Could Be Worse: Five Players 49ers Faithful Can Be Glad to Be Rid of
The 2010 season stands to be a make-or-break year for the San Francisco 49ers.
They managed to escape their seventh straight losing season in 2009, finishing even at 8-8.
Now, with head coach Mike Singletary entering his second full season, the next step NEEDS to be a playoff berth.
The 49ers' offseason moves, and lack thereof, have generated some interesting conversations about whether the team is in better position entering 2010 than they were heading into 2009.
The angst among the 49ers faithful is understandable, but one thing is clear—it could be a WHOLE lot worse.
You would not need to look that far back to find some interesting cases of players who immediately gave the team addition by subtraction when they left, prompting fans to ask why the 49ers stuck with them as long as they did.
Even Scot McCloughan’s recent resignation—which has been classified as everything from a complete non-issue, to a dangerous distraction, to a disaster—looks downright rosy when you consider some former alternatives.
Having no GM at all is still better than having Joe Thomas at the helm (ask your parents, kids).
These examples are in no particular order and are not intended to be a top five or all-time list by any means.
These are just some names that stick out in my mind in 49ers history that show how good we have it now, compared to where we have been, as fans.
So read, learn, and take a moment to enjoy what the 49ers do have going for them headed into 2010.
RB Lawrence Phillips (1999)
Phillips played just one season with the 49ers, in 1999, appearing in eight games and accumulating just 144 yards and two touchdowns.
He also tallied 415 yards returning kickoffs.
His most memorable (positive) play was a 68-yard touchdown scamper to seal a 24-10 win in a Week Three Monday night game against the Cardinals in Tempe.
However, that game will be perpetually remembered as the end of the 49ers dynasty, as Hall of Fame QB Steve Young suffered a concussion and would never take another NFL snap.
The sack came at the hands of Aeneas Williams, who beat the block of Phillips on the play.
Phillips' contributions on the field were nothing spectacular (plus he contributed to ending Young’s career), clearly disappointing for a player taken sixth overall out of Nebraska—the alma mater of such great backs as Roger Craig and Tom Rathman.
He set offensive records in the now-defunct NFL Europe prior to joining the 49ers but never produced in the NFL.
However, what brings Phillips to this list was his off-field issues.
Phillips was arguably the best player in the 1996 draft but fell to sixth overall amid character questions resulting from an assault charge filed against him by his girlfriend in college.
Phillips would have several more run-ins with the law during his parts of four years in the NFL, bouncing from St. Louis to Miami and then ultimately ending up in San Francisco.
His problems with the law have not gone away since his playing days ended.
An incident in 2005 following an argument over a pickup football game led to Phillips attempting to drive his car into three teenagers in Los Angeles, CA.
He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Since then he has faced several more trials and felony convictions, with sentences ranging up to 30-plus years in duration.
WR Renaldo Nehemiah (1982-1984)
Tough to include a man with a Super Bowl ring on this list, but Renaldo is a must.
Considered by many to be the biggest personnel mistake of Bill Walsh’s career, The Genius lured the storied track star away from the track and field world in 1982 to try his hand at playing NFL wide receiver.
Renaldo Nehemiah was a world-renowned track and field superstar.
Though he missed the 1980 Summer Olympic Games due to the 64-nation, US-led boycott and never won Olympic gold, he did set world records on eight separate occasions in the hurdles from 1979 to 1982.
His sabbatical into NFL football would prove far less successful.
He amassed only 754 yards and four touchdowns in three years serving limited duty with the 49ers.
A brutal hit in 1983 in a game against the Atlanta Falcons knocked Nehemiah unconscious.
After that he was far more tentative and saw less playing time as Walsh became highly protective of him.
He left the 49ers after winning Super Bowl XIX following the 1984 season and attempted to return to the track.
But his success was nothing like that he enjoyed before leaving for the NFL.
The 49ers receiving corps may need some more development, but Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis should be able to put up better stats than Renaldo Nehemiah.
OT Kwame Harris (2003-2007)
Kwame Harris ranks, in my mind, as one of the best justifications for not taking offensive linemen in the first round of the draft.
In a situation where the 49ers may have bought into the hype surrounding a local college standout (Harris played at Stanford), they selected Harris 26th overall in 2003.
My opinion was always that they should have targeted Harris’ Stanford teammate, WR/TE Teyo Johnson, but they decided against it, and the rest is history.
While Harris recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown in his rookie season, the majority of his tenure with the 49ers ranged from lackluster to abysmal.
His mechanics left much to be desired, and he constantly hurt the team with holding penalties, calling long plays back.
The 49ers stuck with him for a while, hoping he would fix his issues and regain his college form, but finally let him walk away following the 2007 season—ultimately watching him sign with the rival Oakland Raiders.
Recently re-signed Barry Sims came over from Oakland in 2007 in what worked out to be a de facto trade for the two teams.
The 49ers may still need help on the offensive line, but they are much happier with Sims than Harris.
QB Jim Druckenmiller (1997-1998)
The 49ers have had their fair share of lackluster QBs over the last couple decades.
Steve Stenstrom, Gio Carmazzi, Tim Rattay, J.T. O’Sullivan, and Shaun Hill all left fans scratching their heads at times as to how the 49ers could ever have seen promise in them.
But before any of them, there was Jim Druckenmiller.
Widely regarded as one of the worst draft picks in team history, the 49ers took Druckenmiller out of Virginia Tech with the 26th overall pick in 1997.
Though he won his only professional start against the Rams, his stats in six career appearances with the 49ers were dreadful.
He completed just over 40 percent of his passes for 239 yards and only one touchdown versus four interceptions.
While he appeared in six games, he did not attempt a pass in either of his 1998 appearances.
The 49ers traded him to Miami, where he never saw any playing time before ultimately being released.
He later spent time in the Arena Football League with the Los Angeles Avengers and played with the Memphis Maniax in the XFL’s only season in 2001.
Few in 49er history have defined “bust” as well as Druckenmiller.
By comparison, a QB battle between David Carr and Alex Smith looks pretty good.
K Owen Pochman (2003)
Remember when Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens were still playing nicely enough together to put up Pro Bowl numbers and Jim Mora was crafting one of the emerging elite defenses in the league?
Back then the 49ers' biggest question seemed to be at kicker.
They wandered aimlessly for years from Wade Richey to Jeff Chandler to XFL alumnus Jose Cortez, but none of them proved reliable enough to hold onto the job for very long.
Enter Owen Pochman.
Looking like a grade-schooler wearing his older brother’s pads, Pochman looked like the answer the 49ers had been searching for at kicker when he started his first game for them in Week Three against Cleveland.
He went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts before Cleveland scored two late touchdowns to beat the 49ers by a point, 13-12.
Pochman’s luck would not last.
He hung in there for a few weeks until going a combined 1-for-6 on field goal attempts in Weeks Seven and Eight, prompting Chris Berman to refer to him as “former 49ers placekicker Owen Pochman” during NFL Primetime following Week Eight’s games.
Boomer was right (not that it was a tough call), as Todd Peterson took over the following week against St. Louis, finally bringing some stability and reliability at kicker.
The 49ers may have some question marks going into 2010, but Joe Nedney is as reliable as they come in the NFL.
Like I said, it could be a WHOLE lot worse!
Keep the faith!