I never ever say “this movie’s gonna stink” and then attend its premiere. I never say “this show is gonna stink” and watch it on pay per view. It’s only sport that makes me do things that are cognitively dissonant while also making sense in my head. For two weeks I had predicted the 49ers would win. For two weeks I had preached the genius of Harbaugh to anyone who would listen. For two weeks I had said the Packers were done when they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson in Week 17. In spite of all this, there I was ten rows from the end zone on a cold, clear night at Candlestick park. Draped in Green and Gold I was yelling “Go Pack, Go” over the stunned silence of hundreds of kindred 49ers fans when Sam Shields returned Colin Kaepernick’s second throw for a touchdown.
On the heels of an even more stunning upset in Denver, I told myself anything can happen. The pressures of the playoffs could get to a virtual rookie and the Packers can win this…….
Add that to #famouslastwords.
Of all the sports I have followed and watched, the NFL is where coaching makes the most tangible difference. Coaches have to go way beyond making sure the players are physically fit and mentally motivated to perform at their best. Coaches have to strategize on a per-game, per-play basis. Coaches have to figure out how to use very finite resources while competing against teams with almost identical resources. And on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh unleashed yet another clinic in coaching that challenges Mike Mccarthy and the Packers to really raise their game this offseason. No more can Mccarthy count on utilizing innovative formations and the arm of an elite quarterback to mask gaping deficiencies in the team’s defensive preparation and use of timeouts and challenges.
For seemingly the 18’th time this season, Mccarthy went into half time with all three timeouts intact. Really, there were no spots when he could have used these in a tight first half? The defense that spent 70% of the half on the field could not have used some rest? The offense that was struggling to move down the field smoothly could not have used some extra time to execute better?
There was a fourth and four at midfield call that Mccarthy had to make in the waning stages of the fourth quarter. The Packers had a two possession deficit at that point and a defense that had failed to stop the 49ers all day. Could they not have called a timeout and gone for it? Do you not back Aaron Rodgers in the prime of his career to gain four yards at midfield? To rub salt into the wounds even more, Harbaugh had his offense go for it on fourth and one a few minutes later when a field goal was a much safer call.
Jeremy Ross was assigned to return kickoffs and punts in spite of muffing some pre-game (fans who went to the game would tell you). I don’t know who made the call but if ever there was one that deserved to be fair-caught that was it. The Packers were up 14-7 and had forced what would be the only 49ers 3-and-out of the day. Was using Randall Cobb in these situations during several lower profile games thru the season and then resting him from the same role in the playoffs the right way to do it? The electrifying second year player could have saved the Packers seven crucial points and a turnover.
Coaches like to say that players win games and the execution of a lot of the Packers including Aaron Rodgers deserves to be held under scrutiny. This is still a talented roster and an excellent coach that will win much more than it loses for a long while to come. But you don’t win against Jim Harbaugh when you don’t prepare, plan and execute at your very best and Mike Mccarthy did not on Saturday. Jim Harbaugh has gone to successive NFC championship games with Alex Smith and a second year second round QB at the helm. The road to the Superbowl for the next ten years will go thru San Francisco and Seattle as two exceptional coaches have raised the league’s intelligence and performance. Mike Mccarthy was 0-3 against them this season. His defense was also 0-4 against teams that started rookie quarterbacks. A program-wide post-mortem and a change in approach to using timeouts and challenges is needed for Mccarthy and the organization to ensure they don’t become stagnant a sa team that makes the playoffs only to always lose to a certain kind of team.
One note on my Candlestick experience – This is the third NFL stadium I have been to so I do not have a large sample size to compare my experience against. I have however been to three NBA arenas, two baseball stadiums and four cricket stadiums. I have rooted for the home team and for the road team. But this was by far the scariest and worst experience I’ve had as a sports fan. The 49ers fans I encountered all the way from the roads near the stadium to the parking lot to my seat were largely obnoxious, threatening and offensive. I was called a faggot on at least one occasion and every play that went against the 49ers was followed by a set of fans behind me asking the refs and the Packers to shove it up their butt. The smell of weed hung around our stands for a long time while some fans behind me had passed out by the third quarter. On my trip to the restrooms at halftime two 49ers fans asked me if they could poop on my jersey instead. As I was leaving the game with Arun, someone ran to the cops complaining they had been pissed on! There a million signs everywhere on what to do if a fan misbehaved or got violent, way more than I have seen at any other sporting venue.
I don’t expect to be greeted when I root for the rival team. I don’t even expect to be acknowledged. I want fans to root for their team with passion, pride and a powerful voice. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect to not be hurt verbally or physically. While no one injured me thru the game, I felt very unsafe for large parts of it. I didn’t go beyond high-fiving a few neighboring Packer souls on the rare Packer scores. I had the sense to not yell “Go Pack, Go” after the expressions and gay slurs I heard on the Sam Shields touchdown.
I hate to stereotype an entire stadium or fan base based on my personal experience in one corner of the stadium during one game but news reports and other people’s experiences (read comments below the link I linked to) suggest that I was not alone.
It’s going to be a long time before I can recommend attending a Candlestick park game to anyone. Even many 49ers fans I know will be put off by the language around them
Best of luck to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers who don’t need much. There will be seasons when 49ers rosters are more injured and the players make more mental mistakes. There will be seasons when the 49ers are not rescued from mediocrity by their mediocre quarterback suffering a concussion. But for years to come Jim Harbaugh has set the standard in the NFC and it is up to others to step up and compete.
As I made my 80 minute drive back home on a frigid freezing night, I couldn’t help wonder what the future held. The Packers will most likely be without Greg Jennings, Donald driver, Dom Capers and maybe even Jermichael Finley next season. The 49ers will only get better. Can the Packers be nimble, can the Packers be quick? As long as Jim Harbaugh is the 49ers coach, the Packers will have to jump over the Candlestick………….
P.S : Credit to the use of the candlestick rhyme with the Pack goes to Brian Carriveau who used it on Twitter last week.