A Decade of Devastation: San Francisco 49ers Fight for Redemption

Justin SiscoContributor IAugust 12, 2009

Have you talked to a 49ers fan under the age of 18 recently? It's not pretty.

My cousin, who comes from a long line of 49ers fans, sobered me up faster than watching Rosie O'Donnell make out with a Twinkie.

I was droning on and on about the virtues of bleeding red and gold, when mid-sentence, he stopped me with a phrase that is still bone-chilling to this moment.

"The 49ers were good in the '80s and '90s, but I never saw it," he said.

Ouch. Sometimes, reality hurts worse than a Dan Henderson flying elbow.

It gets worse, apparently his friends feel the same way. They cannot seem to grasp the concept that the 49ers once were the sun to which other teams orbited. Now, they're more like Pluto, shed of their planetary title, indistinguishable from any of the other billions of gaseous masses.

I was distraught to say the least.

But, as sad as it sounded, I understood where he was coming from.

He was born in 1991 and doesn't really have any recollection of the 49ers being good, let alone a dynasty. When he started watching football with his dad at around eight years old, the 49ers were in the process of putting together a sterling 4-12 season.

After that they managed only two playoff appearances in the next nine years! Two! And, sadly, the last one came seven years ago when he was 11 years old. 

How can you root for a team without ever being given a memorable moment? How can you invest wholeheartedly for something that has had no impact on your life?

The 49ers didn't just fall off the wagon, Josh Hamilton style, they steered the wagon right off a cliff.

It's hard to explain to someone that this franchise, which hasn't been truly relevant since 1997, was once the model franchise with the biggest names in the sport. They were beloved and hated.

They were the most innovative franchise in the history of the sport, changing the way offensive football was played in the NFL and providing some of the most re-watchable moments ever.

Their coaching tree is a 100-year-old Oak, standing strong.

Since 2004, they've reinvented themselves as one of the most pourous offensive teams in recent NFL memory. And the worst part is, if they don't win at least seven games this season, they will threaten to have the lowest winning percentage of any decade in the franchise's 63-year history.

Take a look below:

1946-1949 - 38-14-2 = .704

1950-1959 - 63-54-3 = .525

1960-1969 - 57-74-7 = .413

1970-1979 - 60-82-2 = .416

1980-1989 - 104-47-1 = .684

1990-1999 - 113-47 = .706

2000-2008 - 60-84 = .416

It's easy to explain what happened if you followed the team through its rise and subsequent fall. They were in the hands of a winner in Eddie DeBartolo through the '80s and '90s. Unfortunately, Johnny Law popped him for being a bit underhanded and the controlling interest was placed in the hands of his sister and her husband John York.

Of course, Eddie D., who was one of the most innovative owners and beloved by players and fans, was not that up-to-date on the new rules of the salary cap. Long after the 49ers most successful years, they were still paying players who weren't even on their roster.

The instability brought on by ownership changes and personnel changes crushed a once proud organization. Thank you Terry Donahue.

Terrell Owens saw the writing on the wall and forced his way out of town, taking with him the last nationally respected player the 49ers had until Patrick Willis emerged four years later. But even then, most casual fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup even if he was in there with the cast from "The Replacements."

Head coach, Mike Singletary said it best recently:

"No team in the league, in the last 20 or 30 years (was) in as bad a shape as this team was when Mike (Nolan) and I came here together."

Truer words were never spoken. Take a look at the 2004 San Francisco 49ers roster and if it doesn't induce vomit, you're a stronger person than I.

It's hard to remember a time when the 49ers took the field and the question wasn't, would they win, but rather, by how much.
This is the last year in a horrendous decade for San Francisco and as bad as it has been, there appears to be a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
The roster, which Singletary succinctly pointed out it in his quote, had to be rebuilt from the ground up. There are still some pieces left to put into place, but the 49ers now have a legitimate NFL roster of which to build on.
Sadly, the days of glitz, glamour, and Super Bowl rings in the City by the Bay, may only be memories that fans from that time are able to tell their kids about, or in my case, cousin. 
That does not mean that there cannot be a rebirth, a new direction, a new temperament. Sure, the innovation and efficiency of those dynastic 49ers teams encapsulated the very essence of what the city of San Francisco was and still is.
It also does not mean there isn't room for a new way and a new mode of operation, even if it doesn't completely resonate with a city.
You don't have to be blue collar to play like it.
My life is inextricably linked to so many great 49ers moments that I would hate for a whole generation of kids to miss out on the chance to be part of something great.
This year represents more than just one season. It is the chance to save a decade and prove to fans that the future is full of hope.
My cousin will be watching.


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