times, showed true guts in the 2007 AFC Championship Game playing on a torn ACL, and was instrumental in leading one of the most feared passing attacks in the league. Their running back, Ladainian Tomlinson was a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, still producing at the top of his class, breaking the single season touchdown record for a running back in 2006. Their wide receiving corps was almost unparalleled in height and speed with Vincent Jackson leading the charge (pun slightly intended) along with Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee. Their defense? Quite impressive actually, with the likes of Quentin Jammer, Eric Weddle, and Antonio Cromartie sitting in the backfield, waiting to make the opportunities come their way, the team was a formulation of high end talent.

So you would think it would have been easy to just say they would win eleven games a year, hands down…right?

Computer says no.

2006 came around the bend, and we all said Marty Schottenheimer, then head coach, had passed his time in the league and wouldn’t be able to effectively turn this team in to a champion. What happened? They went 14-2 and almost beat the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.

2010, we all said they would be one of the teams to beat. What happened? They shat an egg and missed the playoffs…and so forth through 2012.

So now the Chargers are 4-3 and Philip Rivers is playing his best football since those hey days of MVP talk. What do I say they’re going to end up with?

I’m not even going to speculate. I wouldn’t be able to definitively say what their record will be at the end of the season. They’ve been a wild card for me, and not in terms of them actually getting a wild card seed in the playoffs. I mean I just don’t know with them.

Their defense seems to be playing solid football…I think. The running game is showing signs of life between Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead…I think. And their receiving corps is showing up with rookie Keenan Allen and the somehow-he-found-the-fountain-of-youth tight end Antonio Gates…I think.

It appears to me that the Chargers are screwing with us all, week in and week out. They show up in some parts of the game, pull out in other parts (and you never just pull out), and then they’re among the best in the league in other random parts.

San Diego, I just have this to say: Give me something here.
No caption necessary really.

Give me a signal as to whether or not you’re going to rock our socks off, or if you’re going to stink worse than a skating rink locker room. If I had to pick between you and the current version of the Denver Broncos circa-week 8…I’d say the good Chargers team would kick their asses, and the bad team would be decimated by a horrible pass defense.

But I don’t know. I hate you San Diego, but I love you.

Our relationship is like a bipolar patient, there’s no telling what flavor ice cream you’re going to want from one minute to the next.

For the love of god, just stick with the Oregon Blackberry, it’s a good flavor. Until then, you just sit there and think about what you’ve done and decide whether you want to be a good little munchkin, or a child with bad manners.

But in the end, give us something.

Super Bowl XLVIII: Throwback Championship Game?

Say hello to the final destination of the 2013 NFL Season
1. Seattle
2. Kansas City
3. San Francisco
4. Cincinnati
5. Indianapolis
6. Carolina
1. Denver
2. New England
3. Philadelphia
4. Atlanta
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Miami
What do the teams in each list have in common with each other?

Just for your reference, only two teams that play their home games in a dome have won the Super Bowl since 2000: Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI, and New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV, who won it against those dome-Colts. That’s 11 years of open-air developed NFL champs.
I think we’re all pretty aware of the fact that this year’s Super Bowl will be hosted in Polar Bear City, USA.
No, not Minneapolis. A Super Bowl in the Metrodome? Psh, HA…no.
East Rutherford, New Jersey is the host of this year’s Super Bowl XLVIII, and it’s going to be frosty. The conditions in the Northeast in early February are…cold.
And it gets you thinking: in this Golden Age of passing in the NFL, is there any chance that a team with a bottom ranked running game or disabled defense is going to win a game in those conditions? 
Dome, sweet dome.

Obviously the ball is a lot harder to control through the air when it feels like throwing a large rock, which makes the running game more essential to winning. But because of the NFL’s requirements of warm stadium conditions, the last few Super Bowls have been won by teams with a mediocre run game, defense, or both, and it has become the norm to see that. Super Bowl XLIV is a perfect example of that, since both the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts had a run games ranked in the bottom 5 in the NFL that year. Plus, they are both teams who, yep, play inside a dome when they are at home.

