Why I have a love affair with the 49ers

Alex Smith

The 49ers and I grew up together

It’s just a damned football team, but like the Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco 49ers have a special meaning for me — and it has a lot to do with my dad.

My first memory of the 49ers was when they were shocked in the postseason in 1972, losing in the playoffs to the Dallas Cowboys when they had a 28-16 lead with two minutes left in the game. This was the beginning of a long slide and heartbreak for the Niners. In 1976, the Niners started 6-1 and were the hottest team in the NFL, but then they remembered they were the 49ers and ended up 8-6, missing the playoffs. The Niners went 15-43 over the next four years.

My dad died in 1981, I was just a kid. Obviously, it was a bad year for me, not only did my dad — a four-pack-a-day smoker — die of lung cancer, but my mom fell into a deep pit of despair. It went wayyy beyond normal grief, a lot of talk about killing herself and putting an end to it all. I felt ignored. I was too young to know how to deal with it, I was mostly just angry.

Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis

Then, along came the 49ers. My dad hated the 49ers, because he hated San Francisco, because it was full of liberals, hippies and gays … which is maybe why I became a 49ers fan — to spite him. But, it was something for me to care about and take my cares away from the real world, if only for three hours a week.

I remember when the 49ers became a big deal with early in the season, when they beat the Dallas Cowboys 45-14. The Cowboys were a consensus pick to win the Super Bowl that year and were obnoxious as all get out; this is when they began they asinine “America’s Team” bullshit. I started thinking, “hey, these guys might actually be for real.”

The Niners ended up crushing everyone that year behind this new kid Joe Montana and then won — for me personally — the greatest game in the history of the NFL in early 1982, beating the cocky-ass  annoying Cowboys in the NFC championship with Dwight Clark’s spectacular “catch” with 58 seconds left. For a moment, it was a respite of what I was going through with my mom and my dad’s death.

The Niners went on to win the Super Bowl, and my love affair began with the Niners. Honestly, when I think of the Niners, I think of that awful year after my dad died and dealing with a mom deep in the throes of clinical depression, while I was just beginning high school. It was too much, too young, but the 49ers actually helped get me through those difficult months.

Vernon Davis
Vernon Davis

As you know, they won 5 Super Bowls over the next 14 years. The entered an era of excellence no other team in the NFL has sustained for so long. They won 239 games in 22 years, made the postseason 18 times and the NFC title game 10 times. No one has ever been that good for that long.

There’s more memories than I can count. The goal line stand in the fourth quarter of the 1982 Super Bowl, the monster season in which they beat Dan Marino in the Super Bowl, the up-and-down season (which had 50-yard touchdown runs by both Roger Craig and Steve Young to win games and a 70-yard bomb from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice in the final seconds to win a game) in which they beat Chicago in the NFC championship in Chicago then won the Super Bowl in the final seconds on a pass to John Taylor, Joe Montana getting knocked out — twice — in the NFC championship game, the most dominant season ever by any team when they beat Denver in the Super Bowl 55-10, the incredible battles against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Frank Gore
Frank Gore

After a couple of crushing, heartbreaking defeats in the NFC championship, the Niners rose again under Steve Young to beat the Cowboys in two incredible games in 1994, and went on to win the Super Bowl. Throughout this whole era, you simply expected the 49ers to win each and every game. They didn’t. But, you expected it … and when they didn’t, it was a shock. I could see why the rest of the NFL came to hate the 49ers during this era. Their swagger was unparalleled.

Then, disaster struck. First, their owner Ed DeBartolo Jr., got busted for trying to bribe the governor of Louisiana to build a riverboat casino, then the NFL took the team away from DeBartolo and handed it to his sister, Denise York.

DeBartolo was allowed by the NFL to take control of the 49ers again, but his sister and her husband, John York, would have nothing of it. Eddie was out of the picture … and with the Yorks running the team, the 49ers went into a long and painful decline beginning in 2002. The 49ers have not been in the playoffs for 9 years, and during that time, the team hasn’t just been bad, they’ve been an embarrassment. The Yorks are painfully inept owners; they hired bad general managers, and even worse coaches … and then, worst of all, after hiring bad people, they did the worst thing owners can do, they meddled. Several surveys listed them as the worst owners in the NFL.

