San Francisco 49ers' Sequel: The Phantom, the Menace, Jar Jar, and The One
The show was ugly, bizarre, and downright embarrassing.
There was no large cane to pull the players off the stage. There was no gong to bong, to cut short the farce and save some face.
That's because the players didn't know they were on a stage. They weren't equipped with microphones and makeup.
Instead, they were caught climbing. Climbing the phantom mountain. A mountain built on a simplistic belief: That hard work is all that is necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the NFL is not a mountain that has to be climbed, but rather, a stage where you must perform.
Singletary once talked about his ideal NFL team.
It was a team that needed a strong defense, a strong running game, and a quarterback who didn't have to perform magic, only manage.
He has now built that team.
This team is meant to climb the NFL mountain. Hard work is how you get to the top. Just put your head to the grindstone, and you'll find the way.
Hard work is what Singletary expects and wants. If you can work hard, know your job well, you can earn a starting role.
Of course, this is the ideal strategy for the exhausting work that is mountain climbing. You must know your terrain, understand you surroundings, and buckle down.
But the NFL is not a mountain, it is a stage.
A performer on a stage might work hard, but that is not what makes a performance work.
Whether it be comedy, magic, movies, music, or sports, a performance requires one primary thing to impress—brilliance.
There needs to be a sense of brilliance from the performer. Research all you want, look up the “correct” formula for success; none of it works if it lacks one's own personal, creative touch of brilliance.
Brilliance is derived from insight and imagination. It cannot be taught or learned through hard work and study.
The stage comedian who works the hardest surely has an advantage, but it means little without a natural sense of irony and timing.
The magician who knows every trick can put on a show, but without a keen sense of showmanship, his act lacks luster. The singer who works hard will impress for a short while, but without real emotion, it all sounds flat.
And the football player who knows everything there is to know about the game of football is useless if he doesn't have raw instincts on the field.
The 49ers have been trying to climb a mountain ever since Mike Nolan arrived on the scene in 2005. He, like his successor Mike Singletary, believes hard work and toughness are the secret ingredients to successfully climb the NFL mountain.
In contrast to this, 49er legend Bill Walsh, had other ideas; just for the fact that he had ideas. He thought actively about football, and used his imagination to create a dynasty.
Did he outwork the NFL to achieve his success? No, he simply had a brilliance of insight, which set a standard for the rest of the league.
The Phantom Mountain, which the 49ers have been climbing for over half a decade, does not seem to have a summit.
Their hard work leads nowhere. No cliff, no summit, no horizon.
Could the solution to this phantom trek, be even more sweating, more grinding, more climbing?
Climbing a rock requires a lot of hard work.
One must pick and pat, tip and tap at the rock to gain a foothold and inch one's way to the top.
On the phantom mountain, all this work is guided and overseen by 49ers' coordinator Jimmy Raye.
He makes sure every dink and dunk achieves its purpose.
That purpose is to slowly, gingerly, and methodically blip one's way up the football field, bit by bit.
Don't try and climb the mountain all at once. Don't take shortcuts, and make sure all your decisions are the correct ones. The side of a mountain is no place to get wild and wacky. Follow the book, follow procedure.
On the phantom mountain, this calculated approach makes a lot of sense.
But on the stage of the NFL, it only serves as a predictable, boring act.
Dinking, dunking, and diving down the field in a predictable manner, does little to inspire courage, or create many explosive plays.
With limited options for the players on stage, creativity and imagination never have a chance to show up.
The stage demands brilliance, not burlesque.
But what about the players?
Even with a shallow, uninspired script, shouldn't they be able to tap dance and sing without looking at the notes?
Not every character in a performance fits well in the picture.
Some look out of place with the rest of the show.
When he first came onto the scene, he looked scared and confused. One could only hope that when given more time, time to settle down and settle in, this character might turn out OK.
It's hard to criticize him. He is a friendly, courteous, lovable character, with big floppy ears, who succeeds because his heart is in the right place.
Or at least that is what he is supposed to be. That is what the formula is supposed to create.
He does all the right things, says all the right things. All the right attributes are there for him to fit into the scheme and the script successfully.
But at some point, in the middle of the picture, you begin to question his actions. You begin to shake your head in doubt.
A pattern emerges.