Could Gore, not Kaepernick be
the key to a 49ers’ Super Bowl win?
MetLife Stadium’s successful bid to host Super Bowl XLVIII was a landmark win for open air stadiums in northern American states. Until this year, only stadiums in the South, with temperatures more like a mild summer in the winter, were allowed to host Super Bowls despite being open air. Stadiums like Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and Everbank Field in Jacksonville have been Super Bowl hosts as of late for their beautiful weather in February. But no open air stadiums North of Missouri have ever hosted the game because of frosty conditions.
Oh, you’re in the north? You want a Super Bowl? Get a roof.
The NFL wants a level playing field for their championship game, and their thinking is the weather shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to determining the best of the best. But how is a team the best if they don’t play well in cold weather situations? Football is a game built to be played in the open air on grass. And we don’t take a bye from football games during December and January. In fact, the toughest games, the playoffs, are played in those frosty months, and places like Green Bay and Seattle are open air with freezing temperatures. If the NFC or AFC Championship games are exempt from worrying about weather, why should the Super Bowl? I think having the Super Bowl at MetLife is fantastic.
I mean, if the Falcons go into Green Bay in the playoffs during a cold front and lose, you don’t blame the weather.
You blame the team for not being good enough to play football outside.
So let’s get down to brass tax: which teams would prosper in the face of playing in colder weather, and which teams will have shat their pants after the coin toss because they can’t win unless the weather is perfect?

The latter types of teams sound like delicate little kites in the summer.
Let’s look back again at those two lists above:
This image could become a common occurrence in the
Super Bowl should the Patriots make it this year.
1. Seattle
2. Kansas City
3. San Francisco
4. Cincinnati
5. Indianapolis
6. Carolina
1. Denver
2. New England
3. Philadelphia
4. Atlanta
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Miami
The first tier of teams is made of tough, ground and pound teams who, thus far this year, have won many different games in several different ways. The first four have optimal run games that produce consistently and form the offensive identity of those teams, and their defenses play three-and-out football possession after possession. Especially the Seahawks and Chiefs, those two teams are winning hard-fought games in many different ways.
Marshawn Lynch makes Seattle a legit Super Bowl
contender and increases their chances of winning it.
The last two lean heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks, Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Cam Newton of Carolina, but both have surroundings casts on offense that make their leader’s life easier. Trent Richardson is a solid back that will keep improving all season for the Colts, and Newton, along with Mike Tolbert and the re-emerging DeAngelo Williams create a tough ground identity for the Panthers. Both teams’ defenses are becoming harder to move against as this season has progressed.
These seven teams, whether their Super Bowl chances are likely or not, have the identity suited to win the big game if they make it. The cold weather will make it easier for any of these units to play against pass-oriented teams that won’t have the stamina, or the simple football ability to play a game that could be reminiscent of the 1947 NFL Championship Game.
The second tier is exactly the opposite. While you could argue that Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, being the current rushing leader this season, should put them with the Can’s of the NFL, their defense is putrid. At this point, a turtle could “run” for a 99-yard touchdown against them without getting touched. And don’t get started on New England, Dallas, Atlanta, OR Denver. All four of those teams are either injured at the running back position, don’t utilize their ground game consistently enough, or have defenses that don’t compliment their quarterbacks well enough to compete in cold weather.
Manning’s already-weakened arm could fall
victim to the cold of winter in New Jersey.
Peyton Manning is getting old, there’s no way around that, and it’s going to show on those short passes he’s been thriving on since he arrived in Denver. Knowshon Moreno has been solid, but the offense runs through Manning, and he’s going to put the game on his shoulders, whether it’s right or not. Plus, that Pass D let Jacksonville (JACKSONVILLE!) stick around for way too long before Manning started sprinkling the magic fairy dust. Not good.
New England isn’t built for the postseason right now. Sure, their defense is grand, I will absolutely agree with that. But their running game isn’t consistent enough for Tom Brady to fool defenses on his reads. Opponents know the ball will stay in Brady’s hands when it’s crunch time, and that’s going to kill the offense if the Patriots do in fact make it to New Jersey.
And in Atlanta, Matt Ryan may be great, but until they get Steven Jackson back, we can’t know how balanced they’ll be. Plus, if their defense couldn’t instil fear in New York Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith, they won’t be very scary come the post season.
I’m not saying that these teams will or won’t win, guaranteed. But certainly, one would be worried about their team if they can’t beat Mother Nature. Weather is a natural part of the game; however we might try to combat it. Dome teams don’t prosper in the Super Bowl. And especially dome teams that are oriented around the pass.

