49ers: Try Not To Prematurely Anoint Jimmy G
(originally written 12/20/17)
Just four years ago, the San Francisco 49ers were playing in their third straight NFC Championship Game, with a sparkling new stadium set to open the following season (2014).
In order of occurence, you will now read a bullet list of all that has gone right for the team from the day of that loss in Seattle to Halloween of this year:
The team drafted Carlos Hyde.
Ed DeBartolo was elected to Canton.
The goalposts didn't fall over.
The dark cloud enveloping the club first fluttered in when the team's most successful coach in over a decade was fired for not being nice enough to the GM (who himself was fired two years later.) When he left, one veteran star after the other—including future Hall-of-Famers—followed him out the door. A highly-regarded rookie the team viewed as a building block decided football was too rough, and also quit.
From there, the skies just got darker. A star linebacker self-destructed over and over again. One of the safeties got so much police attention, his nickname should have been Sting. The no-name, inexperienced new coach was fired after a terrible season. His well-known, experienced successor was fired after an even worse season.
The quarterback, who just three years prior was considered a savior and worthy of a nine-digit contract, regressed to the point of ridicule, lost his job, then brought a tidal wave of negative energy to the team with his social justice activism. (One of the other safeties soon joined him.)
One of the recently-retired stars returned, decided one game was enough, then went into the pot business. While many of the draft picks have shown promise, they can't stay on the field for very long. Oh, and that new stadium? It's been the center of continuous financial disputes between its owner (the city of Santa Clara) and the team. And because of poor planning, a whole side of Levi's doubles as a Native American sweat lodge.
If that wasn't enough, Hall-of-Fame QB Y.A. Tittle died and iconic receiver Dwight Clark came down with ALS. There's certainly more tumult and despair that I've forgotten (or blocked out), but you get the picture.
With a new coach/general manager duo in place for 2017, the dark clouds lifted...temporarily. Then the team lost their first nine games, growing less competitive by the week. You can understand why us 49er Faithful—used to winning football after being spoiled by it for so long—needed something, anything to inspire hope for tomorrow.
In this setting, under these circumstances, Jimmy Garoppolo had no choice but to be anointed the San Francisco Savior.
Believe me, I want to believe he will lead us to the promised land (or at the very least, the 2018 playoffs) as much as you and every other 49ers fan does. The past 2.5 seasons have been largely dreadful. Unwatchable, amateurish football. 7-0 deficits felt like 28-0 deficits. Losing is one thing. Losing and having zero chance? Who can put up with that?
Garoppolo is playing his ass off right now—aside from not punctuating a couple drives with touchdowns, he's been blemish-free. Throws are on target. Plays are made. Sacks are avoided. And because the passing threat is real, the running game is boosted. The 49ers are fun to watch, which we haven't said since at least mid-2014 before Colin Kaepernick overdosed on mediocrity pills.
That said, Faithful...it's been three starts.
I want to caution you against anointing Jimmy G just yet...especially when he remains unsigned for '18.
If you look back through recent 49er history, we've been wrong on saviors before. We were dead wrong on coach Mike Singletary, who, like Jimmy G, took over for someone else during a trying season and made an immediate impact on a fan base mired in losing. But by the next year, wins were scarce once again.
For a few weeks, we thought J.T. O'Sullivan was the answer at quarterback—all it took was two straight weeks in the victory column and local sports station KNBR gave him his own songbyte. 13 months later he was out of the league for good.
And then there's Kap. Back in 2012, when Jim Harbaugh installed him as starting QB, I told anybody who would listen not to anoint Kap too fast—eventually opponents are going to create ways to slow him down, and he might not be so good if he's forced to throw a lot.
Kap did reach a Super Bowl and the following Conference Championship game, but without the element of surprise, he became much easier to defend in the ensuing years and has since played (and protested) his way out of the NFL.
My point: teams are going to adjust to Garoppolo, who only has five career starts on his resume and thus can't be fully prepared for. Before we anoint the man—and assuming he does re-sign with SF—let's see him go through the league a couple of times, with different defenses having the chance to prep for him.
Let's see Jimmy G actually face a division rival (which he'll do in Week 17 barring injury.) Let's see him battle through poor weather. Let's see him turn some of those field goals into touchdowns. Let's see how he responds to actually losing a game or two before we declare him the next Joe Montana—while it is okay to make play-based comparisons, to make such a declaration about a guy with five career starts is unfair, unwise, and downright blasphemous.
Trust me, I want to go all-in on Garoppolo. But past disappointment has a way of keeping our heads level (at least, it should.) Jimmy G has a shot to be great—he's got the tools, skill and pedigree—but the race isn't won in the first mile. Do base your worship accordingly.