During the next 8 years, the 49ers only won 46 games. They were arguably the worst franchise in the NFL. Frankly, it got hard to keep caring about them. Bad owners, bad team, bad coaches and shitty stadium. They hired an offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, who brought in his personal hand-picked quarterback from Detroit, some schmoe named  J.T. O’Sullivan, who proceeded to the turn the ball over 17 times in 7 games and had to be benched. I don’t think Martz’s “wunderboy” is even in the league anymore.

To me, the nadir of the team was Mike Singletary. Constant delay of game penalties. Unbelievably bad offences and play-calling. Horrendous play clock management. Constantly changing quarterbacks. He once called a running play up the middle in a close game when the 49ers were on the 3-yard with 10 seconds left to play and no time outs. The runner got stopped at the 2-yard-line and time ran out before the 49ers could spike the ball to stop the clock. And a field goal would have tied it. How bad is that?

The 49ers still play in a crap stadium, and are likely moving 40 miles south to Santa Clara, but this year, a funny thing happened. Despite the crap stadium, the crap owners, the team got good. All those high draft picks started paying off (plus two or three surprisingly good free agent signings — Justin Smith and Braylon Edwards.). A couple of years ago, co-owner John York was removed as President of the team by the team’s board of directors. That maybe had something to do with the 49ers finally getting on their feet.

The 49ers are 8-1 this year and have won two monster games against good teams — Detroit and New York Giants — arguably the two best games of the year in the NFL (they also beat a 6-3 Cincinnati team). They are winning with a ferocious defence that simply doesn’t let teams run the ball and a monster running game. They are No. 1 in the NFL for fewest points allowed — by quite a bit. Alex Smith, their No. 1 draft pick from 2005, is playing the best football of his career, and a fiery young coach, Jim Harbaugh, seems to have a plan. After the disasters of Dennis Erickson, Jim Nolan and Singletary, the 49ers seem to have found a coach with a semblance of a clue.

Alex has had a sad sack career. He was the No. 1 draft pick, taken about 20 picks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, but then floundered over the next several years. He has shown flashes (especially when Norv Turner was his offensive coordinator for one year), but he’s played for four head coaches and SEVEN offensive coordinators in seven years. None of those head coaches were offensive coaches until Jim Harbaugh came along. He had a major shoulder injury early in his career, then was forced to play with it when his idiot coach Nolan questioned his toughness. I remember the game. Alex came back to play and couldn’t throw the ball worth a damn because he was in so much pain. He screwed up his shoulder even worse and required surgery. Nolan was fired less than a year later. You don’t fuck with a permanent injury to your No. 1 draft pick like that. Nolan will never be a head coach again as a result.

Singletary was almost as bad, switching back and forth between Alex, David Carr and some guy named Troy Smith. It was like Singletary couldn’t figure out who he wanted to play quarterback. Troy Smith is a terrible QB and is barely in the league anymore.

Alex survived all that to have the best year of his career this season. He doesn’t throw a lot, but he doesn’t make mistakes — only three INTs in 9 games. He is on pace for his first 3,000-yard season and 20-TD season, and just keeps proving his detractors wrong every week.

The 49ers will definitely win their division and make the postseason and host a first-round game. They have a five-game lead with seven games left. One of the best descriptions I’ve seen of them is “a team no one wants to play.” The question now is, can they pick up the No. 2 seed in the NFC? That’s a distinct possibility, as they have a two-game lead over the next best team — New Orleans.

I seriously doubt the 49ers will make the Super Bowl this year. That would mean getting past Green Bay, at Lambeau, but this is an exciting year nonetheless, an incredible leap in one year from a laughingstock for nearly a decade to one of the most feared teams in the NFL. After a near decade of almost total ineptitude, the 49ers are fun … and interesting … and most all, relevant.

Takes me back to 1981!

Australian Senate passes plain cigarette package law

australia plain packaging

(Thanks to Classical Gas for the scoop on this story!)

Australia is attempting to force cigarette companies in that country to have utterly, entirely plain cigarette packages, with no artwork, no logos, no graphics whatsoever, except for graphic images of lung cancer and other diseases caused by cigarette smoking.

The Australian Senate passed a bill to require the plain packages. The Australian House is expected to approve the bill, as well, requiring plain packaging by next year. Tobacco companies are expected to file lawsuits. New Zealand is considering similar legislation.

In the U.S., these graphic warnings have been put on hold. A U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction stopping the FDA from requiring graphic warnings, saying they violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to advocate for something they didn’t want to advocate.

