When describing one's allegiance to the ailing 49er franchise over the last eight years, I can only half paraphrase Søren Kierkegaard when he discusses a "Leap of Faith."
In its most common meaning, the leap of faith (or Leap to Faith) is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence. Basically believing in something with out reason or in spite of reasons to the contrary.
Still with me? Oh well, whatever.
The 49er Faithful has proven to the NFL that the fan base is in fact deserving of their nickname, their true fans having stayed loyal to the red and gold over probably the worst decade in franchise history.
Now, however, there are some very justifiable reasons to believe—here are 10 big ones.
The story's been told, and the song's been sung 1,000 times before.
Smith came into the league as the first overall pick in 2005, and has done little to impress anyone in the NFL since then.
His career has been more black and blue than red and gold, starting 40 games in five years.
The biggest crutch Alex leans on, as his critics say, is the fact that he has not had the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years since his college days at Utah.
2010, however, is the year this changes.
The reason he succeeds is the fact that his excuse is now gone. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye returns for his second year to give Alex what he hasn't had at any point in his short career—consistency.
Possibly the 49ers most hyped player coming into the 2010 season, Vernon Davis is also possibly the best tight end in the league.
Although the gritty sixth overall pick from 2006 cut his teeth as a blocking end early in his career, he emerged last year as the team leader in receiving touchdowns (13) and receiving yards (965) from two separate quarterbacks.
Skeptics dare him to do it again, but believers expect even more than an encore. Davis is another offensive weapon who's not had the luxury of back-to-back years with consistency at offensive coordinator.
Add in his role in the power run game, and arguments that he is the best tight end in the NFL hold plenty of water.
Backed by counterparts capable of relieving him either as a receiver (Delanie Walker) or a blocker (Nate Byham) Davis leads a party of potentially premier NFL tight ends.
One player in red and gold has been a fantasy football first-rounder for the last three years. He's not the biggest, he's not the fastest, he's not the strongest, but Frank Gore might be the toughest running back in the NFL.
Gore's hard-nosed running style takes its toll on opposing defenses, and he can break the long ones when given the right blocks.
He's one of the few running backs I've seen penalized for illegal hands to the face while running with the ball. Then again, all I saw was an awesome stiff arm play.
The tough style Gore brings takes its toll on him as well sometimes, but in 2010 there should be a little more depth in the backfield to relieve him. Glenn Coffee enters his second year, and must play hard to keep the backup roll from being seized by the monster rookie running back Anthony Dixon.
The Faithful can expect a top-notch smash-mouth ground game in 2010.
Although San Francisco kept players like Barry Simms and David Baas from departing over the off-season, they drafted two linemen in the first round as well this year. It's expected that Simms, who filled in admirably on a decimated line last year, will play more of a mentor role this season.
Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis might not start week one and two, but they're not getting paid to be benchwarmers. This gruesome twosome adds significant talent and depth to blocking passing and running plays. Christmas came in April for new 49ers line coach Mike Solari this year.
Plug in center Eric Heitman, left tackle Joe Staley and whomever else rises up at guard, and a formidable wall seems to have sprung up in Candlestick this off-season.
A mediocre defense that should have been solid is what 49ers fans saw in 2009. They were awesome against bad teams, par against decent teams, and bad against good teams.
Most of their sacks (44 on the year) were attributed as coverage sacks. Although the defense would eventually get to the quarterback when there was nowhere to throw the ball, the passers knew the hits were coming and covered up well to avoid a turnover.
Enter free-agent linebacker Travis LaBoy and rookie linebacker Navarro Bowman. The 49ers did not draft a pass rusher in the first round, but they did sign the ferocious hitting Laboy April 21 of this year, and they picked up the rookie OLB Bowman in the third round of the draft.
Little else changed in personnel for the 49ers' front seven, but the hard-to-read blitz packages being installed should boost their effectiveness in 2010.
Manny Lawson lead the team with six-and-a-half sacks on the year last year, with Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks totaling six each to tie for second.
Parys Haralson produced five, and Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes added another four sacks a piece.
Ray McDonald, Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sapoaga, and Demetric Evans also combined for seven-and-a-half sacks on the front. The Faithful can expect a greater push yielding more results next year as the young players mature.
In spite of missing mini-camp, training camp, the pre-season and five regular season games with an inflated sense of pride and self worth, Michael Crabtree joined the team in week seven and had an immediate impact.
His routes were crisp, his hands were sticky and his attitude was in gear. Our prima-donna wideout was in fact, a teacher's pet.
Crabtree finished the season with a reasonable 48 catches for 625 yards and 2 touchdowns. This year, with a whole summer and fall to get acquainted with the offense, the young wideout could—and should—post better numbers—proportionally and cumulatively.
The supporting cast at receiver includes speedster Ted Ginn Jr. rookie slot receiver Kyle Williams, and balanced backups Josh Morgan and Jason Hill among others.
He didn't come to start no trouble—he's just trying to teach these kids the Super Bowl Shuffle.
As much noise has been made about Jimmy Raye's second year as offensive coordinator, it's easy to forget that Singletary is only entering his second full year as a head coach. Considering the iron hand he rules with, and the respect he requires (and gets) from players, it seems like he's been coaching the team for a decade.