But let’s wait those 13 more weeks before we try to rationalize anything else.

We know you have your own opinions on this. Get a debate started by posting comments down below! Or you can tweet us at @aceing82 or comment on the LFTP Facebook page!

After a LOOOONG Delay…

Hello hello! Welcome back to Let’s Forget the Politics: A Fan’s NFL!

I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t had enough time to spend writing blog posts to keep up with how quickly things are shaping up in the NFL this season. You can thank my university tutors for piling on crap that have no reason to be inserted into my memory bank.

But, I digress…

The 2013 season, while in a version of adolescence, is HOOO MAI GAD amazing! And not just because my Seahawks are 6-1. The best part about this young season is that every team (including the Jaguars, which was weird this week) has a chance to win any game, any given Sunday.

Yeah. Any Given Sunday: the most overused cliche of any sport. But it hasn’t been more true than this season.

Think about it. The Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and St. Louis Rams are all faltering this season, all below or at .500. But as opposed to other seasons, these teams display the ability to stay in almost all of the games they play and push their opponents, however elite they might be, to the very limits of the their skill levels. I feel like there’s a lot of parity in this league in 2013. Anyone besides the Giants, Steelers, Raiders, and Jaguars have a very good chance to challenge the rest of their schedule and make a push for the playoffs.

That’s not to say that they will, but they certainly show a lot of zeal.

Let’s be honest now, we should move on to the teams that matter this season. Following this sentence, here are my predictions for the playoffs after six weeks of games:


1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
4. Cincinnati Bengals

Wild Card:
5. Denver Broncos
6. Baltimore Ravens


1. Seattle Seahawks
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Detroit Lions
4. Dallas Cowboys

Wild Card:
5. Chicago Bears
6. San Francisco 49ers



B-b-b-b-b-but…this isn’t football! This doesn’t look like 2012!…

Damn straight, minions. This season is full of racehorses that just won’t quit until the camera snaps the picture at the finish line. This year, the team that finishes strongest will definitely make the playoffs. Throw out of the window what you know about the season so far in terms of records. ANY TEAM ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.

Think about it, because you’ll need to. Green Bay is down to two, maybe three healthy receivers. Detroit is playing smarter football. And Jay Cutler’s grizzlies haven’t been the same dominant team that they started the season as. Forget about Minnesota, unless Josh Freeman turns out to be the second coming of Randall Cunningham.

Denver vs. Kansas City? Honestly, I’m going to take Kansas City every time. Why? Peyton Manning hasn’t played a defense quite like the Chiefs’. Baltimore, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Jacksonville. Now, proceed to tell me which of those defenses is on the same level of Kansas City’s this season.

Answer? *chirping crickets*

As good as Denver has been, Manning has been coming down to Earth slowly but surely. Since he torched the Ravens for 7 TD’s, he’s been slowly pacing backwards to an acceptable level of normal Peyton Manning levels, which is still elite, but not good enough to handle the Chiefs’ violent pass rush.

If you have any other reasons to doubt my predictions, don’t call me a bandwagon Seahawks fan. Give me some real reasons. Critique me like a smart person, and I’ll be happy to tell you why, at season’s end, this is going to be the closest, most accurate prediction on the web.

I won’t go Namath and guarantee it, but you know the drill.

And I’ll be happy to apologize if my rankings somehow make you alter your Fantasy Football rosters as well. I ain’t no guru, just a man on a couch.

Next week, I’ll tackle the reason why this year’s division showdowns won’t feature second-stringers no one has ever heard of. Welcome back, and stay tuned!

