It rained the day after the San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West to return to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, but for this particular long-suffering fan it felt like sunshine and rainbows.
The 49ers have won the NFC West and are back in the playoffs. Reunited and it feels so good! What a difference a real coach makes. Jim Harbaugh has taken Mike Singletary’s leftovers and turned it into fine cuisine. It’s raining outside but it feels like sunshine and flowers.
It’s not easy being a 49ers fan east of the Mississippi River. Why, just the other day, some kid was absolutely incredulous that someone could live in Ohio and be a fan of a football team in California. Out of the mouths of babes. They just don’t get it. Geography has nothing to do with being a fan.
There was a point in the lost years of Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary running the Niners into the ground where I just gave up. Every bit of 49ers memorabilia, the T-shirts, the refrigerator magnets, the banners, the flag, the bumper stickers that were never placed on a bumper, the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice action figures, all of that crap went into a bag and banished to a dark corner of the basement.
That’s the way love goes. You can only have your heart ripped out and stomped on so many times before you stop caring or bleed to death.
The 49ers winning a division with stiffs like the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams is no reason to thump your chest and throwing how bad they are in your face. Considering the Seahawks “won” the NFC West last year with a 7-9 record, hell yeah, the 49ers deserve to have a bit of swag in their step.
Opening up a can of whup-ass on the Rams was sad, but it was necessary. They were standing in the way of the Niners clinching the division, so they had to be moved out of the way. Blanking them 26-0 was just the cherry on top.
I’m happy for Frank Gore who became the 49ers all-time rushing leader and I’m happy for Alex Smith, the first round pick who will always be in the shadow of Aaron Rodgers. I’m happy for Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree who are finally justifying their high draft pick status. I’m happy for Patrick Willis, the best linebacker in the NFL, though he did suffer a hamstring injury that will sideline him for a few games. I’m happy for obscure players like Larry Grant and Kevin Williams who have emerged in 2011. I’m happy for Jim Harbaugh, who has been the coach the Niners have been looking for since Bill Walsh left the building.
Most of all, I’m very happy for Aldon Smith, the team’s top draft pick this year who has completely justified his rep as a relentless pass rusher. Smith put a bull rush on Rams tackle Adam Goldberg where he put him on his butt and dumped back-up quarterback A.J. Feely, giving him his eighth sack of the year.
It was Smith’s ninth sack that topped the eighth one. On fourth down, Smith sacked Feely again, but instead of breaking out into a bad dance routine, pumping his fist and screaming like he hit the lottery, Smith jumped up, ran off the field, brushed past his teammates, removed his helmet, and sat on the bench with his hands folded in his lap looking like a dutiful student.
It was classy and classic at the same time. That it was funny was an added bonus.
Class is something the 49ers have in abundance like championships. Is it like the days when Montana, Craig, Rice, Young, Lott and Walsh were crushing the competition and hoisting five Super Bowl trophies? No, but winning the division is a step on a road to bigger and better things.
Nobody’s talking about the 49ers return to respectability. They’re talking about the Packers having a perfect season and Tim Tebow as the Second Coming. Fine. Let them ignore the 49ers. I’m good with flying under the radar for now.
The 49ers are finally relevant again. If it’s not a complete return to glory, relevance isn’t bad as it goes.