When Delanie Walker and Parys Haralson got into the year's first scuffle the other day, Coach Singletary made an example of the two, immediately banishing them to run off the negative energy with some wind sprints.
The culture of the 49ers is not about being pissed off at teammates. Singletary said after the practice, “I look at our team like a family. Maybe some guys have the philosophy; well that’s what football’s all about. No, that’s not what football is all about to me. I learned football where you go out and play together. You come out here and if you’re going to fight out here and in the same breath you’re going to say we’re family, you’re going to talk to each other badly? No, we’re in this together. If you can’t see it that way, then we’ve got to find somebody else. I don’t want that at all because it’s foolishness to me. I’m a firm believer that what you do out here on the field, that’s what you’re going to do in the game. It’s all repetition. That’s not happening.”
The coach made some questionable game decisions last year, and the Faithful can expect that Singletary will learn from them and won't repeat the often—if at all.
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
That's the King James Bible version, but the meaning is the same in each and every paraphrase.
The philosophy breaks down to men, friends, and allies strengthened by each other through tough competition. To be the best, one must have each other to strive together. By striving together, they can be far better than on their own.
Perhaps this could have been filed under the "Samurai Mike" Singletary reason, but it's his adherence to this philosophy that makes him a disciple of it—as well as an ambassador of the raw benefits of competition.
The Faithful is charged with competing to be the best fans in the NFL. I hope we all realize this.
To understand John Edward 'Jed' York, one must understand his family. Let's try to quickly gloss briefly over the history implied here.
Edward Debartolo Sr. was born Anthony Paonessa Jr. but he never knew his biological father. Later, he adopted his stepfather Michael Debartolo's family name, and took the first name Edward from a favorite uncle. At 13 years of age, Edward Debartolo Sr. helped write construction bids for his much loved stepfather—an Italian immigrant who did not read or write English.
After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in civil engineering, Edward Sr. worked a decade on construction projects with his stepfather before finding himself in the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII. After the war, Edward Sr. would build an amazing empire in construction and retail real estate.
Fast forward to 1977, when Edward Sr. purchases the San Francisco 49ers and gives the team to his son, Eddie Jr.
Hit play, and we see a football dynasty emerge as young Jed is growing up. Five Lombardi Trophies highlight Eddie Jr's time as the 49ers owner, but a riverboat licensing scandal in Louisiana threatens Debartolo ownership of the franchise—as a response, Eddie Jr gives the team to his sister, Marie Denise Debartolo-York—who presided over the Penguins 1990–1991 championship season, and was the third woman to serve as President of a Stanley Cup winning team. Denise passed primary control of the 49ers to her husband John York, who had little interest in running an NFL franchise.
Fast forward one more time, and we find much of the story comes full circle. Jed York, a young Notre Dame graduate with a BA in finance and history inherits the 49ers from his parents.
The Boy King has gone on to make several key decisions as team president and owner.
York offered Coach Singletary his contract in front of the team after a season finale win against the Washington Redskins in 2008. When first-round pick Michael Crabtree rode a contract holdout five games into the 2009 season, York flew Crabtree in for a face-to-face meeting and had the talented receiver signed by the next game. When GM Scott McCloughan abruptly resigned just weeks before the 2010 NFL Draft, Jed fired up the jet to come back from London (where the 49ers will play the Broncos on Halloween) and iron out any ruffles the GM's departure may have left.
During the draft, when the news broke that San Francisco had traded up two picks to jump the Dolphins, the television Showed Jed York in the 49ers war room giving a thumbs up to the camera, calming my panicked soul. They went on to possibly have their best draft in several years.
The capable son from a family accustomed to success is at the helm now. With his family behind him, there are reasons upon reasons to believe in the team's ownership.
The 49ers have been getting younger and older at the same time recently.
Issac Bruce's recent departure is a sign of a baton being passed. Over the last two seasons, the prolific pass catcher played mentor to young 49er talent.
The average age on the team is just over 25, and that includes old man Joe Nedney and versatile lineman mentor Barry Simms.
After the cuts, this average will probably go up a year or two when the team trims the roster to 53 players, and that will be just about the ideal playing age for most positions—not too banged up by years of high impact collisions, but with a few years of experience under their belts. Most of these young guns have shown a tremendous amount of promise.
The 2010 Draft saw the selection of Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Taylor Mays, Navarro Bowman, Anthony Dixon, Nate Byham, Kyle Wilson, and Phillip Adams. Not only do all of these players have very good upside and huge potential, their selections targeted gaps where the team was perceived to be weak.
So the mentoring continues, but the students are a little younger. And the Faithful can expect a team with a top-notch selection of young talent with veteran knowledge.
There are plenty of reasons to believe in the 49ers this year. Ten were mentioned—some were left out. The stifling run defense, the retooling division, the momentum taken from last season's end, The increased speed in the secondary—all could be rationalized.
But the main reason to remain faithful and believe in in the soul of this team is very simple (and straight out of the X-files).
We believe because we want to believe.