French cigaratte pack

Someone showed me a pack of French cigarettes the other day with a pretty gross graphic warning of a rotting mouth. Their point was smokers really aren’t going to pay attention. My attitude is the vast majority of smokers probably don’t care about the warnings — I mean if they’re smoking, they’re probably already addicted to the nicotine. But, maybe, maybe, maybe, just maybe, it will put an inkling in a few smokers’ minds that, “Wow, I really need to quit,” and maybe, maybe, maybe, it will discourage some kids from beginning. Who knows? I can hear the nanny-state argument on this one.

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National COPD Awareness Month

November is both National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National COPD Awareness Month:

Here’s my contribution to raising awareness

Death toll in 2009
All causes 2.4 million
1) Heart disease 600,000
2) Cancer (other than lung cancer) 400,000
3) Lung cancer (28 percent of all cancer deaths) 160,000
4) Respiratory disease (primarily COPD) 130,000
5) Stroke 128,000
6) Accidents 117,000
7) Alzheimer’s 79,000
8 Diabetes 68,000
9) Flu, pneumonia 53,000
11) Suicide 36,000
13) Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 30,000
15) Parkinson’s disease 20,000
16) Homicide 16,600

√ So, basically 12 percent of the people who died in 2009, died of lung cancer or COPD. 12 percent. Roughly one death out of eight.
√ Lung cancer is 28 percent of all cancer deaths.
√ Lung cancer and COPD in 2009 killed more people than Alzheimer’s, diabetes, the flu, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver and homicide … combined.
√ 85 to 90 percent of the people who died of lung cancer or COPD were smokers or former smokers, which means they are preventable deaths
√ That means about 250,000 deaths could have been avoided
√ 250,000 is about the population of Lincoln, Neb. or Madison, Wis.
√ Did I mention these were preventable deaths?

Dammit! Judge rules against graphic warning labels on cigarettes

warning label6

Aw, crap!

The tobacco companies might actually win this round. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., Richard Leon, slapped an injunction against the graphic warning labels, saying there is a likelihood he would rule against the Food and Drug Administration. The tobacco industry (every major company but Philip Morris joined the lawsuit) argued that the labels violated their free speech.

The judge ruled that the images were in violation of a “First Amendment principle that prevents the government from compelling speech in the commercial arena.”

In issuing the injunction, Judge Leon states:

“It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit, or never to start smoking — an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information.”

Shit, shit, SHIT!

“Today’s ruling reaffirms fundamental First Amendment principles by rejecting the notion that the government may require those who sell lawful products to adults to urge current and prospective purchasers not to purchase those products.”

— Floyd Abrams, a partner in the law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel that’s representing Lorillard (Newport).

It doesn’t look good for the graphic warnings, which are in place and perfectly legal in places like Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Those countries don’t have a First Amendment and the kinds of legal protection for the tobacco industry that the U.S. does.

Someone did make a good point to me, though, that “do you really think that a smoker is going to care what the images are?” Most probably won’t. Most I’m sure will ignore them, but if one, or two or three or a few more than that ARE affected by them and say to themselves, “Shit, I really need to quit,” than yeah, I think they make a difference.

The case is still active, but with the injunction in place, the graphic warnings on cigarettes, in the U.S. at least, are probably a few years off at best.

The Passion of Tim Tebow

There was an interesting and fun discussion last week on Current.com about Tim Tebow.Tebow is one of the most weirdly polarizing figures in the NFL. It’s weird, because he’s never been arrested, never gotten a DUI, never been accused of slapping a woman. He’s polarizing because he’s extremely religious (and belongs to a very conservative sect), and because his most rabid fans worship him as the second coming of Jesus (an exaggeration — but not by much).

Last week, I was actually shocked at the venom I heard on TV talk shows being directed at Tebow. It was some of the most scathing, withering invective I’ve ever heard flung at any athlete — I didn’t hear a couple of quarterbacks who murdered dogs and were accused of terrible acts in a bar bathroom catch the amount of flak Tebow was catching.

He had a terrible game against a team with a good defence — Detroit. He was ripped down one side and up the other; he was called awful, horrible, an embarrassment. Commentators said he had no business being in the NFL and worse . One commenter, a guy I usually despise named Skip Bayless, said the hatred toward Tebow was bordering on pathological. It might be the one and only time I ever agree with Skip Bayless. At a certain point, this doesn’t have anything to do with football anymore — it has to do with annoyance over his public displays of faith and annoyance with his rabid fans. (An interesting column about that here.)


