49ers: some media look for house to crumble while others still seek reason to believe

Posted: December 13, 2011 in 49ers, Pro Football
Tags: , , , ,

It was tough going watching the 49ers lose against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

I’ll leave the armchair analysis for the bloggers and know-it-alls.  It’s amusing to reflect back on some of the early criticisms of this year’s squad.  Remember when they were “winning ugly” by forcing the running game, playing smart field position football and relying on the defense? All I remember hearing was, “oh, the 49ers can’t win if a team takes away the run and forces Alex Smith to beat you,” and then Smith effectively “managed” the offense to a victory against the surging Giants.  It still wasn’t enough.  Steve Young went on local radio and lamented that they needed to “just throw the ball 40 times to see what happens … open up the offense.”  The team continued to win, but often not in spectacular enough fashion, for some self important critics, err, journalists.  Smith’s stats weren’t good enough, Crabtree wasn’t getting the ball enough, Davis was misused … they relied too much on the defense, they didn’t protect the passer.  The venerable Lowell Cohn of the Press Democrat, after the loss to the Ravens, asserted that the 49ers could not take anything positive from a loss.  He must know because of all the experience he has in coaching and leading men the way Harbaugh and his staff have this year.  And then this week after the Cardinals game, some were upset when Harbaugh was not buddy/buddy with the media and their probes about red zone woes, go-to players, and play-calling in crucial situations.  For me, Harbaugh said exactly what I expected him to say.  He addressed his team’s issues as exactly that.  The team’s issues.  It was more important for him to communicate that the 49ers would take accountability from within.  The message was clear when the only player to speak with the media was punter, Andy Lee.  They are going to get to work on fixing their problems so they can continue to improve as they approach the playoffs rather than sit around the locker room answering the same questions over and over.  They key is doing versus talking.  And I would much rather see them do then talk any day.  Unfortunately, for some, that’s just not good enough.

It’s refreshing to see good reporting when you do see it, however.  Instead of complaining about the lack of information, and spewing out negativity about how the 49ers season is doomed, one long time beat writer, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, did some actual reporting.  He got outside the box and went back to 49er roots to get some perspective on this week’s loss and this year’s team in his article titled, “Eddie DeBartolo likes this San Francisco 49ers team — a lot.”

Reading his article reinforced my feeling that the 49ers are still on the right track during this turn-around season, despite the pride swallowing loss to the Cards this weekend.  To keep things in perspective and provide some compelling parallels to the dynasties that were the 49ers of the ’80’s and ’90’s , Kawakami reached out to the one and only Eddie DeBartolo Jr, the former 49er architect of those momentous years.

The good part of regular talks with Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is that every time I call him, it’s like picking up right in the middle of a crackling conversation.

The entertaining and challenging part is that occasionally it’s like picking up in the middle of a conversation he started on his own 20 minutes earlier.

Take Monday for example, when he said hello, paused for about .2 seconds, then launched into his feelings about the 49ers’ surprising loss to Arizona on Sunday.

“What happened yesterday is the same thing that happened to me, Bill (Walsh), Steve (Young) and Joe (Montana) — just exactly like that,” DeBartolo said by phone from his office in Tampa, Fla.

“That happened to us so many times in Phoenix, it’s unbelievable. We’d go down there, and we had the better team, and they’d just pop up and come up with games.”

For example, the 49ers lost in Arizona in 1988, which didn’t derail their march to a Super Bowl title, the third of five won in the Eddie D era.

The important point, DeBartolo said, is that his nephew Jed York hired Jim Harbaugh and now the 2011 49ers are set up to win tough playoff games.

“They are so much better than our 1981 team,” DeBartolo said of the first, epic 49ers Super Bowl team.

“Now, in ’84, and ’88 and ’89, and ’94, we had really good football teams. Defensively and offensively. I can’t compare (this year’s team) to that.

“But this year didn’t surprise me a bit. I told you last year they were going to be good.”

Indeed, a year ago almost exactly, DeBartolo told me that the 49ers had a strong roster but that his nephew had to make some important decisions.

Back then, Eddie D said he knew Jed York could do it. Now, DeBartolo is a proud uncle and pleased football patriarch.

Despite the issues with the league and the law that pushed him to sell the 49ers to his sister Denise DeBartolo York, Eddie D will always be an important voice in sports.

And recently he made it for a second year as a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But more to the point, because he’s close to Jed and is the only 49ers owner to win the Lombardi Trophy, when it comes to his views of this 49ers generation, DeBartolo is essential.

“Jed’s done a good job. He’s stood back; he did what he had to do in hiring the coach,” DeBartolo said. “Gave (general manager Trent) Baalke the responsibility.

“And he kept his father (John York) the hell out of the picture.”

OK, let’s backtrack a bit. This team, which has clinched the NFC West but hasn’t won a playoff game, is already better than the 1981 49ers, maybe the most beloved team in Bay Area history?

“Hell yeah,” DeBartolo said. “All in all, they’re a better team than ’81.

“Our ’81 team, Joe was just a kid then. Ronnie (Lott) and those guys, they were good, but they didn’t have the experience that this defense has. And the offense, too.

“This team has Frank Gore. We had Lenvil Elliott, we had Earl Cooper — good solid players but nowhere near Frank Gore. My god, he just broke the (franchise all-time rushing) record.”

Now to the obvious linkage from 2011 to 1981 …

In 1979, after a fitful start to his tenure, young owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. hired Bill Walsh after Walsh’s short, successful run at Stanford, and a few years later the 49ers were champions.

Now, after overseeing some tough 49ers seasons, young Jed York hired Jim Harbaugh from Stanford and has a 10-3 team.

“Of course, it’s reminiscent,” DeBartolo said. “(But) I think that Coach Harbaugh is different than Bill in a lot of ways. He’s way more intense.

“Bill kept a lot inside of him. Bill’s intensity, he kept to himself. He was an inner-intense man. But they’re alike in a lot of ways, too.”

So make no mistake, Eddie D believes this team has a shot at a Super Bowl run. And he’s definitely paying attention to the way the 49ers measure up against Green Bay, New Orleans and the other NFC contenders.

“If any team has the makeup to go in there in adverse weather conditions and play that Green Bay machine and beat them, I think the 49ers can,” DeBartolo said.

But the 49ers need the first-round bye, DeBartolo emphasized. Which brings us back to Sunday’s loss.

“Yesterday’s game, eh,” DeBartolo said. “They clinched the division (the week before). Come on, you know as well as I do it was a down position to be in.

“Now they should’ve won the game. But believe me, that doesn’t have a whole lot of effect on the team.”

He should know. In fact, he’s still thinking about it.

That’s what made him the owner he was, and why he has such credibility now when he says the 49ers are close to getting back to what they were.

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