A Negative Opening

A Negative Opening

I really need to vent…which is part of the reason I’ve created a WordPress account tonight, sitting in my university library while I should be doing research for my essay due next week.

Fuck it. The news I read today on has pissed me off to no end. Seriously getting annoyed and disheartened with the types of people who are allowed to have Twitter accounts, spreading their useless hate and uneccessary, un-informed opinions.

Before people talk trash, they need to know what and who they’re trashing.

I am proud to call myself an American, even though my heritage is Indian. But seeing these tweets is making me question why I’m so proud of America. Take a look at the link, and then go on and read ahead:

They say “This is America”? Well, in America, people respect the individual and don’t judge based on the color of their skin. That’s what Martin King wanted. That is what America has worked so hard to make the norm. “The Arab wins Miss America”? She’s Indian-American. Just because her skin color is brown doesn’t make her an Arab. It doesn’t make her any less of an American. And it doesn’t make her any less deserving of an award like this one.

And being Arab doesn’t mean a person is automatically a terrorist. It means they’re Arabian, a culture covering multiple nationalities. Arabians are of a wide range of ethnic groups and nationalities in middle eastern Asia, not a collective terrorist group.

People need to get off their asses, do their research, learn what they are talking about, and only THEN put forth their opinions. All these tweets just look like mindless chatter from an ignorant group of people who, I’ll bet anything, are in the 90% range of immigrants from other countries dating back to the 1600’s and even further. America is a melting pot of people who all have a right to live without the fear of being subjected to insults regarding their heritage and beliefs.

I am proud to call myself an American, even though my heritage is Indian. But seeing these tweets is making question why I’m so proud of America. I know that the majority of Americans, and people around the world, are not so ignorant to what goes on around them. So still, I’m not ready to give up hope that one day, reactions to someone like Nina Davuluri winning a pageant (A FREAKING BEAUTY PAGEANT) won’t be so horrifyingly prejudice-laden.

The Passing of the Torch

 Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.

One of the most charismatic Presidents of the United States, a man whose time was cut too short, provided us with a quote that defines the world as we know it. He foresaw a young generation taking the reigns of the world and staking their claim as the next crop of successful Americans. They’ve seen the hardships of the world, and they know, at a young age, what dilemmas they will face as they grow older. Kennedy was a man of youth himself, and believed that just as presidents step down to make way for a new direction, the torch must one day be passed down to the next generation in all evolving events.

The same is true in sports. There will always be an elite set of players who reign over the sport like a Mt. Rushmore of the talented and famous. Those players define the sport and all who grow up with it. Everyone remembers their favorite players from their time. The fans of the 80’s would have grown up with Joe Montana, John Riggins, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice and The Fridge. The 90’s? The Triplets in Dallas, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders and Derrick Thomas.

Even after 17 bruising years, he’s still one of the most
feared players in the league.

Who are the 2000’s? Well, there’s a plethora of players who define their positions and the sport. I mean, who can you think of right off the top? Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Ed Reed, and…definitely Ray Lewis.

The first time I watched Ray was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in ’06 on opening day. The Ravens dominated that game, winning 27-0. But with it being my first real look at the play of Ray Lewis, I was beyond mesmerized. The tenacity, ferocity, and passion that he played with were unprecedented. When he had his arms reaching for a player, you could be sure that they wouldn’t see the rest of the play. It was a moment of (almost) clarity for me that there were players who were so powerful and unrelenting in their play. It wasn’t until the end of the season when I realized that there’s only one Ray Lewis, one of the best linebackers in football history.

Out of pure boredom two years later, I watched a San Francisco 49ers game in  Week 2 versus my Seahawks. I remember it because I was curious to see what all the hype was surrounding this kid called Patrick Willis. Yes, I speak as though they’re kids, that’s just my style.

Patrick Willis. The One. The Only. The Best.

