Jul 31, 2007
I’m barely old enough to vividly remember it, how the 49ers went from a laughing stock to a dynasty, but I definitely do. I specifically remember watching Bill Walsh’s 49ers develop in front of my young eyes, and the crux of my memory is that it was very special. I think it was the first time I had seen a great team being built. At the time, the truly exceptional teams like the Steelers and Cowboys had been excellent well before I started actively watching and understanding football. This was the first time I had watched in awe as a team beautifully came together, led on the field of course by the most clutch player in the NFL, Joe Montana. That TD pass to Dwight Clark was one of the brightest moments in NFL history mainly because it was the culmination of one of the most impressive coming-of-age moments by a team in league history.
Montana was unbelievable, of course, but I distinctly remember focusing on this guy Bill Walsh, who I had not heard of just a year or two before the 49ers made their first championship run. This guy didn’t look like a head coach, and I noticed that, even at 10 or 12 years old. Walsh as you likely know wasn’t a typical head coach. He’s known for his intellectual approach to the game, but the thing that always stood out to me about Walsh is how he elevated NFL football to an art form. What also stands out is that I never heard anything bad about the guy, ever. I heard plenty of negatives about Tom Landry, and I know a lot of people despised him. A lot of people disliked Mike Ditka back in the day when the Bears were great. But despite dominating the NFL for many years, no one ever said anything bad or had anything close to negative feelings about Walsh. There’s a lot of great stuff you could say about Bill Walsh, but I think that says it all.
The closest coach still with us today is Dick Vermeil, who I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with several times. I never got a chance to meet or rub elbows with Bill Walsh. The closest I came to Walsh was when I was quoted in an article published by the Associated Press along with Walsh. Obviously that’s a major stretch, but I was honored.
The news of Frank Gore’s injury was overshadowed by the Walsh news, and rightfully so, but it’s still pretty substantial. Gore last year played his first injury-free season since High School, but he won’t do it again this year because that ship has sailed. I was hoping I was wrong, and I hope I’m wrong now, but I have had a bad feeling about Frank Gore lately, and his latest bad break certainly doesn’t help. I do think some people are being overly-confident in the 49er offense this year. I like the direction of the team and I do like the defense now, but I’m thinking their offense will need another year to develop. This is especially true with Norv Turner gone and given the fact that #1 WR Darrell Jackson hasn’t been able to build chemistry with QB Alex Smith. Jackson is a consummate pro, but the lost time working with Smith could hurt. There certainly is potential given the addition of Jackson, the added experience of Smith, and a healthy Vernon Davis, but I’m not very excited about the 49er passing game.
But the Gore injury is the concern. There’s no other way to slice it: the guy has durability issues. I’ve felt that there was some downside to Gore this year, and now I’m seriously fearing it. I’ve moved him down at least below Joseph Addai as of right now. If there is a silver lining it’s that backup Michael Robinson will get some needed time with the ones in camp now. I’m hoping he excels and settles in as the undisputed #2. At least that way, those who draft Gore can breath a little easier and protect the pick with Robinson. I think Maurice Hicks’ role is pretty set as the change-of-pace and occasional 3rd down back, so the only other guy to look at, unless they sign someone else, is rookie Thomas Clayton. Clayton has some character issues, but he does have a lot of talent, so he will have to be watched.