Well, what I’m hearing is the haters appear to be JUST as rabid. They are simply feeding the frenzy that is Tebow by turning him into a martyr … and hard core conservative Christians absolutely LOVE martyrs. We live in Bronco territory and I’m still trying to find a Bronco fan that doesn’t literally despise Tebow. I mean literally HATE him. I haven’t found one yet!

What did Tebow do Sunday? He started terrible, but then finished 4-for-5 for 55 yards, threw 2 TDs, ran for 117 yards, had no INTs, and had 240 yards of total offence — and brought his team back from being down 17-7 to win 38-24 (It will be interesting what his haters have to say this week.). Tebow has started a total of six games and is 3-3 as a starter. Denver was 1-4 without him and is 2-1 with him and suddenly they’re in a playoff chase. In a weird way I find myself cheering for him, as much as I am uncomfortable with his conservative brand of religion (but, hey, it’s America, right? He can worship who he wants, however he wants.). I find myself more uncomfortable with the virulent level of hate toward him, hate that seems to be as much if not more about his personal faith than about his play of the field.

I just wonder sometimes if Tebow were a devout Muslim, how some people would feel about some of the vitriol being thrown at him.

Does his latest good game mean he is a good quarterback? No. Does it mean he will be a good quarterback someday? No. He may. He may not. It will probably take a couple of years to know for sure. Should he have been a first-round draft pick? Probably not, but that’s not his fault Denver drafted him too high. What it means is he is raw, inexperienced, has an eccentric throwing motion that may never fit the NFL, but he is not quite as bad as the vitriol being spewed about him. It means he is playing well enough to be given the opportunity to keep playing. How good was John Elway after six games? Steve Young? Michael Vick? Brett Favre?


Oh, those kooky Kiwis and their cigarette warnings!

cigarette cover

Oh, look at this. Those kooky Kiwis have come up with the dumbest invention for smokers.

In some countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the warning labels on cigarettes have become increasingly graphic to discourage smokers (In the U.S., Big Tobacco has actually sued over graphic warning labels, saying, get this, they make smokers “depressed.” I can’t make this shit up.

In New Zealand, to counteract the graphic warning, British American Tobacco  came up with this invention to cover up the graphic warnings so smokers don’t have to look at it. It’s like some kind of Velcro band that goes around the cigarette pack literally to hide it. Oh, brother. I wonder how many people will actually buy it? What a bunch of drongos BAT are, trying to circumvent the law.

Barack Obama’s doctor says he is smokefree

Real Obama smoking photo from college
Real Obama smoking photo

President Barack Obama’s doctor came out this week and announced the president is in good shape physically adding that he is smokefree.

According to the article:

 Obama, who chewed nicotine gum, appears to have quit smoking entirely — an achievement his wife, Michelle Obama, announced earlier this year. And his cholesterol is now described as “ideal.”

So, next time some right-wing troll gives you shit about Obama and smoking, point to this article. He is no longer a smoker and hasn’t been for more than a year.

Fake Obama smoking photo

Tobacco stooge and sexual harasser Herman Cain explains his bizarre smoking ad

Herman Cain on Sunday defended his smoking campaign ad, by saying “we weren’t trying to make smoking look cool. Mark Block smokes.”

Cain defended the ad, saying it was not meant to send a broader message that smoking is acceptable. “Mark Block smokes. That’s all that ad says,” Cain said. “We weren’t trying to say it’s cool to smoke.”

“One of the things within this campaign is let Herman be Herman,” Cain said. “Mark Block is a smoker, and we say let Mark be Mark. That’s all were trying to say because we believe let people be people.”

On the ad released last week, Block praises Cain and states, “America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain.” Then with the music “I am America” playing in the background, Block smokes a cigarette and blows smoke into the camera.

The best part is his interviewer, Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,’’ ripped into Cain for the ad.

Schieffer, a bladder cancer survivor, lit into Cain on his show. “It’s not funny to me,” Schieffer said. “I had cancer that was smoking related, and I don’t think it serves the country well — and this is an editorial opinion here — to be showing someone smoking a cigarette.”

Awesome, Bob!

Oh, by the way, Herman Cain took thousands of dollars from Big Tobacco lobbying against smoking bans when he was head of the National Restaurant Association.

Compared to the sexual harassment scandal dogging Cain, this is pretty minor, but I still can’t help shaking my head at this bizarre ad.

By the way, this Colbert bit on the Herman Cain smoking ad is FREAKING hiliarious!