It was astonishing. Willis was the most dominant player on that squad, never allowing a single tackle to evade him. He finished with only eight tackles, but each one of them came at a time when his team direly needed a stop. And to top it all off, Willis began a surge of scores with an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown to take the lead in the third quarter. The 49ers would win that game in OT on a field goal.

After just two seasons of my thinking that Lewis was the only player of his kind, I found his match. A young buck with a hunger for hard hits and takeaways. Both were the scariest players on their respective defenses. Teams couldn’t run without accounting for them. Quarterbacks couldn’t pass without keeping an eye on where they were. To this day, they still keep their eyes on those two stalwart ‘backers. And it’s scarily ironic that they’re both exactly the same build, both being 6’ 1″ and 240 lbs.

Ray Lewis’ time has come. Sunday, February 3rd will be the last game of his career. The last chance he has to leave the field with it all. His final opportunity to show the people of the football world why he’s the name of the decade. He’s Ray Effing Lewis. The time has come for him to go out with a bang, and leave the field, win or lose, for Patrick Willis to take over the title of best linebacker in football.

We’ll miss jarring hits like these, and the man who
delivers them in #52

Don’t get me wrong, though, Willis is not Lewis. And he never will be. But Ray knows as well as the rest of the league that someone will pick up the torch. Who better than another dominant player like Patrick?

Lewis is what remains of the older generation of football players. He defines what used to be, and what used to be wasn’t a long time ago. Still Patrick Willis the new generation of football players, and he has slowly become the definition of the youth movement in football.

I don’t think there’s a single player at the middle linebacker position more deserving of the title. He’s more powerful, aggressive, driven, passionate, and competitive than any player on the field where he presides. He doesn’t have the bravado and showmanship that Lewis has brought to every game he’s ever played, but he’s still a match. He let’s his playing do the talking. He powers over offenses like King Kong tossing over a line of Jeeps in the middle of New York City. If you’re a wide receiver with the ball running towards Willis…say goodnight, buddy.

The torch has to be passed at some point. Lewis was the future of the position at his zenith. He defined how linebackers play today. Like Lawrence Taylor, Lewis made quarterbacks, offensive coordinators, and head coaches insomniacs in the week leading up to playing him. And like Lewis, Willis makes you pay for every mistake you make.

Lewis and Willis are not the same. They never will be. They have their own styles of play and their own styles of leading. But they’re the best at what they do.

And now, they meet.

They meet on the biggest stage in all of sports. Both are riding highs: Willis, being in his first Super Bowl after years of toiling on one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL from 2007-10; and Lewis, Super Bowl XLVII being the last game of his legendary career. Both will leave legacies, and both have changed the game and how we view the power of defense, especially in this golden age of passing offenses.

Willis’ time to be recognized as the best
is well overdue. But his moment is here.

Now it’s time for Ray Lewis to hand off the terrorizing of quarterbacks to Willis. Lewis has done his part. He’s been the hallmark of a franchise, and a nation. He’ll be talked about forever. Defensive coordinators will tell their players to watch film of Lewis to see what it really means to play defense.

Where better to hand it off than on the biggest stage in sports? Patrick, get ready. This is your stage. This is where Ray shows his best for the last time, and where you prove why you’ll be the best for years to come.

It’s time for you to don the hot, fiery torch. Don’t burn yourself.

Y’all get yo popcorn ready. On Tuesday, we rustle through the trash and rediscover the beginnings of our modern San Francisco 49ers. Tweet us @aceing82!

Life Before Greatness: The 49ers Rise from the Rubble of a Golden Era

2003-2010                                                                                         2011-2012

In today’s modern world, every great piece of art rises from the rubble of some other form. Music, film, painting, sculpturing, etc., are all a version of a form that was once the evolution of the forms that came before it. It’s a cycle that will continue for as long as art is a part of our civilization, and it can’t be stopped.

The way sports evolve is something of an enigma. I wouldn’t consider baseball an example because of the way their lack of a salary cap articulates success for the teams with the most money. Why do you think the Yankees have won 27 World Series since 1901? Cold…hard…big-city cash. There’s no possible way that baseball can evolve this way, unless big money teams fall victim to embezzlement, or some form of financial crime.