The actions are too meek and awkward. The timing is too late. The surrounding cast is talented, yet they are not in sync with this odd character.
This character is acting too quirky to take seriously. Is this supposed to be amusing?
The character has had plenty of time to develop into something more real, and the show has gone on long enough.
But you want to believe it will get better. It must get better. This is a famed franchise, where expectations and standards are too high to accept such buffoonery.
So you sit and watch, and continue to have faith.
Faith some more?
I stood in line for two hours in the middle of a weekday to get tickets to watch it, The Phantom Menace.
I had very high expectations for the picture, but would allow for some slack, knowing that high expectations are not always realistic for a movie sequel.
Without getting into details. I was let down. Big time.
I was in shock at what I had just witnessed.
Yes, I allowed for slack. Yes, I was willing to except, even a mediocre performance. But this went beyond “mediocre.” It sailed past the moon, beyond Jupiter, all the way to ineptitude, until finally settling down at pathetic.
When the movie first started, it seemed OK, but quickly, I had to feed it some slack.
Over the next hour, the look on my face began to sullen and sour. The “slack rope" had to be fed so fast that it was burning my hands.
I knew, that soon, I would run out of slack and reach the point of no return. A point where I decided that what I was witnessing, was a horror show.
When Jar Jar electrocuted his face, and his tongue went limp, my passion went numb.
It represented the turning point. It was the defining moment. A moment that encapsulated everything that was wrong with this picture, and the characters within it.
It was a slap in the face. “Smack!” Wake up! And I realized that yes, this is real. What you are watching, is really that bad.
Likewise, I sat by my TV for two hours prior to the 49ers' game in the middle of a Sunday, in anticipation of watching the first game of the season.
A similar horror show ensued.
Again, I was willing to temper my expectations with slack.
Again, at first, everything seemed OK. It was even enthralling for a bit.
But yet again, my rope of slack started to move so fast it was burning in my hands. And then came the turning point. The point at which the slack disappeared, and there was no going back.
When Alex Smith overthrew Moran Norris for an easy touchdown completion, I finally decided that this Phantom, this Menace, this Jar Jar had nothing left to give.
I had realized at the movies, that truly great storytelling does not contain such puerile, regurgitated slop.
And I had realized in front of the TV, that good quarterbacks never miss on game changing, point blank opportunities.
In my conscience mind, my rational hope is gone for Alex Smith. I can't logically justify him as an NFL quarterback anymore.
However, I stayed in that theater. I stayed and watched the rest of that movie, because although my conscience mind had already made a rational decision, I still had a lingering faith. A faith in the back of my mind that told me something could be salvaged from this wreck.
And this leads us to another story.
A story about irrational faith, leading the blind.
Is Alex Smith the One? My rational mind says, “no”.
You see, because I'm tired, 49er fans. I'm tired of this team losing, tired of missed opportunities, tired of what we're being told, being fed the same gosh darn excuse, week after week.
Don't hate me, 49er fans. I'm just the messenger. And right now, I'm going to prove it to you.
If Singletary was right, then there is no way Alex Smith can lose the next few games, is there?
If Alex Smith is the One, then in the next few weeks, there would have to be some kind of miracle where he consistently makes plays and wins games, right?
How can he be the one, if he loses games?
For those 49ers fans who haven't answered me, come on. You can tell me, can't you?
All I want is a little yes or no.
Look into Alex Smith's eyes, 49er fans, those big pretty eyes, and tell me the truth. Yes or no...
No. I don't believe it.
Miracles can happen.
The way the 49ers started the game against the Seattle Seahawks, provides a glimmer of hope.
It has been years since this team was so much in command of the first part of a football game. In the first part of that game, the 49ers were nearly dominant.
Later on, it all fell apart, but for a moment there, it looked like there was a swagger and a complete command of the game.
Although my rational mind has already made its decision, somewhere deep down, I still have faith in a turnaround.
Is Alex Smith the One? No...
…comment, until the next few weeks seal the deal on that question.
If he's not, then there is not much I, or any other fan can do about it. So a little faith until the end of the performance looks like the only option available for now.
Perhaps faith, is part of what being a fan, is all about.
Miracles can happen.
And what better time for a miracle to occur, than when the Saints come marching in?
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