The Life and Death of an NFL Rivalry
Saturday, April 04, 2015
I am here to grieve the untimely demise of what promised to be the greatest rivalry in the history of the NFL, if not all of sports. With its passing I have lost any reason to spend the offseason engaged in one of my true passions … trolling Niners Nation. And never have I needed it more than this off-season. A bridge from the Super Bowl to the Pre-Season that could have been both entertaining and cathartic. A chance to purge the pain of that final play and its soul crushing outcome. A chance to be whole again.
This rivalry had it all. Two head coaches who brought a feud from college to the pros. Two bone crushing, trash talking teams that shared a mutual disdain for the other. Both enjoyed a passionate core fan base comprised of die-hards who experienced the good times and the bad times before the recent success. Success that brought a surge of popularity, interest, and new fans locally and nationally. And both teams seemed poised to battle for division supremacy for years to come.
And then it all burst into flames faster than a Chinatown dumpster fire.
All the San Francisco 49ers had to do was not suck. That's it. Just stay the course. Keep to the plan. Don't deviate from the formula of success you had found. But noooooo ... You just couldn't hold up your end of this rivalry. You let egos, money, egos, and egos get in the way. Is Jim Harbaugh an arrogant, detestable jerk? Absolutely. But he was YOUR jerk. And he won. But, more importantly, he was the perfect jerk for the 12's to vent their manufactured hatred on. Sure, one could argue that Colin Kaepernick could now carry that torch. He's easy to dislike. But don't 12's really see him as the comical loser, rather than a villainous mastermind? I know I do. And I don't believe that Harbaugh's commitment to his one trick pony was his undoing. Alex Smith was not going to bring rings to SF/SC. Or to KC, either.
The blame lands firmly at the feet of Niners owner, Jed York. He's the one holding the smoking gun. He's the one that slowly poisoned the fan base. He's the one that publicly beheaded his head coach. The only successful head coach the team has had in decades. First he sold-out his true, loyal fan base by moving to Santa Clara on a sweetheart deal. Then he quickly found out that the new techie fan base he was trying to seduce demanded more than just a fancy dinner and drinks to put out. Sure, they could occasionally date. But a season-long commitment is reserved for winners. And when your inaugural season in your shiny new stadium goes as poorly as theirs did, you quickly end up in the 'friend zone' with a lot of empty stadium seats. The fickle Santa Clara fans made a telling statement, "We love you, we're just not in love with you."
And so, we 12's are left to wonder, what happens now? The Arizona Cardinals would seem to be the logical team to unleash our fanatical hatred upon. They will no doubt be in the hunt for the division crown this season. But I just can't muster up the same vitriol for the Cards that I felt for the 49ers and Niners Nation. I mean, how can you hate Larry Fitzgerald? And by all accounts Bruce Arians is not only a very good coach, but also a great guy. So where does that leave us?
Obviously we are still able to taunt Niners fans, since the Seahawks remain the dominant team in the NFC while the Niners will be fighting all season to stay out of the division cellar. So we could kick them while they are down. But what is the point? The illiterate, mouth breathing, binge drinking, public urinating, punchy and stabby fans that we love to hate will all go back to being Raiders fans this season. And the new techie fan base, with all that desirable disposable income, are not passionate enough about the team to engage in online verbal warfare. All that leaves remaining is the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark fan. The life-long San Francisco 49ers fan. The die-hard. But he is already staring into the abyss. Do we really need to push him in?
So we mourn. We mourn the loss of what could have been. What should still be. We say goodbye to Harbaugh. And Gore. Goodbye to that feared defense. So long, dominant offensive line. Thanks for the memories, Crabtree. You will all be missed. The firing of Harbaugh, defections through free agency, unexpected retirements, and eroding skills at skill positions will be viewed as the main contributors to the demise of the Niners. But the premeditated slaying of this once perfect rivalry was planned and committed by the 49ers brain (less) trust. Yes, Jed York is a murderer. The rivalry is dead. He could have at least sent a cadaver note.
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