Football is continuously evolving, becoming a different form of what it once was. The league used to stress the importance of running the ball and playing tough defense. Now, it has become a league where, without an elite quarterback, you will be lucky if you even make the postseason. But there are so many teams who have the intangibles. Every year, multiple teams rise up and win games that they wouldn’t have won the year before. At the same time, teams fall from grace with the same speed. I predict 2010-2020 will be the decade of parity for Super Bowl Champions. Every team is on the rise and decline. No one team is more dominant than the other.

The San Francisco 49ers, as amazing as they have been in the last two years, are not any exception to the rule. Thanks to the era of football we watch, the 49ers can’t be super every year. But for the last two years, they’ve evolved into the next best thing.

But hold on just a moment. Evolution won’t always be positive.

You all remember the 49ers of the 1980’s. Bill Walsh and the quick rhythm West Coast offense, Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott patrolling the defense as one of the most feared hitters in NFL history, and, of course, their four Super Bowl wins. They were the Kings of the Hill, the best of the best. And they were lucky enough to have another Hall-of-Fame quarterback sitting behind Montana in Steve Young, who led them to a fifth Super Bowl win in 1994.

Those teams were the face of that era of football, when franchises and fans had more patience with their teams. Those 49er teams were consistently giving their fans reasons to believe that they’d be in contention for a title every season.

The 49ers, however, became a victim of the evolution into the modern era of football. The sport and its decision makers have the shortest memory span of any in football’s past. The mentality of “win now, or you’re gone” began to envelop the league in the last decade, and it has become the culprit of premature evaluations of players and coaches, hundreds of lost jobs, and the burning down of storied franchises. The monetary constraints and need to keep fan interest and star power strong and consistent is more important than ever. Teams have continued to win Super Bowls, of course, but it’s harder and harder now for teams to maintain the core group of their best players.

Every tackle hurts that much more
when you’re losing.
San Francisco hasn’t reached the top since that last title win in ’94. 1999 and 2000 were seasons below .500, their first since 1982. And 2002 was the last time they made it to, and won a game in, the playoffs.

Bay Area fans who grew up in the Golden Age of 49ers football will tell you how much of a struggle it was to watch their team in the 2000’s. 49ers football, as far as they knew, was a mentality of winning, of being the best every year. They were witness to teams that, year in and year out, were favorites to win the Super Bowl.

As a fan of Seattle since their 2005 season in which they lost the Super Bowl, I can tell you that I know how Niners fans feel, if only in a small way. I watched Seattle in the middle of their four consecutive division-winning seasons. I always assumed that they were going to be in the playoffs and have a chance to win it all every year. Then, in 2008, one of the worst years for Seattle sports, they went 4-12 and completely belly-flopped on the winning culture I thought was always a part of Seahawks football.

And I watched my team beat those terrible 49ers teams of the 2000’s. It was strange for me to have seen film of the 49ers teams from their hey day, and then watch them get pummeled game after game.

Arnaz Battle loses a fumble.
The red and gold were laughing stocks for almost an entire decade. For eight dark years, the team did not post a record above 8-8. In 2004, they went 2-14 and, for the first time since 1964, owned the first pick in the draft in 2005. Fans thought that maybe the pain was over. Two seasons with an overall record of 9-23 were hard enough. With that first selection, the 49ers picked quarterback Alex Smith from the University of Utah. In college, he was poised, he was confident, and he was a leader who could take a team and carry them to the finish line. Smith looked like the miracle response to the prayers of San Fran fans.

You know how that turned out. For Smith’s first five seasons, he was considered a bust. The 49ers did not get better. In fact, they got worse. They won only 16 games over the next three years and would disappoint fans over and over again, in complete contrast to the Niners of old. Fans kept their hopes up, reminding themselves that there was a time when the 49ers were the best in the business. When they were contested by and answered to nobody.

But the losses kept coming. From 2003 to 2010, their overall record was an abysmal 46-82. Their seventeen previous division titles were a distant memory. There was nothing but a shell of a team. No matter how you looked at them, analyzed them, measured up the statistics…the 49ers were gone. Darkness set over Candlestick Park every game, with every fan simply hoping for a win.
But, lo and behold, a savior, a real answer, was about to walk through the gates of Candlestick. The former kingdom of champions was about to be jolted back awake.

Coach Jim Harbaugh brought a winning
culture back to the 49ers franchise.
Jim Harbaugh, the former coach of the Stanford Cardinal, the man who groomed one of the best college quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, since the great Peyton Manning, and was once a brilliant quarterback himself for fifteen years in the NFL, was coming to San Francisco. Harbaugh, whose brother, John, coached the consistently brilliant Baltimore Ravens on the east coast, signed a five-year, $25 million contract to revitalize a franchise once known for winning big.

And, boy, have they.

2011 became a season of redemption. Jim Harbaugh, with his blue-collar mentality, the aggression of a linebacker, and the passion of a seasoned veteran, somehow took the same roster that had been lackluster and disappointing for eight seasons, and showed how underachieving they really were.  No one believed that a rookie college coach, no matter how much NFL experience he had as a player, would be able to take this terminally ill team to even eight wins.

They went 13-3 and almost claimed a conference championship.

Harbaugh turned Patrick Willis, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the San Fran defense into the best unit in the league. He stressed running the ball on an offense that carried one of the best power runners in the league in Frank Gore and one of biggest stalwart offensive lines in the NFC. Most importantly, Jim Harbaugh turned Alex Smith from liability and draft bust, into the most efficient and reliable quarterback in the NFL. Smith may have been a game manager and not a team carrier, but he was a primary reason why the 49ers were able to succeed in 2011.

Harbaugh took the whole team and forced it to evolve into a team that emphasized smash mouth football. He knew that to counteract the passing trend taking over the NFL, he would need to find the antithesis that would pose a unique problem for any opposition that the 49ers would face. Why not go back to the roots of the football? Run the ball and stop the run? That almost got them to the Super Bowl last year.

2012 NFC Championship Game.

Don’t forget that if it weren’t for a couple of gaffes on kick returns against the eventual Super Bowl winners New York Giants, we could be talking about the 49ers who are returning to the biggest stage for a second straight championship after a Cinderella Super Bowl win last year. 

This time, second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is taking them to the Super Bowl for real, after taking over the starting job from Smith in Week 9 in Tom Brady circa 2001 fashion when Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Kaepernick added a running dimension to his position and molded the team into one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

The team has become a playoff contender for years to come. Maybe not a Super Bowl contender for every year, but certainly the fans of the Bay Area need not worry with Harbaugh, Kaepernick, and their paralysis-inducing defense eating teams for dinner.

Even though we all know the 49ers have a winning history, the fans of the 49ers deserve the wins that are rolling in.

San Francisco became a team feared by the league because of the unique problem it posed to all other teams. They went against the grain, and allowed themselves to grow into an identity that seemed foreign to them. The 49ers are not the Packers, the Patriots, or even the Ravens. They simply became better in their own way.

I’m personally rooting for Baltimore, simply because I believe that every player on that Ravens team has toiled for too long to be denied a championship now.

But San Francisco has risen from a broken team, pieces of what they once were, to the top of the NFL food chain through reinvention, innovation, and realizing the opportunity before them. Take a step a back and take in what you’ve just read. The fans, the franchise, and everyone who has been a part of the struggles of being in the cellar is finally being rewarded.

San Francisco’s turn around is the model of what teams can become with the right vision. Evolving, it seems, is not to conform to what is trending, unless you have the talent on your team to conform and believe that it’s the best way to win. Evolving is more about how you make the new, incoming and outgoing pieces fit. A coach cannot simply choose their team’s identity, but rather finds an identity that makes the machine work. You can’t shove a gear into a machine that doesn’t quite fit. It stops the entire process.

Not only have they risen back out of the scrap heap, but San Francisco is transforming everything we know about the game today.

Perhaps San Francisco, and not the Baltimore Ravens, are the real team of destiny this year.